Review: X-Men Legends (PS2)

Genre: Action/RPG
Platform: PS2
Rating: T [Teen]
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software

Alrighty. So after weeks of waiting, I finally receive my Xbox copy of X-Men Legends.. oh, wait. I don’t have an Xbox. Add another week of trying to find a game shop that would actually do a straight-up trade-in for the PS2 version, and I finally get to plunk the disc into my system and begin some multi-player mutant madness!

My friend Klaus and I finished the game the other night. I would’ve had this done sooner, but current work and job interviews have kept me quite busy this last little bit. Either way, better late than never, right? ;)

There’s been a ton of hype for X-Men Legends ever since the first screenshots surfaced on the net over a year ago. Let’s see if this Action-RPG hybrid lives up to it.



STORY
Okay, I’ll state right off the bat that I stopped reading Uncanny X-Men [or any X-comic for that matter] at about issue #309, so I’m completely unfamiliar with the Ultimate X-Men franchise. But from what I can gather, the game does stay faithful to the basics of X-Men history.

With that being said, we get into the specific story of this particular X-Men piece: A new mutant named Alison Crestmere, aka Magma, is sought after by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. When the Brotherhood’s attempts fail and Alison joins the X-Men, they have no choice but to free Magneto from imprisonment to bring their plan to fruition. That plan? To dominate the humans and make the world better for cutthroat mutants like themselves. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Holy Linear Storyline, Batman.. oh, wait, wrong franchise. Anyway. For an RPG there sure aren’t very many arcs in the storyline. Even if it is working toward one specific goal in the end, there still could’ve been a few alternate paths offered. But, I guess it works out in the end since it’s technically only a half-RPG [half-action], right?
[Rating: 5/10]



GRAPHICS
The detailed and interactive environments = cool.

The cel-shaded blocky characters = not so much. Have I ever mentioned that I hate cel-shaded graphics? Well, I do.

The cut-scenes are pretty well rendered, though, if not a little blocky and pixelated at times.

Other than that, the only real HUGE complaint that I have is that it’s sometimes a little difficult to tell a lot of the X-Men apart during particularly intense gameplay sessions. See, the majority of them wear the same colours, not like in the good old days where Wolverine wore yellow and Cyclops was in navy blue, while Jean was in green. You also get an almost completely overhead view of the action. So, you’re left to hair colours to help you tell the difference most of the time.
[Rating: 5/10]



SOUND
Meh. The soundtrack is a pretty mediocre effort, but does the job. Mostly rock-based music with lots of guitars, and it changes it’s intensity as the fights begin and end.

The effects, however, are all A . Everything from an exploding Sentinel, to the ‘SNKT’ of Wolvie’s claws, to Cykes optic blasts sound exactly as I would’ve imagined them.

The voice acting is another animal all together. Gambit sounds like Elmer Fudd at times while Wolverine sounds way off [sorry, but the early 90’s X-Men cartoon had the best Wolvie voice, ever], and Magma sounds like she should be on Rug-Rats. Even Patrick Stewart does a stellar job of delivering almost all of his lines in a completely wooden and unemotional fashion.
[Rating: 5/10]



GAMEPLAY
This is where X-Men Legends really shines. I love the control scheme of this game. Any game that plays this well, regardless of a bland storyline, is going to get a good grade in my books.

You’ve got your basic weak strikes and strong strikes, melee style. Then, a combination of those two strikes in different patterns will pull off various combo moves similar to Batman/Sin Tzu.

The X-Men’s mutant abilities are real easy to pull off. A simple click of R2 button and you’re presented with a lil’ display of four power icons, each representing a button on the PS2’s controller. Each X-Man has two basic mutant power moves, plus a mutant defense move that normally puts a shield around your character to defend them from specific attacks, as well as a super mutant power move that does all kinds o’ damage to the baddies on the screen. Be warned, though, that constant use of any mutant attack will quickly deplete your mutant energy supply. The energy supply slowly regenerates on its own, but can also be helped along by energy packs [rpg-speak: magic potion].

These abilities are all unlocked via stat points that you gain by increasing your experience level. From what I can gather, all of the “unused” X-Men will also go up levels with you.. but any “on-screen” X-Men will increase in experience at their own pace. Either way, the stat points let you boost your basic and mutant abilities and unlock new attacks. These come in very handy, especially the abilities that increase your maximum health and mutant energy.

Since there are four characters in a team [usually] at once, you’re allowed to switch who you control at will, which is really handy considering the partner AI won’t always do what you want it to [ie: having Iceman create a bridge, it’s just easier to do yourself].

Speaking of the partner AI, one really cool aspect is that you’re able to set your partners’ characteristics in battle. You can choose aggressive and have them attack enemies on sight, or you can choose passive settings that have your partners stand back whilst you hack and slash your way to victory. There’s also a “normal” setting which tells the AI partner to attack when the opportunity is there. You can also set the level of health at which your partner will use a health pack [rpg-speak: health potion]. Really cool AI features, in my opinion.
[Rating: 8/10]



BALANCE
We take another dip down in the scoring for this section. I’d love to give this game a higher score.. but in reality, there’s really no variety. The levels are very linear and unless you’re completely inept or fighting a horde of Sentinels all at once, you’re rarely going to die during a mission.

Sadly, the challenge is either non-existent or just very unbalanced. For instance, Avalanche – a low-tier member of the Brotherhood – is a tougher boss than Magneto. Seriously. Why? I have no idea. But couple this odd balance with the fact that even enemy drones drop health-ups [2 a lot of the time], and you’ve got a seriously skewed game in terms of challenge and difficulty.
[Rating: 5/10]



REPLAYABILITY
Unfortunately, there just isn’t any reason to play this game again after you’ve finished it the first time. I mentioned how story mode was extremely linear, well we can also add that albatross around the neck of the multi-player battle mode. Sure, it’s fun to actually use Havok or Juggernaut. but the novelty wears extremely thin after about 10 minutes.

Did I mention the game was short? Well, it is. There are something like 14 missions, and some of them may seem like they’re never-ending, but when the end does come, you’re left with a “that’s all?” kind of feeling.
[Rating: 5/10]



ORIGINALITY
While the concept may be original [X-Men RPG] the execution isn’t. Nothing really new or innovative has been added to boost this game up above the standard Action/RPG fare. If you’re looking for a revolution of the genre, please move along. If you’re looking for a quick fix of X-Men nostalgia, than it’s original enough.
[Rating: 6/10]



ADDICTIVENESS
As said above, you can complete this game without a huge amount of effort. Once it’s done. It’s done. This isn’t like GTA where you’ve got several strategies to explore and use in your missions. This is the standard go in, beat up the baddies, kill the boss, move along to the next mission. Linear is the key word and addictive.. it ain’t.
[Rating: 4/10]



APPEAL
X-Men Legends is a game that anyone can pick up and play. That, honestly, makes it a good game. Regardless of the linear storyline and any other shortcomings it may have, it is a fun game if you’re looking for something Smash TV’ish. Die-hard X-Men fans will either eat it up for its roster and assortment of inside references [Proteus!] – or they will spit it out due to its lack of key players in the X-Universe [Hello! Archangel, anyone?!].
[Rating: 6/10]



MISCELLANEOUS
The multi-player aspect of this game makes it an okay, if not good, addition to your library. Bust it out during parties, or whatever. A lot of the bigger aspects hurting this game [basic graphics, mediocre sound, and bland story] prevent it from being a huge blockbuster of a game. I definitely don’t expect this to be getting any game of the year awards, but it’s definitely a start for this franchise. We’ll have to wait and see what Activision comes up with in the next round.
[Rating: 6/10]