X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse - Retroview  

Astonishing X-Men #2
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Another good use of the X-Men license
+ Inventive brawler encounters
+ Great character variety
- Level requirements for equipment
- Story leaves numerous questions
- Very spacious environments
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   The ending of the first X-Men Legends made clear Raven Software's choice of antagonist for the sequel, and after a rather short development time X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse was released for consumption. Some things have changed between the games, but the core concept of a mutant quartet pounding many opponents into the dirt with beat-em-up mechanics fortunately stayed intact. Not everything is an improvement for this sequel, yet the game is enjoyable enough that anyone who played the first should have a similarly good time.

   Rise of Apocalypse picks up a short time after the first X-Men Legends ended, and things are in a bad state. Apocalypse successfully conquered the island of Genosha and is rapidly enacting his plan to bring all of Earth under his sway. A common enemy has compelled Magneto and the rest of the Brotherhood of Mutants to cooperate with the X-Men, but Apocalypse's forces are too strong to topple in a headlong rush. Stopping the impending conquest of Earth requires this unusual team to visit a variety of places with one paramount goal: beating the stuffing out of everyone who supports Apocalypse.

   As a story involving Apocalypse seeking world conquest, this game gets the job done pretty well. It does a poor job of directly transitioning from the first game though, partly by having several prominent characters simply vanish. Magma was the nominal lead of the first game, but she's completely MIA from Rise of Apocalypse, and so are others like Psylocke and Jubilee. Much of the character interaction that fleshes out the plot is now optional, requiring the player to seek mission updates for elaboration on what's occurring. The tale told is still an effective use of the X-Men, but not to the level of what preceded it.

   When it's time to fight, Rise of Apocalypse adheres to the top-down beat-em-up mechanics its predecessor used. Four characters start brawling with whatever enemies cross their path, and the AI takes charge of those humans aren't able to. Mutant abilities are employed with a system similar to MP, though it regenerates given a little time. Legends 2 features several opponents who are vulnerable to particular combo chains, the better to prevent the player from just mashing the same button constantly. The game also sports a number of inhuman adversaries to stand out from the bipeds, who look pretty similar when seen in rapid succession from a distant camera angle. Where Legends 2 shines is in its boss encounters with major adversaries at the end of each Act, which go through several phases and demand some extra attention from the player to complete, though the bosses tend to make clear what they don't like before much time passes.

Omega Red, knock it off.  You didn Omega Red, knock it off. You didn't even warrant being one of the Four Horsemen, so you're going down.

   As in the first X-Men Legends, the characters gain points with each level to apply toward statistic and power increases. This game features a wider variety of abilities for the characters to learn, ensuring that some hard choices will have to be made due to the length of time achieving everything would require. The oddities inherent to such a system, such as having Magneto learn to fly or Storm gain the power to make whirlwinds only after the player enables these abilities, work well in the game but do not reward intensive contemplation by continuity experts. Equipment dropped by enemies and sold by Forge between fights can also make a sizable difference for character survivability, though the first game's small inventory storage of twenty that quickly fills has been retained.

   New to the sequel is how commonly equipment drops require characters to reach a certain level. These start to appear before anyone has actually reached the necessary level, meaning that they must be held for a time before anyone can put them on. The process simply continues throughout the game, with new items constantly being revealed that demand even higher levels. Dumping the spares into a Hero Stash between missions is an option, but that has limited storage too.

   Rise of Apocalypse sports big areas, and they cover a good variety of locales. Some of these are big enough that merely navigating them takes a long time though, and the recurrence of the first game's obnoxious load times on the PS2 makes any need to transition to a different map annoying. There is a fortunate variety to the mission objectives, reducing the tendency of beat-em-up mechanics to become monotonous over extended time. Smashing everything that can be broken in the environments is still a surprisingly time-consuming endeavor, but just as in the first game the player is rarely compelled to do so.

   Early in the game players gain the ability to have Blink make a portal back to headquarters, which is inaccessible during boss battles but otherwise can be used freely. Having Blink on hand allows the player to go back for saving purposes, use of the Danger Room, and inventory management whenever necessary. As in the first game, access to repeatable missions in the Danger Room allows the player to strengthen the characters if necessary, though a difficulty select at the beginning also affords a chance to influence how painful the proceedings become. A New Game + function allows players to restart with character statistics from the game's end, which is useful when it comes to experiencing a few personalities only unlocked near or at the end of this story.

Magneto and Wolverine could doubtless execute an entirely different version of the Fastball Special, but it won Magneto and Wolverine could doubtless execute an entirely different version of the Fastball Special, but it won't be found in this game.

   The beginning of each act in Legends 2 features an impressive FMV detailing the story transition. The rest of the game doesn't match that level of quality, but by depicting large numbers of attackers clogging the screen without a hiccup gets the job done anyway. The score for Legends 2 veers away from the rocking instrumentals of the first and supplies some ear-pleasing numbers in an orchestral synth style that varies well enough to stay ingratiating. The voice acting retains Patrick Stewart and his steady work as Xavier, but several casting changes from the first game do not help other characters achieve memorability in their voicework. Most of the playable characters have very few voiced lines outside of battle anyway, and in a brawl their repertoire of statements could stand some broadening by the game's end.

   Much of what made the first X-Men Legends a successful action RPG is retained for the sequel. Raven Software deserves credit for implementing another enjoyable brawler using the Marvel license, though a third X-Men Legends has yet to result. As beat-em-ups translated into the action RPG realm go, this one does a good enough job that anyone with an urge to take the Juggernaut on a smackdown mission would do well to check it out. I say that even though I played the whole thing solo, so anyone with friends around is even more strongly encouraged to investigate.

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