X-Men Legends - Review  

"Join us or Die, Mutie!"
by Tyler Willis

X-Men Legends
20 to 30 hours


Rating definitions 

A GRSO soldier looks up as the door he was guarding suddenly shatters into a million pieces. He draws his energy baton and screams, "You think you're bad, mutie?" while charging the X-Men who are framed by sheets of billowing dust. His rather unfortunate charge is abruptly ended as Iceman freezes him into a solid block of ice, Cyclops shatters the ice with an optic beam, Wolverine lifts him high into the air with a vicious uppercut, and Jean Grey flings his limp, lifeless body across the room with a raw, telekinetic scream.

Welcome to the world of X-Men Legends.

The X-Men franchise has had a spotty history in the video game world, replete with dismal failures and a few successes, but X-Men Legends is the first attempt to craft an RPG from the Marvel universe. Strictly speaking, the game is a descendant of the Gauntlet family with up to four player-controlled characters crawling their way through dungeons. Though it can serve as a standalone RPG complete with storyline, the most fun might be had from a group outing with everyone picking favorite characters in an attempt to cooperatively battle the usual suspects: government soldiers, Morlocks, and the Brotherhood.

X-Jet = wheeee! X-Jet = wheeee!

With its heavy emphasis on action, X-Men Legends suffers from a standard and unsurprising storyline. Hardcore comic fans will undoubtedly argue incessantly about the canonicity, but casual fans are still able to understand the plot since it follows a basic X-Men template: fight the Brotherhood and anti-mutant militant groups. For those unfamiliar with the X-Men universe, a reference website (perhaps the Wikipedia entry) might do well to cover the backstory.

Players control a single character at a time from a roster of sixteen mutants but can instantaneously switch between any of the four active party members. Liberally distributed X-traction spots also allow the player to exchange active party members, encouraging players to experiment with the full roster knowing that they can simply switch characters at the next save point.

Characters level up in the traditional RPG manner, and each level grants a point for use in a main attribute (power, body, focus, etc.) and a point for use in a character-specific mutant power. Each character has four primary attack powers which can be leveled up and then executed at the cost of focus energy.

The four powers tend to be similar types adapted for each hero: one single enemy attack, one multiple enemy attack, one defensive measure, and one ultimate power that eviscerates everything on the screen. In addition to these four powers, characters will have a number of secondary skills that may be leveled. For instance, Jean Grey and Storm both have flying abilities - useful in transporting characters across chasms. Alternatively, Nightcrawler can teleport, Iceman can build a bridge, or Magma can lava-skate across.

Learning the nuances of each X-Man does play an important role in gameplay as many areas will require a certain skill in order to be tackled. The game rarely requires the inclusion of specific characters in main dungeon areas, so players can expect to backtrack a few times unless they happen to have the correct skillset on a character already.

X-Men Legends also features a combo system, both for individual attacks which can leave an opponent stunned or tripped, and for inter-character joint attacks that produce more raw damage and experience gained. Characters follow their comic identities for battle traits; everyone can punch and kick, but Wolverine will do far more damage in melee combat than Jean Grey. Having a balanced team is essential to effective gameplay since many enemies are resistant to certain types of attack.

Most of the game time will be spent in the various dungeons; there are few noncombatant areas, and they are only accessible at certain points in the story. Players can also easily access the X-Men Danger Room which serves both as a training facility and as a leveling area. X-traction points will eventually also allow players to visit two different shops for the purchasing of various equipment.

Who bothers with speaking when you can just use telepathy? Who bothers with speaking when you can just use telepathy?

Unfortunately, dungeons are relatively straightforward and continually reuse previously seen elements; in fact, several levels are duplicate run-throughs of earlier dungeons. Much of the dungeon environment can be interacted with; characters can destroy just about anything. The fun part is ignoring doorways and bursting through walls. The unfun part is that health potions and other necessary items are hidden within objects; given a distinct dearth of supplies through many of the levels, players can expect to spend much time simply bashing their environment to pieces.

The difficulty level is severely unbalanced. Early portions of the game require exact and precise execution because health potions are not readily available. The game does allow players to regenerate health by standing still, but standing still for a few minutes every so often does not make for exciting gameplay. Towards the mid to endgame, X-Men Legends becomes pathetically easy; a GRSO soldier may be armed with a flamethrower, but such is no match for seven fireballs springing forth from Magma. And then the game throws a final curveball by making the final boss incredibly tough to kill without having leveled the "correct" skills throughout the game.

The camera also suffers from poor control; it is exceedingly frustrating to lose sight of the party when the camera gets stuck behind an object. Some of the environments are also hard to navigate in a visual sense; the Astral Plane has a number of spots where it is quite easy to accidentally fall off the edge.

Graphically speaking, X-Men Legends combines cel-shaded characters with rendered 3D backdrops to create a rather unique and memorable look. Environments, while repetitive, are well detailed, and the game features a number of unlockables centered on the graphical medium: comics, sketches, cinematics, etc.

Aurally, the game has both strong and weak spots. The voice acting for rendered sequences is superb, featuring the likes of Patrick Stewart, Steven Blum, and Cree Summer. Battle vocals suffer from repetitiveness, lack of variety, and sheer bad placement: the Brotherhood acolytes will often scream "Join us or die" but never actually offer the player a chance to join them.

Replayability is limited unless the player truly enjoys the battle system; X-Men Legends does not include a New Game+ option nor are there story branches or sidequests. Those in favor of Gauntlet-style multiplayer mayhem could easily enjoy romping through levels again and again. While not the best action RPG for the 128 bit generation, X-Men Legends offers a solid gaming experience that action RPGamers and X-Men enthusiasts should not miss.

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