X-Men Origins: Wolverine Uncaged Edition
Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: 05/01/2009
Let the summer movie-tie in season begin! Featuring the stunning likeness of Hugh Jackman, the mutant with the unbreakable metal skeleton and mutant healing factor returns to the video game world. Wolverine has headlined a few less than stellar games in the past, but with Raven Software at the helm, who did such a great job with the X-Men: Legends and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance titles, we might see something spectacular. So I did what any self-respecting Wolverine fan would do: I drank a six pack of Molson, saluted the Canadian flag, and jammed a set of steak knives through my hands. Let’s find out if this game is the best there is at what it does. Oh, and I promise, that’s the last time I’ll say that.
Let’s get something out of the way right up front. Do you see that big “M” on the cover of the game? It means Mature. This is the berserker Wolverine game that so many people have wanted for so long. The 360 and PS3 versions are considered the “Uncaged” editions because they are based on the Unreal 3 engine and bloody as hell. More limbs go flying in this game than in Ninja Gaiden 2. The opening cut scene has more metal going through brains than freshman day on a neurosurgeon campus. Not for kids. Clear? Good. Moving on.
Since this is based off of the movie, much of the story and setting comes from the movie continuity. You begin on route to a secret government mission in Africa, along with several other members of Strike Force X. From there, you will flash back and forth in your mind to a fight with Sabretooth, to the iconic implantation of the adamantium and the escape from the Weapon X facility. After that, the game follows two time lines. You will be tracking down Sabretooth in the present day while reminiscing about why you left the Department K in the past. The game bounces back and forth nicely, but you spend way, way, way too much time in Africa for my taste. I’m not going to go into complete detail and compare every frame of the movie, but the game does stick pretty close to the film when it can. That hurts it immensely. One of the coolest things about the Spider Man games have been the fact that they tossed about a third of the villains gallery into the games for side missions and whatnot. Here we have a slavish devotion to the film world except for the opening and closing cut scenes, which hint gloriously at the Days of Future Past time line…but fail to do anything with it. Ultimately, the story keeps things moving, but doesn’t do anything special.
Most people have a good sense of what the Unreal 3 Engine can do, and it is used here to wonderful effect. The easy stuff first: movement is smooth, animations are very natural, light and shadows are good. You will have probably about a dozen enemies to deal with at the most crowded moments, and the only slowdown is for the closeups of extreme violence. There is some great environmental effects also. When you fight Sabretooth in an old bar early on, as you slash at each other claw marks appear on the bar, floor, and walls as you go tearing up the place.
In order to simulate his enhanced senses, pressing up on the directional pad overlays a smoky, hazy filter on the world. Enemies and breakable objects pop up in yellow, dangerous things appear red, and environmental weapons show up in green. There is no change in the pace of this popping in, and you can turn it on and off at will.
Special mention must be made of Logan’s regeneration and the effects of it. I’ll talk about the healing mechanic later, but let’s face it: you are going to get messed up. As you take damage, you dynamically get wounds. The graphics team went out of there way here to show just how much pain this guy absorbs. As you are shot, stabbed, smashed, and cut, your uniform will tear away, and so will your flesh. There are times when you have taken so much damage that you look more like the Terminator than a human. It is wonderful that the entire skeletal system can be exposed. Once you’ve finished cutting people down, you start to heal, and slowly the meat comes back and skin covers it. You have to see it in action to appreciate it, but I loved watching it.
Not everything is perfect. Every once in a while if a big enemy grabs you and slams you to the ground, you appear a few feet behind their hands. Blood has that kind of maroon tint that you see in the Gears of War games, which is kind of odd. A bigger problem is, that unless you install the game onto your hard drive, it will sometimes freeze and display “Streaming” as it loads a new area. I can’t believe the game was released like that, but if you consider the hard deadline of a movie release date you can understand. The problems here are more quibbles than game-ruiners, and most of the time you won’t notice a thing other than your blazing claws of death. When you get in a close up of Wolverine and an enemy locked hand in hand, both of them shredded to bits, you’ll forget about any small issues.
