Review: X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse (XB)
Developer: Raven Software
Hey, it’s my 20th review for IP, and I’m taking a look at yet another game based on a comic book. Looking back on things, this will be my fourth comic book based review (the other three being Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction). Four out of twenty, eh? That’s twenty percent of my reviews, which is a fairly significant amount if you think about it. On the other hand, it seems that comic book based video games, movies, and television series are popping up on a daily basis. And with the announcement that Marvel has signed a deal to fund ten more films based on comic books over the next several years, that trend shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. That’s pretty impressive for a company that was fighting bankruptcy just ten years ago.
At any rate, today’s review is for the brand new sequel to last years X-Men Legends, which was almost universally praised for its action and entertainment, but fell short of greatness in a few key areas. It was a good start for a series, but certainly not the knock out punch that many thought it would be.
And now one year later we have X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse. On the one hand, the game isn’t that much different from its predecessor; the controls remain mostly the same, the gameplay is almost identical, and the games engine hasn’t been changed much. However, that’s not to say there haven’t been any improvements. But are there enough to raise this sequel above the original? Or does it fall short of the standards all ready set?
X-Men Legends 2 kicks off with a bang, to say the least. Magneto, Sabertooth, and Mystique break into a military compound, plowing their way through the guards, only to run into Wolverine, Storm, and Cyclops. But instead of fighting, the two teams continue on through the complex together, eventually rescuing a captured Professor Xavier.
Confused? You won’t be for long. Apparently one of the most powerful mutants on the planet, the 5,000 year old Apocalypse, has taken over the mutant haven of Genosha and captured several of its residents. With the help of Mister Sinister, Apocalypse plans to extract the powers of all the captured mutants and make himself more powerful. And with his four Horseman at his side, rescuing all those who have been captured will prove to be quite a feat indeed. Realizing that either team alone would be hard pressed to combat Apocalypse and his forces, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the X-Men team up to battle their common foe, mostly putting aside their animosity towards each other.
The story really does feel like it’s ripped right from the comic books, with tons of both playable and non-playable characters making an appearance over the course of the game’s five acts. It’s also filled with plenty of action, excitement, twists and turns, and a few surprises. Overall, it’s much better and much more absorbing than the original X-Men Legends, and will be sure to engross both comic book fans and non-fans alike.
Story Score: 8/10
Graphically, the game hasn’t changed too much with the sequel. For all intents and purposes, the level of textures, polygons, and particles have remained pretty much the same. However, this time around there are many more backgrounds and areas to explore, and the cell shading on the characters has been toned down slightly to help them match the backgrounds better. With the first game, characters often looked like cartoons popping up off of a realistic background. While this is still the case to a certain extent, it isn’t nearly as noticeable.
Considering the amount of action going on at one time, and the number of powers and effects being used, I’m surprised that the game rarely shows any sign of slowdown. Through the course of playing it, I only encountered one or two obvious areas where it was an issue. Even with the camera zoomed in as far as I could get it there wasn’t much in the way of information overload.
My biggest complaint with the graphics is that sometimes there is too much on screen at once, and it can be difficult to find your way around or see what you should be doing. Especially in areas where your team is fighting several enemies at one time. Various objects and backgrounds seem to blend together, and spotting doors or paths can be harder than it needs to be. Fortunately the game includes a map that can remain on screen at all times, but it can still be frustrating to lose your way due to a poorly designed area.
Overall the graphics are quite good, with plenty of detail in all the characters and some slight improvements made to the engine. It’s not Halo level in quality, but it will still do in a pinch.
Graphics Score: 8/10
The game’s sound is something of a mixed bag all around. To start with, the various sound effects are good, but get really repetitive after a while. It seems that regardless of where you are, your footsteps always sound the same, boxes and barrels break the same, and your mutant powers don’t have as much variety between characters as they do graphically. That’s not to say that the sounds are bad… just that there could have been more of them.
The game’s music is pretty good overall, although nothing overly catchy or that will get stuck in your head. It’s entirely orchestral and tends to flair up during the more exciting moments of the game, and then die down again when things get quiet. There is a pretty decent variety here, although certain themes seem to play more often than others. Still, it’s nice to have a quality soundtrack created for a game rather than borrowed from existing media.
The voice work for each of the characters range from awesome to eyebrow raising. As always, Patrick Stewart really shines as Professor Xavier. After seeing him in the films and hearing him in the previous game, he will forever be Professor X in my eyes. Which actually leads way to an interesting thought… Professor X as Captain of the Enterprise with a combination of mutants and Starfleet personnel as crew? But I digress…
Most of the other voices are adequate, if nothing spectacular. I was actually fairly impressed with both Sabertooth and Wolverine, although some characters like Cyclops and Magneto came off as a little dry. Rogue sounds borderline ridiculous, as her southern accent is so cliched it’s almost comical. Colossus with his Russian accent almost suffers the same fate, although not quite to the same degree.
