Editor’s Note: This review was written after playing only the single-player game for X-Men Legends on the Xbox. We write about video games, we don’t have any friends.
X-Men Legends was originally announced in early 2002 by Activision, but dropped off the radar for over a year and a half before re-surfacing after the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2003. Released in mid-September, X-Men Legends is Raven Software’s most recent project. Well known for their first person shooters, such as Soldier of Fortune and Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force, Raven has developed a fun, playable beat-’em-up.
Following the story of Alison Crestmere, a fourteen-year-old girl from New York City, X-Men Legends begins with the attempted kidnapping of Alison by two members of the Mutant Brotherhood: Mystique and Blob. Wolverine, always a fan favorite, is sent on the mission to recover the young girl who has just recently discovered her power over liquid magma and rock. It is unknown why the Brotherhood would want Alison, but that is what they wish to find out. Over the course of the story, Alison goes from being a young girl to being Magma, an X-Man. Of course, this transformation is not without its bumpiness; many of the standard X-Men bad guys are seen over the course of the game. Juggernaut, Mystique, Magneto, and even the Morlock leader, Marrow, find their way into the X-Men’s path over the course of the game.
X-Men Legends is played on a three-quarters isometric tilt and uses the popular graphical technique of cel-shading. When seen from the standard view, characters look exactly like their comic-book counterparts; even the flashback scenes hold the older models. Unfortunately, when the story sequences run within the game engine and the camera pans in to show the face of an X-Man, the characters appear washed-out, almost as if they were water colored. However, this doesn’t keep the game from looking good outside of the story. Particle effects are all there, as things explode and burst with style. Aside from the occasional background error, such as wood shards coming from a metal object, the environments look excellent, with a great deal of destructibility.
Mutant powers look excellent as well. Magma and Iceman are able to glide across gaps with their abilities to create ice and magma bridges. Cyclops has his optic blast, and it looks like it should: a ruby beam. Magma and Psylocke have the ability to add their powers to punches and kicks; Psylocke looks impressive when her psychic blades slice through an enemy. For the characters whose powers are less visible, such as Wolverine and Cyclops, motion lines, like those seen in the comics, are shown for their huge strikes.
Some of the FMV sequences, such as those seen in the television spots, are very good, though some, such as the news reports, are standard fare. Sentinels are also well drawn in-game, but unfortunately do not seem to have the same sense of speed as they do in the animated series. Occasionally during play the camera will be unable to find a spot where you can see all of the current action, but it doesn’t happen too often.
The aural experience of X-Men Legends may be the most impressive portion. Although a few voices, such as Juggernaut’s, are very mediocre, Patrick Stewart reprises his role as Professor X, giving the game quite a bit of big-name voice acting cred. Aside from Stewart’s impressive voice and a few bad apples, the general voice acting is good. Alison sounds like your average girl, Wolverine like a gruff brawler and Cyclops like everyone’s favorite good-ol’-boy. Sound effects are also superb; the famous ‘shnk’ sound of Wolverine’s claws and the energy-like sound of a psychic blast ring out clearly.
The game’s controls are simple enough: one button for weak attack, one for strong attack, and one to jump. Holding the right trigger and pressing one of the face buttons takes care of the mutant powers. The left trigger blocks and the directional pad switches between the four active X-Men. The controls themselves are very simple and don’t get in the way, although it can be a bit of a chore to get around some elements of the landscape. The major downside with the controls and the AI is that often AI-controlled characters will fall off of cliffs and kill themselves. This is both annoying and expensive, but ultimately minor.
The game flows more like a Strategy-RPG than an Action-RPG. Stages are broken up by visits to Xavier’s School where you can read up on current bonuses and any extras you have found in the previous stage. This is also where story develops, as most conversation happens in the mansion and in the subbasement. Characters are able to purchase power-ups from Forge, who has the wonderful mutant ability to build any machine, and healing items from Healer of the Morlocks, once he has been met.
During the majority of the game, missions are obtained in the subbasement. Generally, there is only one mission to choose from, but occasionally choices are provided. Players are also able to visit the Danger Room in order to level up and hone their skills before going on missions. Once a mission has been chosen, players select the X-Men they would like to bring on the mission. Although choices are initially few, there are over twenty X-Men available near the end of the game. Players are also able to customize their X-Men’s stats here. At level-up, X-Men receive a certain number of statistic points and skill points to distribute. There are four statistics, affecting attack, defense, hit points, and mutant powers. There is also an auto level-up option so that players can quickly skip the level-up options. Players are also able to assign equipment in this menu.
Once they are sent to the mission site, the player controls one X-Man and the AI controls the other three, unless you are playing in multiplayer mode. Players are able to call in their partners to use mutant attacks in order to produce combination attacks. Any mutant attack can be combined with any other mutant attack, but, unfortunately, there is no special animation on-screen except for the extra damage indicator. Players are also able to destroy much of the environment. Early in the game it seems a bit uneven, as Wolverine takes multiple strikes to destroy a trashcan. Later in the game, however, Magma is able to destroy most items in the game, including walls, with a single strike.
Interacting with the environment is a big part of X-Men Legends, and it is a very welcome addition, giving XML a big advantage over many other Action-RPGs. Boss fights are also very fun, although they have disproportional difficulty compared to the rest of the game. In one instance, a boss needs to be killed upwards of four times as cronies resurrect him. All the boss fights are fun, however, and require some amount of thought to win.
Overall, X-Men Legends is a good game with no major flaws. Although it’s certainly not genre busting in any way, it provides Action-RPG fans something better to play than the subpar Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel. Anyone who is a fan of either the X-Men or Action-RPGs will find a fun, 15-hour game with X-Men Legends. Fortunately, after the ending, Apocalypse appears, and a lead-in for the now-announced sequel is shown, so more is on the way.