Voice acting is solid all the way, with Hugh Jackman delivering most of the game’s lines and dialogue. Strangely, you seem to know when an enemy is there slightly before you can see them. If you’re a Wolverine fanboy, you can probably just write that off as an amazing sense of smell, but it is a little weird when you issue a threat a full three seconds before you can see anyone. Also, the sound mixing is way, way off. Voice effects always seem quieter than sound effects. During the cutscenes, everything seems a little bit muffled so you turn the volume up. Then when the game jumps back into combat, it gets really loud. I don’t want to mess with my remote all the time, thanks. The sound effects do get repetitive, also. I don’t know how many times you can have a new sound for metal going through someone’s skin though, so I guess that is understandable. There is a lot of grunting as you climb along walls and up ropes too.
Ah, now we get to the-pardon the pun-meat of the matter. This game is a bloody, brutal joy to play. It controls pretty much as you would expect, left stick moves, right stick adjusts the camera, jump, light attack, strong attack, and grab are all mapped to the AXYB buttons. The action is very much that of an action game, just like a Ninja Gaiden or God of War. You will spend the bulk of your time cutting enemies down before grabbing them and holding down the strong attack button until your claws flash in order to deliver a brutal death. If you tap the block button right before a hit lands on you there is a gruesome counter animation.
This all sounds pretty normal, right? Well then things get interesting. Wolverine has brought something known as a Lunge Attack into the mix. The way it works is if you are more than about five steps away from your enemy, you can press the right shoulder button to lock onto them, and then the left shoulder to dramatically leap across the screen, claws out, and slam into them. Pressing another button at the right time during this means you either toss them across the screen, start pounding your claws into their face, or leap straight up in the air and come down while they try to scoot away, holding up a hand to ward off imminent death. Once you figure this move out, you’ll spend much of the rest of the game doing it. In fact, there are some sections where this becomes a requirement to move on. For instance, during a race across a bridge, the bridge starts to collapse. An enemy gunner is standing on the other side of the bridge taking potshots at you. Right when you are about to plummet to your death, you can lunge at him to get off the bridge, onto safety, and take him out all at the same time. During the many times you get surrounded, lunging from one guy to the next is one of the only ways to get through things.
The game also has the concept of “Combat Reflexes” in it. This boils down to “The more you kill of a certain enemy, the better you can fight against them in the future.” In practice you do more damage and have easier counter-attacks when this is highe. You can also find Mutagens throughout the levels, and you can add three of them to your character to slot new enhancements. Savage means that every time you cut someone, you get a little health back. Samurai builds your Combat Reflexes faster.
There are just a couple of things here to bring you back for more after you’ve beat the game. First off are the multiple costumes. You can collect action figures of different costumes throughout the game, and they lead to new costumes. In an entertaining twist, you actually go into the Danger Room and fight yourself wearing the costume you are trying to unlock once you’ve found enough of the action figures. The game includes the classic Brown and Tan, the original Yellow and Blue, and the newer Black and Gray from the X-Force comic. All of them look really good, and will replace the normal costume in everything except for pre-rendered cutscenes. Between that, leveling up Logan, and maxing out his skills, the only other thing to come back for is Achievements. There is no multiplayer whatsoever. Also disappointing is the inability to play back through using another character. Sabretooth, Deadpool, and Gambit all show up at one point or another with a very similar move style to Logan. It could have been a lot of fun to unlock the ability to play as one of them through the levels after you had beaten the game.
So how do you make a game about an unkillable, walking blender feel balanced? Well, Raven took an interesting approach. You effectively have two health bars. Think of it as “Meat” and “Organs.” Damage takes out the meat first, your skin and muscles. Lose enough of that, and you start to lose health out of your vital organs. Lose all of that, and you pass out and fail the objective. Of course, you are almost constantly healing both of those, so most fights against the normal enemies are really just a question of “Press X or Y until everything stops moving, repeat.” There is very little challenge even when you are heavily outnumbered. Boss fights tend to knock entire chunks off of the bars, so there is a hint of strategy there.
