Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: September 27, 2005
Set immediately following the original, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse raises the first game's stakes. In the wake of the appearance of the archvillain Apocalypse, the X-Men are forced to go underground and battle his forces across the world. At the same time, for their own survival, they must cooperate with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by Magneto.
There are a total of 16 playable characters in X-Men Legends II, and not all of the original game's cast will be making a return. Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler and, of course, Wolverine are back for more, joined by Bishop, Magneto, and Juggernaut. Activision's keeping the identities of the remaining playable characters a closely guarded secret. Your supporting cast includes Professor X and Forge, with appearances from Angel, Heather Hudson, and a host of other characters from throughout the Marvel Universe.
The game itself hasn't changed much upon first glance, but Raven Software's made any number of little tweaks and improvements to the basic gameplay. As before, the game's hub-based, with five headquarters for the X-Men throughout the world. You can once again buy items from Forge to equip your characters, and interact with a variety of NPCs in each of your hideouts. The new level cap is 99, allowing you to fully trick out every character in the game, and each character has been given a variety of new powers for you to play with. Although you only have control over your mutant foursome, NPCs will sometimes join up and lend a hand until the end of the level.
Even if you haven't played the original X-Men Legends, the control scheme and HUD are intuitive enough that you can just pick up the game and start playing. Your team is represented by headshot icons in the lower left-hand corner, and you can switch your active character instantaneously by pressing the corresponding directional pad button on the controller. (On the PSP, you'll need to press the L trigger in addition to the d-pad button.) Three bars depict your physical statistics: red is health, blue is mutant power, and yellow is XP, which also denotes your progress towards the next level-up. If a character has leveled up and you haven't spent all of the available points on skills and stats, a set of double-helix rings will appear around the character as a reminder.
By pulling the R trigger, you change the face buttons to correspond with each individual's mutant abilities; each X-Men character has three unique talents and one superpower, mapped to the Y/triangle button. A mini-map is located on the right-hand side of the screen, with all unexplored areas denoted in red, and the right thumbstick controls the camera angle. Direction of travel is mapped to the left thumbstick on the Xbox and PS2 versions, the left mouse button on the PC, and the analog nub on the PSP (slightly awkward to use).
Raven Software, being primarily a PC dev team, created XMLII on the PC first and then ported it over to the consoles, so the PC version plays more naturally. While primarily mouse-driven, the 10 hot keys are mapped to specific mutant powers, allowing you to adapt to a situation more quickly. The PC version also boasts two extra playable characters, while the PSP offering contains 30% more content than its PC and console counterparts.
There is quite a variety of mission types awaiting you, and as you progress, objectives change and escalate. On one of the levels, Blink had been kidnapped by some giant bugs and needed saving, so we trudged through the jungle, overcoming natural obstacles along the way. Some plants were on fire and blocked the path, but Storm's mutant powers made short work of them.
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.