X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse - Staff Review  

Good and Evil Take on the Evil-est
by Elliot Guisinger

Easy to Difficult
20-30 Hours


Rating definitions 

   X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is a true-to-form sequel to the original X-Men Legends. It retains the same look and feel of the first game, while improving upon it in virtually every way. The story is more interesting, the graphics are sharper, freedom within the game is expanded, and it allows for online game play. Although the game is not without its faults, the improvements and extra content make the game well worth a play-through or two, X-Men fan or not.

   To take on Apocalypse, the X-Men and the Brotherhood will together battle through missions divided up into five distinct acts. During the first mission, the player is confined to a party consisting of Magneto, Cyclops, Wolverine, and Storm. After that, thankfully, the player is able to choose any combination of mutants from both the X-Men and the Brotherhood, and they can swap the party members around whenever or however often it is needed -- even during missions. At first, Bishop, Colossus, Gambit, Iceman, Juggernaut, Nightcrawler, Jean Grey, Rogue, Scarlet Witch, Sunfire, and Toad are playable, in addition to the first four mentioned above. There are also three blank spots in the roster for other characters that can be unlocked by fulfilling specific requirements. This allows for full customization of the player's party and full control over battle strategies. However, this is a double-edged sword because many obstacles found on missions will require the use of a specific mutant power. If there isn't a mutant with the necessary skill in the party, the player must teleport back to the base and change team members in order to proceed.

   The battles play out great with minimal distractions. The flow is smooth and there is a lot to do to keep the player busy. There's nothing like barreling into an enemy with Wolverine's outstretched claws while destroying every object in the area. The camera works well and doesn't hinder or slow the action. The player controls one of four characters, while the others are controlled by the AI, unless additional players are present for multiplayer play. For the characters controlled by AI, the player can select settings to determine the style of play for each character. Anything from attacking style to when to use a health item can be determined here, which is another big help in keeping breaks in action away. The player doesn't have to worry much about the AI characters; if they are set up right, they can take care of themselves.

Licking the competition Licking the competition

   And of course, there are the mutant powers. Over 15 abilities per character can be programmed into any three of the four face buttons on the controller. The powers can be easily activated in battle by holding the right shoulder button and pressing the ability's corresponding button. One of the face buttons is reserved for the Xtreme attack, which is very powerful and can be used to damage multiple enemies in a room at once. This makes utilizing any or all available tools in battle very quick and easy to pull of, which is especially useful if time is of the essence. Specific mutant powers are often needed to bypass obstacles in the game, so players may need to switch characters frequently. Also, holding the right shoulder button and pressing a directional button allows for quick, on-the-fly mutant power button customization. This is a most welcome treat; pretty much every shortcut that can be accessed with face buttons in order to avoid the clumsy menu system is very helpful. As the characters gain levels and, subsequently, skills, additional abilities, both active and passive, can be unlocked and activated by assigning them points that are earned upon each level gain. There is no shortcut for that, however, as a lot of time is spent at the character customization screen.

   When items are picked up, the player can decide whether a specific character receives the item or whether the computer should randomly choose a recipient -- again, another great shortcut to bypass the menu system. The same option exists for the allocation of skill points upon a level gain. There are four categories to into which points can be placed. Body determines how much life is restored when a healing item is used; Focus determines how much mutant energy is restored when the respective restoration item is used; Strike determines attack power; and Speed is pretty self-explanatory. Pressing one button causes your character to consume a health item, while pressing two buttons together causes the consumption of an energy item. Virtually every object, including most walls, can be destroyed to look for loot. Though, the purpose of being able to destroy walls is, more often than not, to make a door where there isn't one. Another nice touch is that there are often multiple solutions to any one puzzle. For example, if there is a heavy tank that needs to be moved, the player can either activate a nearby computer console to have machines move the tank, or if a mutant like Colossus is in the party, he can easily make short work of the tank by moving it himself.

   Between missions, players will find themselves at various home bases, dependant upon the act. It is at these bases that the story progresses through in-game cinematics. It is also at these bases that players can replenish items, buy new armor, watch the briefing for the next (or any of the previous) missions, store items, view collected extras (such as comic books and concept art), re-watch cut scenes, play a trivia game, or test their mettle against the Danger Room computer. Correct answers in the trivia games yield a certain amount of experience points, and success in the Danger Room yields experience as well as other prizes. Xtraction Points are injected throughout the missions, and they allow players to save their game, change their team members, and teleport to any other activated Xtraction point. If the player needs to rest and there are no Xtraction points nearby, they can call the mutant Blink and ask her to open up a portal back to the base. These transport systems are crucial to the flow of the game and really help to expedite the restocking and healing processes during and between missions. They essentially allow total freedom within the game to do what needs to be done at any time.

Working together with the Brotherhood Working together with the Brotherhood

   Character customization is very limited, which is unfortunate. Each character only has three available equipment slots for accessories: waistband, band, and gear. These items are found from defeated enemies or within objects and are equipped. There's nothing else to it. Though to make up for it, each act brings in new sets of threads for the characters in the game. These differences in attire don't change attributes, however, unless all four characters wear the same set. In this case, the party gains a bonus in one area or another.

