X-Men Legends

Haven’t played “X-Men: Legends” yet? I haven’t until now. I had wanted to get into this title, but hadn’t done so until very recently especially with the sequel looming over the horizon finally prodding me to see what was exciting enough to earn one. That and it has been a pretty dry spell for RPGs as of late, especially action RPGs, so I’ve been filling the gaps with the occasional catch up title.

Just to give you a head’s up, I’m one of those that only know of the X-Men through the occasional comic book, cartoon series, and movies. The paltry collection of X-Men comics that I do have warrants me enough cred to possibly stand in as a tourist in the X-Men universe than as someone that can trace the lineage of every member of the team verbatim. But I love a good game and although its been long in coming, I finally got around to seeing what this particular incarnation of the X-Men gaming franchise had to offer a dungeon crawler like myself.

The version below was mutated on the X-Box.

Brotherly Love

Being an action RPG, “Legends” wastes little time in throwing the player right into the action. The title starts you off in Wolverine’s boots as New York succumbs to an attack by the Brotherhood in their bid to kidnap a mutant by the name of Alison Crestmere. Unfortunately, everyone jumps on the bandwagon to start shooting and soon government soldiers are on the scene ready to put mutants back ‘in their place’. The Brotherhood is still cutting a swath of destruction through downtown on their way out and Wolverine’s the only mutant at the moment that has sniffed out their trail. Guess who gets to fill his boots?

Danger Room Analysis

The controls felt well laid out, many of the key functions within easy reach so managing your team of superheroes isn’t that much of a hassle. Switching between different party members is a simple matter of flicking in the direction of who you want to control on the D-pad, using special abilities is a snap, and calling everyone to your side in case you find yourself the target of a Sentinel’s devoted hate is as easy as pulling back on the L trigger. You are also able to control the in-game camera using the right thumbstick which was somewhat of a mixed blessing.

The entire game is played from a third person perspective with the ability to zoom in and out of the action through the use of several preset modes for the camera which, unfortunately, suffered from the chronic illness of ‘annoying third person camera angles’. Some of the viewed angles made it more frustrating than it should have been to perform, for example, precision aiming with your ranged attacks to destroy certain obstacles that would kill or seriously harm your characters if they had gotten close. Enemies with ranged attacks did not suffer in the same way as they would many times unleash missiles or whatever else they can shoot at you from beyond the edge of the screen in several instances. The other camera modes which tend to ‘zoom in’ closer to the action were all but useless, although they allowed you to admire the ass kicking from a front row seat as opposed to the eye in the sky.

When you start out, you enter the game as Wolverine and are introduced to the title’s controls through a tutorial that shows you all of the basics that you will need when you face later challenges. Once complete, you’ll find yourself back at the xavier School for the Gifted, the ‘secret’ headquarters for the X-Men and the ‘hub’ of the game where many of your missions will get their start from. The title is built atop the ‘mission hub’ formula allowing for quiet interludes at the mansion between each one where you get to control Alison Crestmere, the newest member of the school and the girl who the Brotherhood had tried to kidnap at the start of the game.

Through Alison’s eyes, you’ll get to explore the school and even get to talk to a few of the X-Men that happen to be standing around doing what…well…superheroes do when they get downtime. There are also a few things in the mansion that players can do such as review the bios for the X-Men they’ve met, check out enemy bios, or review any of the comic or art asset bonuses that you may have picked up from your missions.

Most of the combat in the game, as you’ll be introduced to it when you first start out, is purely action oriented. Combos and other attack options are literally at your fingertips with the controls allowing you to basically button mash your way through most combats. As your chosen heroes become better at what they do with experience and level up, the opportunity to improve their skills and unlock new ones becomes available. You’ll be able to assign points to statistics such as agility (defense) and strength (damage potential) as well as add points to bolster existing skills or unlock new ones. Should you sharpen Wolverine’s claws? Should Jean Grey invest in Psi Armor or save her points for the Phoenix? The choice is entirely yours. If managing stats and skills isn’t your thing and bashing brains is, you can always opt to have the game automatically assign all of your earned points into what it thinks you will need to annihilate the enemy.

AS you continue to take on missions, more X-Men will join you on your quest to discover what is eating the Brotherhood of Mutants (apparently, they opted to drop ‘Evil’ from their nomenclature in order to keep up with the times). Before starting each mission, the game will create a default ‘team’ for you to use which you can always change around if you can’t stand the thought of leaving without your favorite X-Man. Once you’ve picked out your team, you’ll head right into the action.

