With X-Men Legends, Raven Software is finally delivering the X-Men title RPG fans have been craving for years in a tasty Champions of Norrath flavor. The action RPG title teams everyone's favorite mutant heroes, the Uncanny X-Men, together in a series of missions to thwart the newest evil scheme of Magneto.
X-Men Legends takes place in the more recent Ultimate X-Men universe, with cameos and throwbacks to older versions of the story. The story, which is being written by seasoned comic book authors Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Steve Sigel and Duncan Rouleau, is centered around a new mutant named Alison Crestmere, or Magma. Alison has the ability to create and propel heat from her body, a power which Magneto and the Brotherhood wish to control. The Blob is sent to abduct Magma, so Professor X sends the X-Men to get to her first. This is the first playable mission in the story.
The gameplay of X-Men Legends is similar to the recent Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance series and Champions of Norrath. Players control their favorite mutant and hack their way through enemies and any other obstacles in their way using standard attacks and a variety of mutant powers. There are 15 playable X-Men (some must be unlocked) at the disposal of the player, and up to 4 players can play simultaneously. Playable characters include Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Jean Grey, Iceman, Psylocke, Gambit, Magma, Colossus, Rogue, Emma Frost, Jubilee, Nightcrawler, and a final mystery X-Man. In single player mode, one character is controlled by the player while AI controls the other three, and the character being controlled can be switched out at the touch of a button. Battles are action-oriented and very fast paced. Teamwork between the X-Men is vital for success, as many of the character's mutant powers can only reach full potential when paired with the powers of other mutants. Combos are possible between X-Men and, in addition to generic combos, each 2-character combination has a unique and powerful duo-attack.
Each character also has an array of upgradeable mutant powers available. As enemies are defeated and characters gain experience, points become available to upgrade both stats (including Strike, Agility, Body, and Focus) and mutant powers. Characters start with relatively weak special attacks but eventually unlock devastating screen-filling displays of their mutant powers. Equipment is also available for each character, and can be used to increase the power of certain abilities. Players can use "tech bits" to purchase upgraded armor and weapons or to revive fallen allies at "extraction points." A number of unlockable costumes are also available for each character.
Players can interact with almost every aspect of the environment in X-Men Legends. Tired of opening all those pesky doors into other rooms? No problem! The player can have Cyclops remove the entire wall with a powerful optic blast, or simply have Colossus lumber through the wall and knock it down. Objects in the environment can be thrown at enemies or destroyed just for giggles. There are also a number of puzzles to be solved by the player, usually with multiple solutions depending on which mutants are at hand. For instance, getting passed a wall of fire could be accomplished by having Iceman extinguish the flames or Nightcrawler simply teleporting to the other side.
The Xavier Mansion functions as headquarters for the X-Men. Players are free to explore the mansion, gather information, and upgrade characters and equipment between missions. The "danger room" is also available which acts as a training ground for players to hone their fighting skills. Tutorials are available here, as well as a nice player versus player combat training mode.
Graphically, X-Men Legends looks impressive. Character designs are exaggerated and battle animations are over-the-top, which results in an appropriate comic book feel. There are also a large number of CG-animated video sequences sprinkled throughout the game to help flesh out the story. Also helping in this endeavor is a notable voice-over cast including Patrick Stewart as Professor X.
For fans of top-down action RPGs like Dark Alliance, X-Men Legends should fill a void until the release of Champions of Norrath: Return to Arms early next year. Also, any fans of 4-player cooperatives or of the X-Men in general would be wise to give Legends a twirl. Console issues can't be used as an excuse, as Legends is being released for Playstation 2, GameCube, and Xbox on September 24th.