   The music of the game is quite well-structured and well-written. There is a very recognizable main recurring theme and the rest of the music in the game complements and builds off it. A lot of the music is slow and subtle, invoking an air of mystery and conspiracy, which suits the story of the game rather well. It certainly does its job by supporting the visual action, while not being too overbearing. The sound effects, unfortunately, aren't nearly as well done. Sounds seem to get recycled quite a bit and don't really sound that good to begin with. Once you've heard the sound for destroying a wooden table, for example, you've heard the sound for destroying a metallic barrel. Aside from the great Patrick Stewart as Professor X, the voice acting isn't terribly noteworthy, though not necessarily bad at all. Characters all act and sound the way they should -- with appropriate accents. Cheesy battle taunts are also injected throughout the game missions, but they mostly serve as comic reliefs and help humanize the characters a little. The script during the story sequences also has a tendency to make one's eyes roll, but thankfully, Mr. Stewart and the other better actors are able to make them considerably more bearable.

   The graphics are crisp and clean with no noticeable problems. They are a slight step up in quality from the first game, but perhaps not as much of a step up as some may have hoped. The special effects also look nice and there are just enough of them to entertain without blinding the player every so often. The game's look has a bit of a cel-shaded feel, but it's not entirely that way; it's more of a pseudo-cel-shading, perhaps. Certainly nothing bad, but here, nearing the end of the current generation of console technology, a little more could probably have been done. Although, changing the look much would probably have hurt the game more in the end by taking away from the familiar look and feel of the first game. The place where visuals excel the most is in the cinematic sequences. Gorgeous CGI clips are interspersed throughout the game, usually between acts, and are a treat to watch.

   The game's difficulty is determined by the player at the start of the game: easy, medium, or hard. So basically, it's up to them how hard the game is. Easy mode is ridiculously easy. For example, during a certain boss fight, the AI characters were perfectly capable of defeating the boss on their own, without input from the player. This is easiness to a fault, though most tough enemies will, of course, require player input. Thankfully, if more challenging game play is preferred, the player can always play on medium or hard mode, which does indeed make the game resist a little more to the player's efforts. As a result, someone who wants to fly through the game on easy mode can probably do so in 20 hours or possibly less. Veteran players who want a challenge and plan to collect all of the extras and secret characters, however, could require well over 30 hours.

   Though most of the game's features thus far have been either excellent or at least mediocre, the quality of the interface is a bit more difficult to define. The menu system is a series of cluttered windows all mashed together. The main menu consists of nine options, each with several sub-windows. Though more options in a menu are better, the lack of organization could make one content with not even having a menu system at all. At the beginning of the game, most players will likely have to enter the character customization screen at least once or twice every couple of minutes or so in order to allocate points from the rapid level gains incurred by all four characters. This happens so often, and breaks up the action so much, that the game is made much more enjoyable if the player waits until the end of the mission to customize newly earned abilities, despite the advantages of doing so right away. Thankfully, though, as the game progresses deeper into the story, level gains don't happen as often. Another option, of course, is to let the AI distribute level-gain points on its own, though this takes away from character customization and battle strategy, so it may not be appealing to all players.

Prepare to see this screen a lot Prepare to see this screen a lot

   Unlike the menu system, the on-screen interface is wonderful. As was mentioned before, there are plenty of shortcuts to bypass the cluttered and awkward menu system from the face of the controller itself. There are commands for switching characters, reallocating mutant powers, and using healing items. When the player gets lost, the on-screen map points to the direction of the next objective, so that one can limit having to go through the main menu to see the objectives list. The map also displays the location of Xtraction Points and game tip icons, which provide the player with new information regarding game play, often dealing with an upcoming puzzle. One thing the map could benefit from, however, is a compass. It's very easy to get turned around in the game, and without knowing which way is north, one could end up inadvertently backtracking all the way back to the beginning of a stage.

   Being the sequel of a game in the universe of a well-established franchise, it's hard to give this game much credit for originality. The story has its own unique twists and turns, especially with the premise of the X-Men and the Brotherhood teaming up. But it's still the classic "save the humans from the evil mutants" storyline that X-Men is most known for; however, in this game, saving mutants, both good and bad, becomes a central goal. Overall, the story is quite entertaining and provides players with a bit of a mystery as Apocalypse's true intentions are slowly unraveled. It also fits snugly in the X-Men universe, and it is true to the tales and relationships in the comics. Unfortunately, however, this game still does little to set its plot apart from other X-Men stories.

   X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is indeed a great game. As a sequel, it does its job by being better than the original in nearly every way. As a game, it does its job by being thoroughly enjoyable, having a plot worth following, being accessible to both fans and non-fans of the X-Men franchise, and including plenty of things to do on the side. Though some aspects of the game aren't as great as others, the creators did a lot to make it so that players had ways around the bad parts using things like shortcuts and an extensive AI program. And even with such systems, players still have the option to go into the menu and set things up themselves; restrictions are few and far between. This is very good, because how can someone even think about fighting one of the most evil mutants of all time in a game that hindered game play?

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