And to help you keep track of your progress, scattered throughout the title’s mission locations and introduced at the beginning are what are called ‘X-traction’ points where you can save your progress, shuffle around team members, and eventually purchase equipment and supplies from another X-Man, Forge. As you defeat enemies, they will drop all sorts of items and equipment that you and your team can use ranging from armor to items and relics that can dramatically improve your ability to dish out the pain. Along with useful items, they will also drop what are called ‘tech bits’ which act as the title’s gold standard and can be exchanged with Forge at X-traction points. He’s got a pretty decent selection of items and if you find that your inventory is better than his, you can always sell what you don’t need.

You will also get to play with the Danger Room. This is particularly important because of how the missions are actually played out in the title. Each mission takes place in X-Men’s version of a ‘dungeon’ which range from the streets of New York to the frozen bowels of the Earth, all viewed in third person mode. Many of these locations hold a large number of bad guys that you can whomp on for experience and goodies, but there are only a finite number of them in any given mission for the most part, but more on that later. However, unlike most traditional RPG titles, you cannot go back and revisit these locations. Once a mission is completed, that’s it.

Enter the Danger Room. Here, you can practice with the action oriented combat engine in a variety of missions that test your skills with specific objectives. When you first try out the Danger Room, you’ll find that you can only select the ‘Freshman’ level of challenges from an incomplete list. To find additional missions, you’ll have to scour the locations that you are sent to in order to discover hidden ‘Danger Room Discs’ that add additional training sessions or character specific challenges to what you have access to. To move from one difficulty level to the next requires that you pass a ‘Graduation Exam’. If you succeed in passing this, the next difficulty becomes available along with whatever sessions you have found. Later in the game, you will have the option to purchase certain discs that you failed to find in previous missions, but don’t expect to get them all this way.

Danger Room missions can be revisited as many times as you want allowing you to really work on building up your team’s skills and abilities. In addition, anything found in a Danger Room setting can be saved and added to your inventory…at least the first time around. Additional visits to completed sessions won’t net you more tech bits that you can spend, but you can still farm the session for much needed experience.

But as the game progresses, your stable of X-Men will soon grow to include a huge variety of members that you can use as mentioned above. Fortunately, the designers have made it so that they also earn experience while waiting for their chance to prove themselves. They might not earn as much experience as they would have if they were fighting alongside your favorite heroes, but the title does a decent job in keeping them close enough to the members that are on the bleeding edge so as not to have you worry about someone ten levels behind the next person.

Oh, there’s also something else to help give you an edge against the inevitable boss encounters or crowd control situations that you’ll find yourself in. As your team becomes better experts at what they are doing as they rise in level, you’ll soon be able to unlock XTREME!!!(tm) powers. What are XTREME!!!(tm) powers? There is a bar of darkened “X”s at the bottom of the screen. Each “X” is subdivided into four segments which can be filled with XTREME!!!(tm) bits that are dropped by enemies or the occasional destroyed prop. Once an “X” is filled, it represents an opportunity for your chosen character at the time to unleash their most powerful ability. Jean Grey will become the Phoenix (which is actually less impressive than I thought it would be), Wolverine will eviscerate an enemy with a brutal slash, and Beast can even call down an orbital laser to destroy your enemies. The special effects of these are attacks are pretty cool, but for most part I found them to be a lot less stellar than I thought they’d be.

Inked Panels

The game had decided to go for a ‘comic book’ look with the graphics, cell shading techniques used liberally with the characters. The backgrounds are done using regular 3D graphics with typical textures stretched over everything which made your characters stand out, and the in-game pre rendered cinemas aren’t bad to watch. The weakest parts of the title’s graphics engine, the in-game cuts, were the weakest parts of the graphics engine. It wasn’t a pretty sight in watching the characters mime their lines with expressionless faces while pointing to each other with low poly hand mittens. Seeing the engine up close and personal wasn’t exactly so much sweet eye candy.

The voice acting was actually pretty decent throughout the game especially the voice work done by Shakespearean actor, Patrick Stewart, who puts on a great performance. Hearing Professor X talk trash was definitely one of the highlights from the voice work with Legends for this adventurer. Tony Jay is also on deck as Magneto which was…not exactly as I had thought he’d be, but you can blame the movies and the cartoons from which I’m drawing my experience for that. Some of the others had also sounded a little off key, such as Storm who injected bombast into every line, and Alison who I had expected to sound a bit more like Jubilee.

