Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: October 18, 2005
It's boggling enough that programmers can manage to fit an entire PS2 game onto a UMD. It's completely mind-blowing when they not only manage a perfect PS2-to-PSP port, but also add extra content on top of that. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is heading to the PSP with 30% new content, in the form of nine new "comic book" missions and four new characters that can be unlocked by completing the main game and certain comic book missions.
To refresh for those of you who haven't played the console version of X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, the comic book missions were special dungeon levels you could play that themed themselves after particular famous storylines in the X-Men comic book. Raven Software walked WorthPlaying through a special co-op game that explored one of the comic book missions, "X-Cutioner's Song." As diehard X-Men fans remember, X-Cutioner's Song was one of the biggest X-Men crossovers of the early '90s, starting plotlines that lasted over a decade.
The special mission our team played dealt with only a very small part of this mammoth storyline, in which a team of X-Men has to rescue Cyclops and Jean Grey after they're imprisoned in a high-tech facility on the moon. The level featured lots of vicious battles in close quarters with vicious battle robots, made nastier by the fact that you could end up falling off the edges of the map if you weren't careful. The robots attacked in waves, and there were few useful items to be found in the containers or enemy drops. At points, the X-Men had to activate teleport devices and backtrack through the level, trying to find the device that would allow them to find Cyclops and Jean.
As with all the comic book missions, the team was preset to contain the characters that appeared in the actual storyline, complete with period costumes: Bishop, Iceman, Wolverine, and the PSP-exclusive character Cable. This particular team is at a sharp disadvantage when fighting the waves of robots because it lacks strong crowd control capabilities (outside of Bishop, who had an energy wave attack called "Big Bang"), and any form of team support/healing. Only half of our original team survived the mission: Bishop, and Wolverine (who lacked strong offensive abilities, but could heal himself very rapidly). If this is any sign of the difficulty level on the PSP-exclusive comic book missions, then it'll be a must buy for X-Men Legends fans who've already conquered the console missions.
Raven Software was evasive on the subject of what the other comic book missions were, since they said that the titles would reveal the identity of certain PSP-exclusive characters that they'd like to see remain exclusive. They did confirm that X-Man would be playable in this build of the game, though, which in turn confirms that at least one mission based on the best-selling Age of Apocalypse alternate reality storyline has been added to the PSP game. This suggests that possibly one or both of the other remaining hidden characters exclusive to the PSP could be from Age of Apocalypse, although Raven Software refused to confirm any of our guesses. They would only say that one of them was a character frequently requested by fans, whose powers they had to "tone down a bit" for the US release. Your guess is as good as ours, folks.
Graphically, we found the PSP port extremely impressive. Raven Software confirmed that the high-res graphics were created by taking the original assets and recreating them using software that scaled the resolutions up to true 720p. Of course, the PSP screen isn't capable of supporting this resolution on its tiny screen, but it does result in extraordinarily crisp outlines and vibrant colors. The 16:9 screen is particularly friendly to four-player mass melees, giving every character plenty of room to maneuver without breaking up the group. The X-Men characters are all completely recognizable, even when playing with the top-down camera view, with authentically detailed outfits and voice clips that play when they use power moves, need healing, or score the last blow on an enemy. Some of the streaming video files from the original console release have been cut or shortened to conserve battery life, but all of the gameplay content and images from the original game have been preserved intact. You can use the same abilities in the same ways, and level characters up using the same methods.
The strength of the original X-Men: Legends and its sequel was the strong multiplayer modes, and the PSP version supports this beautifully. Although it only allows for ad-hoc play with four copies of the game, we experienced no issues with lagging in our play sessions. When four players group together, then they have to move toward their objectives as one. Straying too far from the main team forces you to use hold down the R and L shoulder buttons in order to teleport back to the group from off-camera. If any player enters the menu screen, then the game essentially pauses and all players will go to the menu. From there they can each alter their character's stats and equipment as they see fit, and gameplay only resumes after all players have confirmed that they're ready. While this feature could become incredibly irritating in true online play, it's actually very handy when playing co-op in ad-hoc mode. Then, if someone hits the menu button by accident or takes too long futzing with his menu, you can just yell at him or her until they let gameplay start back up. As in the original game, a player who wishes to go through the team missions alone can simply pick a character to use and then be accompanied by three AI allies.
As is typical for RPGs, there are so many objectives that they merit an entire game options panel. While searching for computer unlock codes, for instance, we wandered into some caverns that were infested with gigantic - and very fertile - bug-like creatures. Such a population explosion would be catastrophic for the world, so new objectives entailed destroying the egg sacks and killing all of the drones.
Boss battles, as expected, are more difficult than the average enemy, and while they can initially be defeated with hacking and slashing, the complexity ramps up in a jiffy. This was especially apparent on one of the PSP levels, which involved fighting the Stepford Cuckoos and Holocaust. Laser beams shot out from altars around the room, rendering Holocaust all blue, glowy, and (as I found out after 10 minutes of button mashing) quite invincible. Disable the laser beams, and you're good to go. Getting to this point was quite the feat, as the Stepford Cuckoos are no pushovers and are collectively more difficult to fend off than Holocaust himself.
Testers have revealed that the key to mastering the game is maxing out the characters' passive skills. For example, while you can assign points to Cyclops' stats to make him a brawler, that is not his intended use, since he is a ranged character (energy beams shooting from the eyes and all). If you power up Cyclops' passive skills instead, he will become a more effective all-around fighter.
The developers aimed to make the environments even more destructible than before, and the sheer variety of environments is somewhat boggling. You lead your team from lush jungles to futuristic spaceships to cavernous dungeons, and there is hardly any time to blink, since you are constantly barraged by enemies, ranging from robots to troopers to giant bug-like creatures. There were a few complaints about in-game graphics being a bit weak in the previous iteration, but despite the environment being rendered in real-time, they are vastly improved in XMLII. The cut scenes are absolutely eye-popping, and it's no wonder, as Blur Studios received an Oscar nomination in 2004 for "best animated short film."
The Xbox and PS2 versions will support full online gameplay, including some exclusive multiplayer content like Skirmish and Co-op modes, and several of the new features are meant to streamline the online experience. For example, you no longer have to sit through someone else's level-up screen; you can simply set the game to automatically level up your character as you go, and keep playing with your new, more potent abilities. However, the automatic assignment of points isn't limited to the multiplayer mode, and you can utilize this option if you're not very RPG savvy, or if you opt to play the game as a fast-paced action title.
All in all, X-Men Legends II is shaping up to be a fun-filled sequel, and fans of the X-Men or RPGs (or both!) would do well to look for this title in a couple of weeks. Up to 30 hours of gameplay in the Marvel Universe await you, and combined with multiplayer mode, the title is well worth the admission price.
With so much in the way of tantalizing new content, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is definitely a game for PSP owners, action RPG fans, and X-Men lovers to keep an eye on. While the bulk of the gameplay is identical to the console version, the portability and the brutal new comic book missions are just what it takes to make the game more than just another PSP port. Look for it to show up in stores on October 18.