Reviewed: September 27, 2011
Released: September 27, 2011
On the surface, X-Men: Destiny sounds like a cruel joke. Imagine if someone told you, “we’re going to give you this massive action-fighter and include every mutant you’ve ever heard of (and maybe a few you haven’t) from the X-Men universe, but we’re not going to let you play any of them. Instead, you get to play this new character.” Well, it’s not as cruel as it sounds, and actually, it’s probably the only way Silicon Knights could even hope to pull off a game this ambitious. There is no possible way you could have given the players free choice and maintain the story, and you certainly don’t want the story to dictate which character you are playing in any given situation.|
Instead, X-Men: Destiny spins a new tale, where Magneto and Professor X are presumed dead after their epic battle with Bastion, who came from the future to destroy all mutants. Now Cyclops is in charge of the X-Men, who have been driven from the mansion, and he is working with the mayor of San Francisco to try and establish some sort of peaceful coexistence . But with the Brotherhood still scattered about causing trouble and mutant-phobic Purifiers patrolling the streets, peace is the last thing that’s going to happen.
The game opens with a massive mutant peace rally, and scattered about the crowd are three young people; Aimi, a young Asian girl fresh off the freighter after being smuggled out of Japan, Grant, the stereotypical jock who is looking to score some MGH (mutant growth hormone) and Adrian, son of an anti-mutant extremist who proudly wears the tattoo of the Purifiers. You get to pick from these three characters about ten minutes into the opening cutscene and then things really take off.
The rally falls under attack and amidst the chaos you suddenly start to exhibit mutant powers, of which you get to select, choosing from Density Control (brawler), Energy Projection (ranged fighter), and Shadow Matter (wizard, for lack of a better analogy). Unlike choosing your character, which merely tweaks the dialogue and story, choosing this power will set you on your combat path for the rest of the game, so choose carefully.
I am so torn by X-Men Destiny. It is by far one of the most original X-Men games I have ever played when it comes to story, design, art, and ambition, but it is sadly lacking where it counts – gameplay. Destiny oozes with style and presentation. All of your favorite X-Men and Brotherhood mutants come into play eventually, making grand entrances complete with character title card and authentic attire. You’ll get to talk with most of them and flesh out the story and even manage to unlock their costumes and powers and adapt them to your own specific use. But all of this is completely lost on mindless button-mashing gameplay.
You’ll start off with the obvious light and heavy attacks. Depending on your character and your base power selection these will visually look different but effectively do the same thing. I tried all three people, each with their own base power and played the entire first chapter and nothing was really different other than the way a few conversations unfolded. I ultimately went with Aimi and Energy Projection, which was fun at first but became crippling about halfway through the game.
When you aren’t smashing buttons to beat down a fixed number of attackers you can scour the area for Purifier propaganda posters to tear off walls, blue and green crates of health and mutant juice, and the occasion X-gene that will add or tweak your powers. There is a rather clumsy menu system that allows you to cycle around four nodes and assign a costume, active, passive, and mutant powers, each with their own benefits and each can be upgraded by spending your earned XP – those are the yellow orbs that fly around during combat.
Combat is mindlessly fun for the first hour as you spam the attack buttons and loot the colored orbs while enjoying the comic-style words that appear (and actually exist) within the 3D environment. The first time I shattered the enemy countdown message I was shocked at how cool it was, but even that grew old. Enemies are pretty much off the assembly line with a few variations in Purifiers. Eventually they start throwing some bigger guys at you, one with a flamethrower and another giant robot with an ED-209 growl that stomps his foot.
You’ll encounter lots of people to talk to, but these conversation trees have no real branches; just twigs. Topics almost never go beyond the first level of choice and never beyond two, and once you talk about something it stays on the menu, so if you accidentally hit it again you are forced to listen to the unstoppable dialogue all over. Your conversations have no bearing on gameplay until they actually asked you to partake in a certain mission. This is where your allegiance can either shift to X-Men or Brotherhood, but even that morality/karma meter doesn’t seem to affect the game.
There are no real puzzles. You might get to hop up a few ledges or climb a building but that is only so you can get to a new arena where more enemies are ready to swarm you in fixed numbers. If you explore off the intended path you may discover a challenge area where you are tasked with either surviving or defeating x-amount of enemies in a certain time limit. If you’re lucky, this will earn you a new power. If you are unlucky, the challenge will fail and you will be unable to try again, as the challenge is forever locked until you start a new game. As a completionist who doesn’t like to miss a thing – this element of the game really annoyed me.
My biggest complaint with X-Men: Destiny is that nothing seems to matter. You have the illusion of all these choices, but they merely dictate superficial changes to a fairly basic combat brawler that features a very cool cast of characters. Even when fully loaded up with level-4 powers, I didn’t really feel as “bad ass” as I should, even with all the energy and passive lightning bolts emitting from my tiny Asian hero.
Destiny does have one thing going for it and that is artistic style. I love these character models and their fluid animation, especially during the conversation where you can appreciate the muscles and clothing and shoulders and arms and legs that all move and bend realistically with no clipping. The background art and level design is all over the spectrum. Some levels are fantastic while others like the sewer and the U-Men prison facility were very bland and repetitious. The combat animations are interesting, but they get as repetitive as the actual combat, and it’s annoying that when you start a 4-move combo there is no way to interrupt the animation in case you are about to get attacked. There is a block/defend button that never seemed to work right, which made the whole counterattack concept moot.
Kudos to the audio department for their rousing soundtrack and some fantastic voice acting for every single character in the game – not a bad voice or delivery in the bunch. There are a handful of flashy sound effects for the various powers but nothing that really stood out, and of course all the obligatory explosions, etc. Oh yeah - nice groaning metal when Magneto tossed a bridge at me…oops, was that a spoiler…naw.
X-Men: Destiny could have certainly benefited from a co-op mode. Imagine having all three main characters teamed up and brawling side-by-side in single-screen multiplayer. But sadly, there is no multiplayer versus or co-op modes and with only minimal variations in story and tactics based on characters and powers, I can't see any reason to replay the game a second time unless you are farming achievements.
If you love the X-Men then you are going to wet yourself when you see the amazing cast assembled for this game. I’m pretty much a movie guy, so half of these characters were strangers to me, but when my comic-reading friends saw this game they were rattling off names after 8-frames of animation. Personally, I enjoyed the art, the character design, some of the levels, the story, and the amount of choice offered, even when that choice didn't matter. The gameplay is mindlessly annoying and repetitive in its button-mashing – no more so than say a God of War game, but at least God of War mixes it up and looks cool doing it.
I stopped having “true fun” about halfway through X-Men: Destiny and sadly finished out of obligation and a curiosity to see how the story would unfold. Hopefully, if you’re a bigger fan of the X-Men franchise than I am you’ll have a better time. Casual gamers should probably skip – this is one for true X-Men aficionados.