In the PC version you use the F key to get airborne, WASD to move up, down, left and right, and the space bar to boost. The mouse is used to control the camera, so you can ascend and look at the ground simultaneously. This makes things much simpler, as you'd expect, and as Cao agrees. "I find it easier myself. But it's really a skill thing," he says. "Running at super-speeds can be easier for some people. The racing game guys love the speeding, because they're used to moving so fast in their cars."
So flying isn't the only way to get around the DC universe. SOE isn't revealing all the movement types you'll be able to choose from, but Cao confirms they will include super-speed and teleportation. But why would you ever opt to run really fast when you could, you know, fly?
"Actually, I always choose super-speed, because you have a lot more tactical mobility," says Cao. He explains that although flyers have enough control to make pretty sharp turns, "If a super-speedster was running along the side of a building, you would have to follow him along the side - while at any moment he could pop up over it, shoot you and pop back down behind it. He'd be much more agile than you.
"So while flight movement is easier and much more general, things like super-speed give you advanced tactics. Acrobatics allow you to stick to walls so you can hide out and ambush people... Every movement type has advantages and disadvantages. We're finding they're all very skill-based."
One obvious advantage of flying is you can get a top-down view of the area you're currently in. For the purposes of this demo SOE is giving us five blocks of Metropolis to explore. In the finished game, the city will be made up of 10 districts, each around 85 blocks in size, and of course there will be many more areas to visit. "In DC, these cities are really characters in and of themselves," says Cao. "Metropolis is the city of tomorrow, Gotham is the old, decaying city... Each of those has personalities, and they're reflected in what you play."
Indeed, Metropolis has a bright, shiny quality to it. There are clear blue skies, wide tree-lined streets and clean sandstone buildings, and everything has a golden sheen. Except Brainiac, who is hovering over the city in a giant green sphere while his minions infect the citizens below with a deadly nanovirus. This, Cao explains, is an example of a live event: "The game's content system lets us change all the content in the world on the fly. So we can load it with Brainiac encounters, and suddenly what would normally have been a peaceful Metropolis becomes a Brainiac invasion."
It's carnage on the city streets. Zombified citizens launch endless attacks as dozens of superheroes, both famous and unfamiliar, battle it out. Everywhere you look there are cars being thrown down the street, giant ice cubes flying about, characters zipping along the ground and zooming through the air. It's all a bit, well, odd. Just why have all these superheroes suddenly appeared in Metropolis, anyway? Cao won't say, but apparently you'll find out as you progress through the game.
He will talk about the character creation system, even though we're not being allowed to try it out at this stage. There are three components to every hero or villain, including the previously discussed movement type. Power type refers to the element your character's abilities are based around - ice, fire, electricity and light are given as examples, and more will be revealed in future. And finally there's your power source, which refers to the way your power manifests itself. This might be pistols, swords or daggers, but, "It's not like a normal MMO weapon slot, it's more a part of your character that grows with you," says Cao.
Every player-controlled character in the game will be original - you can't "be" Batman or Superman, for example. "The reason for that is, we want them to feel real," Cao explains. "The best way to make Superman feel real isn't to have you play just another Superman in another Superman game, but to have your own character, and earn the right to fight alongside him." And to earn that right, you'll have to level up and prove yourself in the DC universe. "So come the day Superman asks for your help, you'll get a chill, because you know you're good enough; you're powerful and respected enough to have reached that echelon."