In the end, the game has solid sound, with a bit too much repetition in the effects, a nice orchestral score, and some hit or miss dialogue. None of it takes away from the game, however, although the few areas that do really shine just make the others more noticeable. A good effort all around, but could have used just a little more work.
Sound Score: 7/10
4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
As I’ve mentioned previously, the control and gameplay are almost completely identical to the first game. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The controls are solid and there haven’t been any noticeable changes here. However, this means that everything you might have disliked about the first game reappears here.
For starters, you control your chosen team member with the left analog stick. Switching between team members can be done with the d-pad. Jumping, fighting, healing, and other abilities are all performed with the various buttons, and the camera is controlled with the left analog stick. The left trigger will call your allies to you, and finally, using the right trigger in conjunction with one of the four main buttons performs one of your mutant powers.
Once again, the camera is a big pain in the ass. For the most part it tends to hover above your characters at roughly a three-quarter overhead. However, when your team gets separated, it will zoom out as far as it needs to to keep everyone in the screen. This can cause all kinds of confusion, as suddenly you will find yourself unable to see what is going on, and unable to manually correct the camera. This also tends to occur way more often than it should, and the limited control you have over the camera can become a huge deal, especially later in the game and during boss fights.
The biggest issue I have with the controls aside from the camera involves being able to target an opponent, especially for ranged combat. Up close isn’t much of an issue, as your attacks will pretty much hit anything as long as they are roughly in front of your character. However, long ranged attacks, such as Cyclops’ eye beam or Gambit’s cards, have a terrible tendency to miss even when you think you have a perfect shot lined up. The solution to this is simple, however… switch to a character who is primarily a brawler (Juggernaut comes to mind), and go to town while the AI deals with the range aspects. That is, assuming you didn’t want to be a ranged combat player.
Speaking of the games AI, there have been several improvements this time around. Overall your computer controlled characters perform well and you will rarely need to worry too much about them. To top it off, you can tweak their AI settings to suit your needs. Feel free to toss Rogue and Wolverine on aggressive, while Bishop and Storm hang back and fire from a distance. Granted, your computer controlled friends don’t always perform as expected, but you generally won’t need to take over for them if you don’t want to.
Additionally, you can use the AI to automatically level up your characters and distribute equipment for you. This is a nice option for those who don’t want to worry about micromanaging every aspect of their characters and will allow you to focus more on playing the game. This is great for those who just want to stick with the action, while those who are more inclined to pick and choose their characters abilities can take the time to do so.
Should you choose to take care of all your characters needs, however, you’ll be forced to work with the somewhat clunky menu system. For some strange reason, you use X like normal to select a menu option, but when you want to level a character up or view their stats, you have to select them with the d-pad and then hit Y. This makes no sense to me whatsoever, and is actually a bit annoying. The remainder of the menu options aren’t quite as counter intuitive, but there is so much buried in there that it may take you a few minutes of browsing to get situated with it.
The game itself is made up of five acts which are broken into several missions. Each mission has its share of goals to accomplish and minibosses to defeat, followed by a battle with one of the four Horseman of Apocalypse at the end of each act, and a fight with the big man himself at the end of Act 5.
For the most part it doesn’t matter which team you put together to play through the game, although certain combinations will obviously work better for you than others. As you progress through each area, floating blue X’s will denote places where you will need to use a mutant power to progress. Occasionally you may need to return to a save point to switch your team, but most of the time this isn’t an issue, as various mutants can tackle the same problem in different ways.
As I mentioned in graphics, there is an in game map system to help you with navigation. Areas you have all ready explored show up in gray, while new areas on the edge of your vision show up in red, or completely blanked out. Additionally, mission goals and objectives can be seen as blinking yellow arrows or exclamations, so you will always know where you need to go, even if you aren’t entirely sure how to get there. And while the first game was pretty linear, this one is quite a bit more open ended, with plenty of areas to explore off the beaten path. That’s not to say you deviate from the main storyline, but exploration plays a bigger part in each area.
Lastly, the game has built in multiplayer, so you can always bring in a friend, or two, or three to help out. And if you don’t have any friends nearby? Well, you can always hop on to X-Box Live and hook up with some buddies over the internet. The game is fun enough by yourself, but it takes on a whole new dimension of enjoyment when you can play through it with some teammates.
