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Xbox Review - 'X-Men Legends'

by Corey Owen on Oct. 13, 2004 @ 3:42 a.m. PDT

The first 3D action-RPG based on the popular Marvel characters, the X-Men, X-Men Legends challenges players to master the attributes of their favorite X-Men by creating, customizing and controlling teams of four mutants in real time. Players lead teams of mutants as they battle the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and other Marvel villains on a quest to stop the extinction of mankind and determine the fate of the world.

Genre : Action/RPG
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: September 21, 2004

Buy 'X-MEN LEGENDS': Xbox | GameCube | PlayStation 2

Games based on comic books, much like games based on movies, have a long history of mediocrity. Needless to say, when X-men Legends arrived, I was skeptical. Imagine my surprise when the title was not only good for a comic-based game, but was just an overall fantastic game. With such a huge cast of characters and an enormous amount of source material, why it took so long to put the X-men universe into an RPG is beyond me. This, folks, is the game that every X-men fan has been waiting for.

First off, the story is pure X-men, through and through. Some of the dialogue is a little cheesy, but there shouldn't be any complaints about Raven Software staying true to X-men lore. Given the sheer number of X-men and villains in the game, if at least one of your favorite characters isn't featured, you must love some of the most obscure superheroes in the X-men catalogue. The main story is split between that of the X-men team and Magma's attempts to adjust to living in the mansion. These storylines eventually become intertwined, but the split provides for a nice dynamic in the early gameplay.

While playing as Magma, you will explore the grounds of the mansion and meet the team. Within the mansion, players are able to view all of the items unlocked during the game, including cutscenes, load screens, comic book covers, concept art, bios of all the X-men and villains that have been encountered thus far, and various other items. My personal favorite is the trivia game, where players can test their knowledge about the X-men universe. While I loved this feature, I was disappointed by the dearth of questions so it would be great if future games would contain hundreds of trivia questions for the hardcore (and slightly rabid) fans. The last feature of the mansion is Danger Room where you can learn the basics of combat or earn experience to level up your team.

Initially, you will only control one X-men team member, but that quickly changes as you head a squad of four, hand-picked by you. At any time, you can switch between the chosen four by simply pressing the d-pad in the direction of the player's icon. Once you've selected your team, you are ready to start dealing death and destruction. Every team member has the basic punch, kick, throw and jump abilities tied to the face buttons, and some characters have much greater hand-to-hand combat skills than do others. By pulling R, you change the face buttons to correspond with each individual's abilities. Each X-men character has three unique talents and one superpower, and if you press L, all of your teammates will use one of their abilities on the targeted enemy. If you time it correctly and use one of your own abilities at the same instant your allies execute their own attack, you will perform a devastating combo, dealing out massive amounts of damage and garnering you more experience.

Once you have enough experience, you can level up your characters' attributes and abilities. There are four types of attributes that are the same for every player: strike increases your attack, agility increases defense, body increases health, and focus increases energy, which is then used to perform the various skills you have acquired. As previously mentioned, each character has three attack abilities, but there are also many passive abilities on which points can be spent. There is a good deal of depth in the experience system, and Raven has done a fantastic job of analyzing each character and creating an ability hierarchy that fits well into the X-men canon.

The gameplay vastly improves when you take into account the ability for up to three of your friends to jump in at any time and take control of the other characters. The game is great alone, but with a group of friends, it's even better. It's beyond me why the developers passed on making this an online title; this missing feature will cost them quite a few sales.

The combat system is done completely in real time and is a blast to play. You have to be smart about the team you choose because some enemies may be more easily dispatched by some X-men, but be almost impossible to take down by others. There are also some interesting attacks that can be done if you have the right combination of players (i.e., Beast is able to hurl Wolverine, claws bared, at enemies, etc.). Almost completely-destructible environments enhance the combat; you can smash through machinery, barrel through boxes, and even smash through walls if you have the right characters. Overall, it is a very satisfying experience, but the combat isn't without its flaws. Once you have made it about halfway through the game, you will notice that it becomes easier and easier to kill enemies, and even bosses begin to fall with relative ease. Many times, I could clear an entire roomful of enemies with Storm's chain lighting attack before the rest of my team could land a single punch. However, this is hardly anything new, as in almost every RPG I can think of, the game becomes too easy after you are about halfway through and have leveled-up sufficiently.

While the gameplay is great, the graphics are a mixed bag. When you are in the game, the view is almost always from a top-down perspective (although you can get somewhat of an angle at times), and it is from this viewpoint that the game looks great. The characters all look like they should, and the effects are fantastic; there can be tons of explosions going on, all sorts of lasers and sparks flying, and there is never any slow down. When there is an in-game cutscene, however, they pan the camera down, and you can see the characters face-on. From this angle, you can see some of the worst models done in years, complete with blocky heads and hands and lips that don't move at all during conversations. The developers tried to use textures to cover up the lack of modeling, but it can only help so much. The pre-rendered scenes fare better, but they really serve no purpose, aside from being a five- to 10-second clip of the location you are entering. This really seems like a waste of time and resources that they could have spent on optimizing the game to handle higher-polygon models. Even though the models are about average, the superb animation, along with the distant isometric perspective, keeps the actual game looking great.

The audio fares better than the visuals but still comes up lacking in some areas. The soundtrack is a blend of techno rock that fits well with the theme, but it is used somewhat sparingly, leaving you in a near-silent state some of the time. The sound effects are probably the highlight of the audio department; the crackle of electricity, the sound of Wolverine unleashing his claws, and Nightcrawler teleporting around the room and unleashing back attacks all help to draw you into the action. The area with the greatest disparity in the whole game is in the voice acting. Some of the actors do a fantastic job with their characters, while others would have done better to stay mute. I found this especially true with Cyclops and Colossus because Colossus' accent seemed somewhat comical at times, while Cyclops sounded more like a class clown than a staunch leader. Some of this can be attributed to the dialogue written for him, but even with better writing, the voice actor sounds too young for his character.

This is a great RPG with about 20-30 hours of gameplay to be enjoyed, but you can squeeze out even more hours if you check out the sparring or multiplayer mode. Sparring lets you compete in a four-on-four brawl with any of the X-men, Brotherhood of Mutants, or any other enemy in the game. This is a great way to let you check out the powers of the enemies in the game, but it is only a minor distraction and probably won’t hold your attention for long. There are four multiplayer game types: Brawl, King of the Hill, Last Man Standing, and Last Man Ladder. While each game type does have a specific goal, the winner is generally the one who dies the least and kills the most.

All in all, X-men Legends could have been awesome online, but it is fairly difficult to find three friends to play with at the drop of a hat. If Raven Software had just put some more polish on the graphics, found some better voice actors, ramped up the difficulty at the end and put it online, this could have been a contender for RPG of the year. As it stands though, it’s a good time for RPG fans and definitely the most well-rounded X-men game to date.

Score: 8.5/10

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