Genre : Action/RPG
Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: Winter 2004
Take one part Brute Force (where a single player controls the members of a four-man squad), add one part Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (a top-down “dungeon crawler” where destroying enemies and achieving your goals earns you experience points, allowing you to level up your characters and gain more abilities), toss in a bit of Hunter: The Reckoning (the general tempo and pace of the action), add a combo system, and make the main characters the X-Men.
You’ve just made X-Men: Legends, the hectic and elaborate genre stew that’s been in the works at Activision for some time now, and in that time, has gone from a third-person to a top-down view. You’re still in control of up to four X-Men at a time, though, as you and your customizable squad of superheroes wipe the floor with all comers across the course of a couple of dozen missions.
One interesting quirk of the game, for incorrigible dorks such as myself, is that X-Men: Legends is the first video game to feature the Ultimate X-Men, from the comic of the same name; it’s the same characters that you’re familiar with, sporting different costumes, occasionally different personalities, and much less of the kind of baggage a character tends to accumulate after forty years of stories.
In Legends, Magneto, the X-Men’s worst enemy, has devised a plan to take over the world. To stop him from imprisoning the human race, you’ll need to forge a team of X-Men that can stand up to virtually any challenge the game throws at you.
You start the game as Alison Crestmere, a.k.a. Magma, a young woman with the ability to control lava and create volcanoes (and a relatively obscure Marvel superheroine; she used to be in the New Mutants). As you progress, you’ll find and recruit up to fifteen different X-Men, including Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit, Colossus, Phoenix, Rogue, Storm, Nightcrawler, Beast, and Iceman, each of whom have unique moves and capabilities.
Obviously, as this is an X-Men game, you will be kicking ass and breaking things. In a given level, you’ll be in control of one X-Man, with the other three being guided by the CPU. You can switch out your controls on the fly, as would be appropriate to the situation, or separate your team to better investigate an area. When a fight starts, which happens about once every ten seconds, you can get much better and more visually pleasing results by attacking an enemy with more than one X-Man simultaneously, which’ll result in a combo, for greater damage and more experience points.
Each X-Man also has a surprising number of moves, both new and from the comics. For example, Gambit can throw explosive playing cards, but he can also kinetically charge larger objects, or an opponent. I’d go so far as to say that none of these characters have ever had this many offensive options in a game before, with the possible and unlikely exception of the Mutant Academy fighters on PSOne.
You can also use those mutant powers in non-combat situations, to help your team circumvent various obstacles. In the E3 demo, I watched as the X-Men, who were rescuing sailors from a sinking ship, came to a large hole in the floor. The Activision rep switched his team to Iceman, who created an ice bridge, but he could’ve just as easily flown across with Storm. An earlier problem, involving a door rendered off-limits by an electrical arc, was solved when he had Nightcrawler teleport into an otherwise inaccessible room and shut off the power, but given a different team, he could’ve punched a hole through the wall and entered that way.
The puzzles are really the interesting part of Legends, for my money, but the rest of the game promises to be fun as well. It’s got all the addictive mook-stomping of a Dark Alliance game, combined with the challenges of keeping your team together. Combined with the option for multiplayer action, as well as plenty of unlockables (including alternate costumes for the X-Men), X-Men: Legends looks like it’ll be a good time for comic collectors and action fans alike.