Overall, the controls are solid, although not without their flaws, and the gameplay is quite good with some nice improvements over the original. And the campaign itself is long enough to keep even the most hardcore gamers busy for a decent while.
Control and Gameplay Score: 7/10
After you’ve beaten the single player campaign, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to go through it again. However, for those who wish to challenge themselves, there are three different difficulty settings to work your way through. Additionally, beating the game will unlock Deadpool as a playable character.
Also during the game you will find various items that you can collect. These will help to unlock various cinematics, pictures, and other goodies from the main menu. Also, if you can manage to locate all four homing beacons in each of the first four acts, you will have the chance to unlock Iron Man.
Lastly, there are a number of challenges you can complete in the Danger Room. If you can manage to complete them all, you will unlock Professor X. These missions range from being extremely easy to almost impossibly hard, so it should take you a while to get through all of them.
And of course there is always the multiplayer aspect of the game, which really helps to extend its lifecycle. Playing through the game once on your own is enjoyable enough, but doing it with some friends is even more entertaining. And with sixteen characters to choose from out of the gate, and the three others to unlock, you could potentially play the game any number of times with different team combinations.
Replayability Score: 8/10
X-Men Legends 2 is pretty well balanced, even with the sheer number of playable characters, powers, and abilities that you can wield. Enemies at the beginning of the game are mostly pushovers as you learn the controls and begin to advance your characters, while enemies in later stages start to really require some work to defeat. Especially the bosses, which will take all your powers to defeat.
If there is one complaint I have with the game’s balance, it is in its almost beat-’em-up type nature. Enemies tend to come at you almost mindlessly, and get slaughtered by a mix of melee tactics and special powers. Health packs and energy packs are plentiful, so rarely will you need to worry about reserving your mutant abilities.
That’s not to say that the game is easy… just that you won’t need to do a lot of tactical thinking through most of it. Bosses provide an exception to this, but your standard enemies are pretty much cannon fodder.
At any rate, the difficulty scales nicely, and there are plenty of challenges along the way. Just don’t expect much in the way of strategic thinking.
Balance Score: 8/10
There have been a ton of comic book based games, and plenty of them have been based on the X-Men. Not only is this game a sequel, but it is incredibly similar to the 6-player arcade game that was so popular many years ago. You could also easily draw comparisons in the gameplay to the Gauntlet series, which basically set the standard for four player action RPGs.
Still, the sheer number of characters you can play with, the various powers and abilities, and the excellent storyline all help to add a little bit more originality to what would otherwise be an average scoring game here.
Originality Score: 6/10
This game is a ton of fun, especially if you can get some friends to come over for a solid play session. It’s not quite crack on a stick, but it’s pretty damn close. Especially for fans of the comic book, or comic books in general.
The storyline is also incredibly absorbing and moves along at a brisk pace. It will develop and expand even while you are in the middle of an area, and it really helps to make you feel like you are making progress. And once you start gaining powers and really seeing your team come into their own, you’ll just want to play that much more.
Addictiveness Score: 9/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
The first game was a success, and so I have no doubt that this one will be as well. Anyone who enjoyed the first game will find plenty to like here, along with enough tweaks, improvements, and additions to help separate this game from the original. Comic book fans who haven’t given the first game a try owe it to themselves to at least give this one a rent, and fans of action RPGs like Gauntlet will surely enjoy this as well.
With all the comic book based films, shows, and other mediums flooding the markets, the genre is beginning to gain a cultural acceptance that it’s never really had. And with that, the appeal of games like this will reach out to more than just their core audience. I honestly can’t imagine very many people not liking at least part of this game.
Appeal Factor Score: 9/10
There really is so much to like about X-Men Legends 2. The story, action, and gameplay are all solid, and the graphics and sound mostly only help to add to these areas. Sure, it’s not without its flaws, but you’ll be hard pressed to find many other games that are more enjoyable right now.
There are also a ton of bonus items that you’ll come across… from extra cinematics and videos to artwork and unlockable characters. There are even various team combinations that you can put together that will have a special effect on each of your characters. For example, put together Scarlet Witch, Toad, Juggernaut, and Magneto as the Brotherhood, and get a 5% bonus to your experience gain. Other combinations will give you extra resists, more health, or more energy.
If you enjoyed the first game, then I probably don’t need to tell you to give this one a try. But if you have never picked it up, then I highly suggest giving this one a rental. All of the elements come together to create an engrossing and entertaining game, and I doubt you’ll be disappointed with the end results. As with Burnout Revenge, this is another one I will probably be adding to my video game collection, and gladly so.
Miscellaneous Score: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 9
Final Score: 8.0 (Great)