Game Review: X-Men Legends

X-Men have been the most recognizable comic book heroes next to Superman and Batman, and probably Marvels biggest source of money! For years video game companies have tried and tried to capture the essence of X-Men on the video game console. They’ve succeeded in certain aspects and utterly failed in most, which is the trend for most comic book-to-video games. The last successful X-Men game would probably be undoubtedly the arcade game. The later interpretations are mediocre if anything, the exception being the Marvel vs. Capcom or X-Men vs. Street Fighter games.

Now, Activision with Raven have brought to consoles everywhere the best X-Men game ever…. and it’s an RPG. An odd mix, but it works really well. X-Men Legends does not take place in a certain X-Men Universe (Uncanny, New X-Men, Ultimate, etc.). However, it draws upon a little bit from every X-Men universe and makes it as user friendly as possible, catering to those who either didn’t, couldn’t, or weren’t alive to follow the intricate dramas of the ’90s. The game does rely more heavily on the newer X-Men universe, the Ultimate X-Men. This is most apparent in the uniforms that the X-Men start off with, although, once the game is completed you can unlock their more classic costumes. There is also a neat feature that allows you to play key moments in the X-Men history, such as the attack of the Sentinels in NYC and the assault of Juggernaut on the X-Mansion.

GAME PLAY

X-Men Legends is designed as an action RPG, meaning it’s real time and not turn based; it’s a lot of button mashing. The game is divided into two parts really: the dungeon exploring and the hub exploring. First, the hub. You play as a new X-Man recruit, Magma. As Magma you explore the X-Mansion, the various rooms, dormitories, and the subbasement which houses the War Room, Danger Room, and Cerebro. Through exploration of the X-Mansion, you meet other fellow X-Men and can learn about who they are and their backgrounds. This is a great feature for those gamers that aren’t familiar with the X-Men but can become a real drag for those who are well versed in the X-Men ways. There’s also a little trivia mini-game that tests you on your X-Men knowledge, each correct answer rewarding you with experience points. Aside from roaming the X-Mansion, you can participate in Danger Room scenarios. These scenarios are part tutorials-part challenges as the early missions teach you how to play the game and the later ones utilize what you have learned.

Throughout the game, you can unlock more Danger Room missions or you can even buy them. There are also character specific challenges that can be found as well. Other than that, you can view load screen art, look at X-Men bios, watch cinematics, look at concept art, and invade the rooms of fellow X-Men. In the beginning of the game, the hub situations are really helpful but as the game progresses, it does become more of a hassle as you roam the huge X-Mansion to see if there is anything else to unlock between missions to find that there isn’t.

The dungeon exploring is where the meat of the game is however. During missions, you are prompted to choose four of fifteen X-Men, some of which you have to unlock, to go on the mission. The great thing is, it is not binding: at save points you can change your team members. Changing who you control is as simple as pressing a button as well as each X-Man is assigned an arrow on the D-pad. Need to switch to Wolverine? Simple, just press up if you assigned him to be on the top. Need Iceman? Press left if that’s where you assigned him. This quick ability to switch to different characters really helps to keep the pace of action instead of slowing it down.

Each X-Man has two basic types of attacks, mÃ?ªlÃ?©e and mutant power. These are easily interchangeable as all you have to do is hold down R1 (PS2) and press one of the buttons to use a mutant power. Each character also has three different mutant powers, each on assigned to a button and an X-Treme power which is assigned the top most button. As you level up, you can place skill points into mutant powers that you want to upgrade, making them stronger and better. Another cool thing is that if you preform a mutant attack on a certain baddie and one other X-Man uses theirs, it creates a combo that stacks extra damage and experience points. These combos come in real handy when fighting bosses as it can really stop them cold real fast. With the number of different X-Men and each having up to three mutant powers, it’s almost limitless on how many combos you can pull off. There’s also a button to call for assistance which will command your X-Men buddies to use their mutant powers on whoever you are attacking. This can be utilized to create combos almost every time you attack someone.

