Yeah so I am always on a superhero kick, it just has not shown itself here as much as it could have 🙂
I wanted to do this review more for adding a little bit more visibility to the publisher in a way that is not just bitching about them. There has been a lot of web traffic in the past few years about Palladium and the owner of the company than I have really seen for anyone else. I am not saying that the people ranting are incorrect in their points of view, but I want to put something out there that is not feeding those fires, and just talking about one of their classic products. If you want to read about or participate in those conversations then I suggest you look for them online elsewhere as I will actively delete any comments that bring those things up.
So Heroes Unlimited is another one of those super games that makes some interesting claims about what they provide, and when they provided it. They, at one time, called themselves the first complete superhero role playing game. If you are skilled with search engine image searches you can still find them. Since the game was first published in 1984 and there were a ton of other supers games coming out at the time I think you may have to take a broad perspective to get a real feel for who was first at what, most complete at what, or, well, anything really.
Just like anything else that has come out from Palladium the game engine is their Megaversal system. Which means it is a class and level system. Unlike some other class and level systems it does not allow you to multi-class. So your mutant will not also have cybernetics, or magic or anything else. They will always be a mutant and that’s it. Now then there are ways around that, like just going ahead and having the GM approve that the money your character saved up will buy a talisman that gives you something extra, or that the accident your character was in means you need to get them cybernetics as well. But this takes some home brewing and it can make things a little unwieldy. There are other elements that are very strict as well in playing the game. The combat system is a little bit hinkey, and if you are thinking about starting characters at first level, I really cannot recommend it. I remember sitting down to play a first level game back in high-school and we had one fight take hours. Unless you do some serious power tweaking on average you will need to have one character hit a thug at least five times to knock them out. If you are facing an enemy super you need to look more along the lines of about twenty five times with above average rolls. Part of the reason fights can take a long time is because of the way the Megaversal engine works with damage. Characters have classic hit points, but they also have SDC – Structural Damage Capacity. The rules describe the SDC as being the same as all the cinematic damage you see in the movies that makes the hero look beat all the hell and back but never actually slows them down. Personally I love the idea, but the number values that most characters build up means you can shoot one in the face with a rifle about six times and it will not faze them. On the up side they have things like a random background generator that you can have tons of fun with, and an alignment system that feels a lot more natural to me than the one you find in D&D. Also on the up side, even thought the system does not allow multiclassing, the individual classes themselves are actually pretty cool. Some allow for more customization than others, but you can still create just about anything you want.
The power level of the characters in the game actually can be seen as an issue for some players. The game engine does not really allow you to get a Superman or Thor level of power. You can look like it, but you cannot get a power level that will let you pick up battle ships and beat others with them, or use your optical laser to cut through a mountain. That is because the game engine is trying to keep things somewhat balanced between the mutants, the mages, and the super spies. It is a hard thing to do when you want to put rules into place so that a super spy feels useful when mages, psionics and alien robots are all on the same team. There has to be something unique that each character can do, or at least something they can do way better than anyone else. And still have it feel that way both in and out of combat. And that is something that the first edition, specifically the revised one, does really well.
The other challenge Palladium faced is that they want to make games that can all cross over. So their big gun Rifts can be crossed into your super world with everything else they do. Sadly the power creep in the Rifts setting makes this a pain in the butt to keep up with. But at the time of original publication, it worked and worked well.
When it was first published the game did not get a lot of support, and the only other book for Heroes Unlimited for quite some time was a licensed product for Justice Machine. A comic book series that most of you will never have heard of before. Still its in my collection because I know them, and loved the characters in the original two series. I think the reason they put that book out though is because they did not really put much into the original book in the way of setting, or pre-generated villains to fight. Of the five villains they did publish in the main rule book all of them are min-maxed and higher than level one. So there is no entry level play possible without some work by the person running the game. Even when they later published Villains Unlimited there was only one character in there that was level one. If I remember correctly. I don’t have that in front of me while I am writing this, and so if someone out there has the first edition VU and wants to correct me I will admit being wrong.
There is a ton of material in the book for tools, toys, vehicles and so on, that anyone can get with the right money, so you can even set up a super hero base pretty easy and kit it out without much effort.
If you get the idea here that I am pushing even though I am bouncing around a lot, the game is very much a mixed bag. There are some really cool aspects of it, there are also some really ‘WTF did I just read’ aspects of it. It got a little better in the 2nd edition, but that is not being covered here.
So how does it score?
Overall Fluff 2/5 – There is some really cool art, and some really bad art. There is a very cool section about world hot spots that they used in a lot of their other games. There is no setting and only five NPCs so not a lot to work with. And unlike other Palladium games there is very little color commentary by NPCs or even book quotes.
Overall Crunch 3/5 – The rules are a mixed bag and I would honestly recommend that if you don’t play the Megaversal engine a lot you might want to start with another one of Palladium’s games so you can get accustomed to everything you will need to do to shake and bake the game to fit your needs.
Overall Mod 2/5 – Not only is the game not easy to mod while maintaining the balance it created it is necessary if you want to step outside the standards even a little.
Overall Fun 4/5 – So with all that in mind how do I still find it fun? I know the engine, I know the system and I really do like being able to play supers where I don’t have to worry about meeting up with some boyscout with an S on his chest making me and everything I do seem useless to the city. There is a lot of fun to be had if you are willing to invest the time to get to know the rules and make an investment in some of the supporting materials to take a little bit of the stress off the game masters shoulders.
Total Score 11/20 – Another low score for a game I have played for years and will keep playing. One of the reasons I loved this game right off was due to the fact I could mix it with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game and Robotech. That also required more than a few mods but still… heh that was fun.
So I hope everyone is remembering to have their own opinions and enjoying whatever games they love to play, regardless of what anyone like me says about them.
Now gimme the dice, I need to have a random encounter for breakfast.