Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: May 1, 2009
The X-Men Origins: Wolverine video game has one crucial thing that its movie counterpart doesn't, and that's gore. We're not just talking about a splatter or two of blood dotting the corner of a character's mouth. This game has buckets of blood and tubs full of dismembered limbs. Make no mistake: The game is not rated PG-13.
For all this mindless gore, Wolverine still doesn't succeed in the only area that matters in a modern brawler: variety. It doesn't help that the game's meandering plot, which is just an excuse for Wolverine to slash up as many identical enemies as possible, likes to jump back and forth in time, so just when you think you might get to see some new stuff, you're forced to run through the same generic jungle and temple areas again. There are only five chapters in Wolverine, but it feels like there are only three. There are only about a half-dozen enemy varieties once you lump together the contextual re-skins, and there are really only two or three unique ways of killing them.
Wolverine is your basic hack-and-slash, which is a bit of a clumsy genre for the PC. The controls lack the kind of adamantium finish that might have made the game a bit more interesting, but this makes combat simple enough to be handled by a mouse. By default, the two attacks (light and heavy) are set to left and right mouse buttons, making it simple to chain together combos. All of the combos are simply a certain number of left clicks finished up by a right click, so expect to wear out your index finger if you're using this setup. The keys are all fully mappable, letting you assign the other actions — such as grab, block and lunge — wherever you want. The mouse controls the camera, and WASD moves Wolverine in whichever direction you point him, and it all feels very smooth and natural once you pick it up. The contextual tutorials even adjust to your button layout. Of course, no port of a console game would be complete without Xbox 360 controller compatibility, and it's just as charmingly simple as the mouse and keyboard setup.
The game starts out with a grim and very nice pre-rendered cut scene that quickly moves from the near future into the near past of the X-Men movie universe, but even though the title has a very strong opening and solid controls, it quickly fizzles out. The high-adrenaline African chapter, where Wolverine drops from a chopper into a jungle without a parachute, is unique and memorable, but once you get over the novelty of the gore, not much else is. While you're in Africa, you traipse through a derivative action-movie jungle that's filled with identical guerilla mercenaries and an endless supply of men who light themselves on fire. When you're escaping the Weapon X facility, you face off against thousands of guys in identical suits who shoot at you until you lunge at them and rip off their heads with your claws. When you're at the robotics facility, guess what? You fight two to three types of robots for a few hours. You might gasp and laugh the first time Wolverine jumps onto a helicopter, breaks open the window and decapitates the pilot with the spinning rotor blades, but by the third time, you realize that it's just a flashy Quick Time Event.
About the only attempt to break up the monotony of beating up endless masses of nearly identical bad-guys comes from the experience system. For every man you slice in two, throw off a cliff or impale on a tree, you get a bit of experience. This experience is multiplied slightly depending on how many people you've killed in a short time span, so there's incentive to be efficient in your work. Leveling up only boosts your maximum health and rage. You also get two tokens for every level to spend on improving specific attributes, but there's not much to boost on the already invincible Wolverine. You can pump up your health, damage or rage meters slightly, as well as boosting the four rage skills. All but one of the rage skills turns out to be pretty useless no matter how much you pump them up, so the illusion of a tough choice is fleeting. In one last desperate attempt at uniqueness, the developers put in a "reflex" system that levels up as you fight specific kinds of enemies, but all it does is let you do more damage to speed up fights later on in the game.
Wolverine's healing factor keeps you from feeling the hurt of bullet wounds and slashes, but it all but eliminates any challenge. After a short time without getting hit, your health bar quickly fills up, and even after your red health bar is completely gone, you still can take a few hits before the heart icon in the upper left-hand corner is depleted. With the simplicity of the combos, all you really have to do in any situation is stand in the middle of combat and slash away. If you're feeling tired of this, you can also try to block some attacks and pull off ultra-gory counter-attacks, but unless you're in a boss fight, it's just amusing overkill. Most bosses can't be countered anyhow, so you just have to find chances to lunge at them and slash away. No encounter is unique, and all of them are too easy.
Wolverine's regeneration is probably the thing that killed this title, but it's also cause for one of the coolest innovations in the game. Whenever Wolverine takes damage, it shows. The sheen of blood, muscle, skeleton and eventually organs keeps popping up and quickly disappearing, thanks to Logan's accelerated healing. The healing factor looks absolutely amazing on everyone with it, including Sabretooth and the optional bosses.
Overall, the graphics are spectacular, and the 720p support is much appreciated for those with the gear to run it. Logan looks great, whether he's wearing a jacket, a classic X-Men uniform or the tattered remains of his plain white shirt. The enemies are also quite detailed, but the lack of variety makes this a pretty trivial matter. Unfortunately, the graphics engine tends to show its ugly side when rendering some plot-important characters, and Logan's love interest is one of the ugliest things on a console since the release of the Unreal Engine.
For some reason, most of the cut scenes are pre-rendered but made using the game's graphics engine, which results in the worst graphical moments in the title. Scenes that the developers deemed important, such as the moment Wolverine is given his adamantium skeleton, are presented with loving detail in high quality. In the five "vital" scenes, you can trace every hair on Logan's head as it floats in water, but in the not-so-hot cut scenes, everything is reduced to a grainy blur that's uncharacteristic of the rest of the game.
The accompanying vocals are as much of a mixed bag as the cinematic quality. Most of the time, Hugh Jackman is spot-on in his role, and the actors who reprised their roles in the movie (Live Schreiber and Will.i.am) also have their off and on moments. Oddly, the replacement actors usually sound a lot more genuine in delivering their cheesy lines. Even though the plot has been considerably dumbed down from the movie, and completely unnecessary elements are added for the sake of beating up people, the presentation is about on par with the movie. I'm not a fan of the movie, though, so don't take that as too much of a compliment.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine has a few serious problems that Wolverine's healing factor just isn't strong enough to recover from: repetitive backdrops, cookie-cutter enemies, and inconsistent graphics and dialogue. It's quick, brutal, dumb and repetitive. However, the game's simplicity and utter shamelessness make for a fun diversion for a little while, if you can stand a few hours of mashing mouse buttons and watching limbs and torsos fly.
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