As mentioned earlier, at every level up you assign skill points to mutant abilities. You also control how each X-Man progresses in terms of attack power, defense, hit points, and mutant energy (magic). If you’re not a big number crunching person when playing RPGs, you can also let the computer decide which points go where. X-Men Legends isn’t as deep as other RPGs out there and it’s pretty easy to know where to put the points awarded when leveled up. Just think of what type of X-Man each character is and assign points accordingly. For example, Wolverine should get most of his points put into his attack and the least amount of points in his mutant abilities. Cyclops, on the other hand should be the complete opposite as he relies on his optic blasts instead of his fists. This general formula can be applied to almost all X-Men, they’re either brawlers or power users.

The level design is pretty straight forward and linear. You just go from room to room, section to section, and clear all the areas out before proceeding to the next. There are objectives to each section such as kill this, blow up that, pick this up, or rescue so and so, but it’s pretty much clearing the area out of any baddies. There are some situations that require certain abilities of certain X-Men to progress in the mission. The most common situation would be where you encounter a huge gap and need to create a bridge. This is a simple job for Jean, Iceman or Magma as they are the ones that can use their mutant powers to create bridges. Other situations require Cyclops’ optic blast to meld metal together or Jean’s Psychic push to move certain pieces of equipment. These situations are easily identifiable as there is a blue X floating above the area that can be manipulated.

The story focuses on the X-Men’s struggle with the Brotherhood of Mutants led by Magneto himself, who you get to fight later on. At the same time, the X-Men need to deal with the hateful discrimination of regular humans. These two struggles seem to be two separate stories but they come together quite nicely. The story itself is not an epic story in the calibers of Final Fantasy, but a good enough one for the X-Men universe. Also, as you progress the story, you get flashbacks where you play key moments in the X-Men history. During these stages, you’re assigned the X-Men you can use and they’re in their classic costumes as well.

All in all, the game play is pretty solid. The controls are very responsive and very user friendly. There is no difficulty when switching X-Men or using their mutant powers. The frame rate is always smooth and the animation is done very well. The only negative would be the load times. They’re just horrendous and there are a lot of them. Every time you want to access the Character menu, it’s a load time. Every time you want to revert back to game play, there’s a load time.

As fun as the game may be in single player mode, the game is ten times more fun in co-op mode as you can have up to four players (multi-tap required for PS2). Each friend can take the role of an X-Man during the missions and Danger room situations, most of them anyway. There are certain missions that only let you have one, two, or three players at one time and the hub situation is only meant for one player, so during these times your friends will have to sit out and wait. Certain Danger Room missions also limit you to just one player and this too is a bummer if you have friends waiting to play, though these can be done on your own time anytime.

GRAPHICS

X-Men Legends is done with cell shading. For those not used to the terminology, it basically means there’s a black outline on the characters, like a comic book. This really helps in making the game feel like a comic book. The environments are designed with a good amount of detail but the enemies are varied by their colors. This isn’t too bad though because you’ll be so busy hacking and slashing and blasting them that you won’t really care. The cinematics are done nicely, though maybe not on the Final Fantasy caliber, but done nicely nonetheless. The load screen art work are beautiful to look at and are a pleasant touch instead of making players wait staring at a black screen.

SOUND

The sound is not bad at all. There is some adrenaline music that comes on when you start fighting a horde of enemies that dies down when you’re done kicking their butts, and then there are the ambient sounds that are very subtle but very appropriate. For example, when exploring the X-Mansion, you can hear the grandfather clock ticking and in the subbasement you hear little computer noises in the background. The sound effects are done pretty nicely as well. The voice acting however is just mediocre. There are some parts when it’s just great and very fitting, but other parts where you just want to turn the volume off. The taunts of the baddies sometimes get annoying but rarely, and doesn’t really take away from the experience. All in all, the sound is pretty good but has room for improvement.

All in all, the game is a very solid and enjoyable game from a strictly game perspective. From an X-Men fan’s perspective it is the best X-Men game out there. Even though it’s considered an RPG, it really plays like an action game and should last you 20+ hours. Plus, with all the unlockables, such as art work and Danger Room missions, there’s always a reason to go back and play it again to see if you can unlock everything. Another incentive would be that the second time around, you can play using the classic costumes. Add 15 of your favorite X-Men and the ability to play with three of your best friends, this game is a total must have. The cherry on top? It’s only 20 bucks.

My Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Would I pay $20 for this game? Yes.

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