X-Men Legends - Retroview  

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by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Good use of X-Men license
+ Fun beat-em-up mechanics
+ Varied character roster and development
- Cramped inventory
- Sparse save points
- Long load times
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   X-Men games have come steadily over the years, working in a wide variety of genres and displaying numerous levels of quality. X-Men Legends used the license for an overhead beat-em-up RPG, and succeeded at the task of doing justice to its source much better than many licensed games, though its problems are hard to overlook. While the game probably won't work for anyone uninitiated with Marvel properties, Legends deserves to be experienced by any X-Men fan who hasn't yet tried it.

   Events begin with Mystique and the Blob trying to brazenly kidnap a young woman named Alison whose mutant abilities have just manifested. The NYPD proves unequal to the task of stopping that pair, so Wolverine and Cyclops step in to get Alison clear of the chaos and safely to Professor Xavier's school in upstate New York. Once there she gets a quick initiation into the way Xavier administers the X-Men, but there isn't much time to leisurely become acquainted with everything. The Brotherhood of Mutants has a plan, and freeing Magneto to lead it is a key component. Someone is also manufacturing Sentinels again, a grave danger sign for mutants everywhere.

   Alison's story eventually dovetails with the problems facing the larger world via her joining the X-Men much faster than usual. Her character could have benefited from more development, since coming to grips with her powers and the secret function of Xavier's school takes up surprisingly little time. The story as a whole is nothing revelatory to X-Men veterans, though the stakes are higher than usual. Raven Software's writers at least crafted an engaging piece of material, and it moves along briskly before concluding on a strong note.

   Combat in X-Men Legends transplants the soul of a beat-em-up into something with overhead 3D graphics, and the result is an entertaining button masher with the goal of pummeling everything that dares raise its fist in opposition. Mutant powers are handled similarly to magic spells, drawing from an energy pool that slowly regenerates. Legends alters the standard beat-em-up formula a bit by having a team of four X-Men face down the enemy simultaneously. While it's possible to have friends pick up controllers for the rest of the team, the computer AI does an adequate job most of the time. While there are instances of the AI-controlled teammates standing around vapidly instead of pitching in to eliminate the opposition, they do an okay job of helping out. The player is able to switch control between the active X-Men instantly, so depending on the AI is generally not necessary. Raven Software included so many destructible objects in the environments that completionists will find a couple of hours added to the playing time, but otherwise the core combat satisfies just like many other beat-em-ups.

Easter eggs were to include Professor X talking about his stage work and Star Trek, but time ran out before the lawyers could assent. Easter eggs were to include Professor X talking about his stage work and Star Trek, but time ran out before the lawyers could assent.

   Unlike standard beat-em-ups, the X-Men gain levels by killing plenty of enemies. Each level gained means characters are able to allocate points to increase their basic statistics, along with developing their mutant abilities in a number of ways. Strange as it may seem to manually allow Wolverine's healing factor or Rogue's flight, they do provide a means of developing the team over the course of the game. Properly allocating points will make the X-Men much better able to handle whatever foolishly steps into their path, with the exception of pits which mean instant death for all who drop inside. Pieces of equipment can also be purchased or taken while smashing up the adversaries, which affect the X-Men in a number of useful ways.

   Where the game does become annoying is in some mechanical aspects. There are spots in which a certain X-Man or two has the ability necessary to progress, and if the player does not have that character ready to go, traipsing back to one of the widely-spaced save points is necessary. Inventory management in Legends proves more cumbersome than would be ideal, due to a rather small equipment limit. Enemies and their bashable surroundings are also wont to drop far more healing supplies than the player can hold at one time, though the limit for these items increases as the team levels.

   Perhaps on other platforms it performed differently, but the PS2 version of X-Men Legends has frequent load times that afford plenty of time to study the many loading images while waiting. Once in an area the game moves along at a good pace, but switching to another location means it's time to study another artwork image for twenty to thirty seconds. While dealing with this is possible, it's certainly not ideal.

   Challenge is changeable due to the presence of the Danger Room, which is somehow accessible remotely from the save points. Enemies do not reappear in the plot missions, but a player seeking to maximize the Danger Room's potential will be able to massively pump up the X-Men so that their foes pose much less danger. Bosses hit pretty hard unless one has spent a very long time in the Danger Room, but Raven was courteous enough to make their environments prone to leaving extra healing supplies around. For a beat-em-up the game is quite lengthy, but even finishing every available Danger Room mission won't stretch the overall play time much past twenty-five hours.

On a rare off day, Wolverine is happy to let others hog the beatdown spotlight. On a rare off day, Wolverine is happy to let others hog the beatdown spotlight.

   Occasional FMV sequences notwithstanding, X-Men Legends' visuals get the job done but don't impress. The viewpoint is pulled back far enough that not much detail can be discerned unless one looks very closely, and the few times characters chat with larger sprites reveal that Raven failed to program any mouth movements for their animations. The music likewise gets the job done without standing out much, featuring electric guitar heavily when fighting and ambient tracks without enemies in the vicinity. On the other hand, the voice acting is quite solid even though the only actor reprising his role from Bryan Singer's then-recent movies is Patrick Stewart. Other notable voiceover actors fill in for the ensemble cast, and do good work bringing the material to life.

   Enjoyment of beat-em-up mechanics and the X-Men are highly recommended prerequisites for enjoying Activision's release, but anyone meeting those criteria who has yet to partake of Legends would be wise to. Its load times may not make the PS2 ideal for the platform, but this is one of the rare licensed titles that works pretty well. It's probably a blast with one or more friends around to partake in multiplayer, but even without the help of others I had a good time tearing up anti-mutant goons with the X-Men.

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