However, despite the great voice work done for the major characters, the same cannot be said for the legions of baddies that you plow through on your way to the end. Hearing the same threats voiced by your foes gets tired faster than in being forced to listen to the missing minutes of the Nixon tapes. This lack of flavor followed me all the way to Russia, where Russian soldiers guarding a nuclear reactor spoke brilliant english. But it is the repetition that had proven to be more tiresome than the occasional gaffe.

As for the sound effects and the music, the game is in top form delivering the kind of ear candy that keeps the action fresh onscreen. Explosions, shattering glass, crumbling walls, exploding panels as you take your aggression out on the destructible environment…it’s all in here.

The story itself as told through the different cut scenes and briefings is nothing too remarkable. It also does not seem to lend itself to the dialogue. As an example, there were moments when the party stops and says something ‘dramatic’ right before a key event. Depending on what you know of the characters, it can be a little strange to see Wolverine trying to talk down an evil mutant instead of trying to tear his throat out.

Because of the action oriented storyline, there wasn’t a whole lot of time spent for developing the main characters outside of the occasional dialogue at the mansion, leaving their powers and costumes to remind you that they all weren’t the same person. In fact, there wasn’t a whole lot to really distinguish them on the battlefield, either, aside from the occasional emergency that required the talents of an X-Man member. The missions basically all played out in the same way with little variation which tended to add to the repetitive feeling mentioned above.

Destructible Environments

As fun as the game was, there were a few other things that kept it from being a “Legend” in its own right. One of these is in how repetitive some of the combat can get in the later levels. Basically, the only reason to go on a mission is to kick everyone’s face in with whoever you’ve decided to bring along to the block party. This is great stuff for action RPGers and I ate it up for most of the game in the beginning. Yet, I’d be lying if I said that my fun quotient was always at max because that wasn’t the case. As fun as the combat was, it can still get massively repetitive later on, especially once your characters become walking death platforms.

This is also a game that was written to take advantage of co-op play. That’s right, you and your friends can play through the game and I’m convinced that this was how it was supposed to be. Why? I had to come to this conclusion because if you try to play through the game as I did on single player, the AI becomes the enemy within. I found myself stuck in doorways because stupid Cyclops wouldn’t get out of my way until I took control and moved him and he wasn’t the only offender. Chronic door blocking afflicted everyone else like some kind of viral plague that you had no cure for. I would start a Danger Room mission with deadly drops, only to watch as my AI led party members tried to run to me from where they had spawn…and fall into the watery abyss below and die because THEY CAN’T SWIM. I’ve also seen my party stand around like mutant deer staring at the laser scoped headlights of Sentinel eyes and occasionally decide to land a blow until I had to come over and start the party or take control and frantically have them swallow heal potions until they were healthy again. What happened to my setting their abilities to ‘aggressive’, aggressive as in ‘Save my friends… DEATH TO MY ENEMIES!!!’, not as in ‘Maybe if I try THIS attack…yeah! I hurt it!’? These are veterans, experienced fighters who have saved the world countless times… These are the Mighty X Men! But there were quite a few times when I couldn’t help but feel like the Mighty Wet Nurse.

There were also a few technical odds and ends in the title that smudged its adamantium sheen such as containers spinning in place because the in game physics kept trying to decide what axis to drop them on or being unable to kill certain enemies or pick up items if an area became overloaded with objects.

One other thing that might be of interest is that the game isn’t terribly long. The story and the missions that tell it aren’t very many and by the time your characters can wipe the floor with anything that even dares look at them wrong, it only accelerates until you reach the final denouement which leads in nicely to the sequel. X-Men willing to put in the overtime can expect to burn through this title in only a few days. There are extras in the game, such as the art assets hidden in the different levels and the Danger Room challenges that you can try out along with unlocked “X-Treme” items once you finish it. Still, these weren’t compelling enough to slog through the whole thing again.

Avengers Assemble! Wait, That’s Not It…

At the end of the day, “Legends” is still a fun, fast paced, action RPG that adds another chapter to the long line of “X-Men” titles to come out from game developers. Fans of the X-Men phenomenon will most likely get a lot more mileage out of what the story reveals and the twists it takes than someone who is only looking for a decent action RPG. There is still quite a bit of action to be found in the game, though, but if you don’t know anything about franchise outside of the recent movies, you might still feel a little out of place. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a quick fix of mutant action or are just a comic fan in general, X-Men Legends could help you feel like a hero without the yellow spandex.

- World 1-1

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