However, the boss fights pretty much suck. There are four boss fights where you actually fight an enemy character the same size as you. These are fun because the game allows both people to use the same tactics and moves. You can lunge at them, they can lunge at you, you both have special moves. These feel more like an open stage fighter than a boss fight. Sometimes they’ll pop up at full health because of story events, but if you can deal with that a few times, then you’re fine. There’s a multi-stage fight with a full size Sentinel that is a bit of a pain, but it isn’t godawful. What is terrible is the sheer amount of recycled bosses that you have to fight. There are three things that you could refer to as a miniboss: a Rock Monster, a Wendigo Prototype that looks like an albino Hulk, and a Sentinel Prototype. They all have pretty much the same moves and the same weakness. The only way to beat them is to dodge and then lunge onto their back, hack at them for about thirty seconds, drop off, and repeat. Boring, repetitive, and pointless. And you fight about 50 of them in the game, all told. It isn’t fun after the fifth or sixth time, and you wonder why there isn’t more diversity in a comic book movie game.
Sure, it’s a movie tie-in based on a comic book, but there are still some new touches in here. Aside from the visual aspect of the healing factor, which is one of the coolest things in here, there is also the fact that you are affected by environmental hazards just like enemies. You can toss a soldier onto a spike coming out of a wall-but if you get knocked back, you might be stuck too, and have to pull yourself off. There are also enemies with spears that will try to jab you. If they do, you can pull yourself up the spear and slash at them when you get in range. Each enemy has a specific fatality and a few random, generic ones that you can pull off, from lifting someone over your head and splitting them in half to cutting off an arm and beating someone to death with it. Also of note is that if you knock an enemy down, they will scoot away on their butt while shooting at you and crying for help. It really helps put you in the mood of a vicious, unhinged killer.
The game isn’t too long; probably an eight to ten hour affair if you want to blast through. However, a lot of that time is filled up with Tomb Raider antics. Since about a third of the game takes place in Africa, you are forced to turn wheels, climb ropes, scale walls, and move switches to open other parts of ancient temples. It really hurts the flow of the game. If you wanted to make this longer, you should have taken some liberties with the story and tossed in a few new levels from scratch. It isn’t like Wolverine doesn’t have a huge comic history to draw from. I’d have much rather spent two hours in Madripoor getting ready for a fight with the Silver Samurai than spent two hours dodging spike traps.
So even if it isn’t all that original, it is still a blast to play. I admit to sitting there with my controller in hand a big grin plastered across my face. X-Men Origins: Wolverine does have some faults, but a lack of fun isn’t one of them. Finding new ways to hurt people never got old, even when it was the same people I’d been massacring my way through for a few hours already. Raven pulled off the bakes on this game and just running around gutting anything that moves is a real joy.
9. Appeal Factor
Look, bub, it’s Wolverine. He’s graced almost every single cover of Wizard magazine for the last decade. he is the deus ex machina of the X-Men universe. This guy has one of the most storied and impressive histories in all of comics. The fact that it is merged into a decent action game makes this even more of an easy recommendation. The fact that it is a bit one sided and on the short side-just like Logan himself-hurts the game. There is not really anything new here that an action game fan hasn’t already experienced
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Wolverine is so popular and omnipresent in the X-Men universe that Raven could have done almost anything with this game. You could go with the living weapon angle. You can go with the tortured, confused past angle. The noble, masterless Samurai angle. You can make Wolverine the sole hope of humans and mutants alike. You can even do a lot of humor with him. Raven merged pretty much all of those except the Ronin angle into a decent game. Little things, like quotes from the comics and movies during load screens, really show some care was taken with the character. The presentation is solid across the board, and the fact that we can finally cut loose with those claws was a wonderful break from the norm in super hero games. At the end of this, I’m left really, really hoping for some Downloadable Content or a full fledged sequel with some more meat on its bones. There is a lot of fun here, and something that isn’t shackled by a scant four environments would be a blas to play with.
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
X-Men Origins: Wolverine takes Marvel’s most popular mutant on a one-man massacre in the movie-based game. Wolverine fans will finally see the gruesome results of every claw slash and stab as you cut a bloody path through some of Logan’s history. There are a few graphical glitches and sound bugs, and the game is not very long or deep. For fans of the character, I can recommend this game with hardly a second thought. For people on the fence or just looking for another action game, you might want to hold off a bit or rent it first.
Tags: Action, Comic Books, Movie Games, Video Game Reviews