Reviewed: November 1, 2004
Released: September 21, 2004
X-Men Legends is an action/RPG from Raven software and published through Activision, playable by up to four people at once. The game features fully destructible terrain and objects (well, almost fully), a point-based leveling system, extensive real-time four player combat and a classic X-Men storyline involving (who else?) Magneto and the Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants.
It also features a large cast of X-Men both new and old, plenty of dialogue and fan service, and easy switching between X-Men so that you're never too far away from your favorite mutant. At any rate, if all that isn't enough to pique your interest, you might need your head examined - er, I mean, there's a lot more to X-Men Legends than that, too. It's certainly one of the better comic book games I've played. Anyone who grew up with, or never quite grew out of, the X-Men should definitely take a look at this title.
X-Men Legends starts out in a cinematic way, with the Brotherhood and the X-Men clashing over a young girl, Alison, who has recently begun to manifest her mutant powers. A dramatic rooftop chase and a fight with the villainous shapeshifter Mystique serve as the backdrop for a well-integrated tutorial level in which players learn everything they could have already known if they'd ever picked up the instruction manual. We gamers are such impatient creatures.
At any rate, following Alison's rescue from the clutches of the Brotherhood, the story launches into a more mission-based format revolving around repeated attempts to stymie the Brotherhood's various cockamamie schemes. Eventually, Juggernaut, Magneto and the Sentinels appear as well. The story is full of moderately predictable twists and turns, cheesy lines and slam-bang action. As a comics-based title, I would expect no less from it. It plays like reading a nice long saga of X-Men comics, which should be a big selling point for all the "true believers" out there. Certainly, from a story point of view, I have to say that the game's attempt at recreating the world of the venerated comic series is wholly a success.
Also enjoyable are the characters. Far from being model-switched versions of the same fighter with different special moves, each X-Man looks, acts and plays differently than the others. X-Men Legends uses plenty of dialog and story to capture the mild mannerisms of Beast, the stick up Cyclops's butt and the punchably self-absorbed Iceman. Again, it creates the feeling of watching the comic book jump off of the page and into a video game.
In X-Men Legends, players control a team of up to four X-Men in a more or less top-down environment. Three of the heroes are AI-controlled (one less for each player in multiplayer); the remaining character is at the command of the player, who can easily switch to controlling any member of the group at any time. The X-Men can run around (they basically never walk), perform two basic attacks which can be chained into combos, jump and utilize special moves which cost energy (like a magic spell). The GameCube's controller isn't exactly ideal for this multi-platform release, but with a bit of practice, I found that the control scheme was easy enough to get the hang of.
Basically, the game plays like Gauntlet: Players explore maze-like areas in real-time, killing endless legions of enemies and accomplishing various objectives while occasionally leveling up. Most objectives more or less boil down to destroying things, but there is at least some variation. Not all of the objectives are vital to the advancement of the story, either, which is nice for gamers who just want to see what happens next as soon as possible.
The things that set X-Men Legends apart from similar games, in the end, are the details. Such usually obscure stats as speed make some X-Men significantly more nimble than others, for example, and there are attacks that do not damage opponents but generate a variety of other effects instead. There are various different damage classes in the game as well, much like elemental magic in a traditional RPG. The game finds entertaining uses for many of the X-Men's powers outside of combat too, like having Iceman freeze a bridge or two for the group to cross a chasm with. Making most of the scenery destructible doesn't hurt either, and leads to a few puzzles where simply busting through walls with your character's fists is the best solution - very much in the spirit of the comics.
The characters handle very differently from one another during gameplay, which is great. Obviously, characters like Wolverine are better at scrapping up close, whereas Cyclops and Storm generally prefer a longer-distance engagement. Some characters can fly at a height of a few feet, which increases their speed and is useful for crossing gaps. Others, like Beast, can lift massively large objects with ease. Each set of abilities really reflects the character they're tied to, which is the best fan service the game could have offered. To top it off, an RPG-style stat system helps players to easily decide who is best for which task.
X-Men Legends is a pretty fun romp for one player, though it can get very repetitive at times (just how many goons does the Brotherhood of Mutants have, anyway?). However, the game really shines in multiplayer mode. I had the pleasure of being able to play a three-way game of X-Men Legends with a couple of friends and it really makes all the difference in the world. Gameplay is cooperative, rather than competitive, which is always a plus in my book when it comes to this type of game. X-Men Legends promotes a lot of zaniness, shouting at the TV and hysterical laughter all around. If games are about entertainment, then I can think of no better title for entertaining a group of friends so thoroughly than this one - provided, of course that they are already X-Men fans.
However, that doesn't mean it's a perfect game by a long shot. Even in multiplayer, the fun wears off after a time, if only because there's not a whole lot to do in the game aside from beating things up. Although the controls are fine, I found that I got stuck in weird nooks and crannies all too often. This is the price paid for playing a game in which there are no invisible barriers (i.e., unless there's a rock face or concrete wall blocking your way, you can go anywhere you can conceivably get to), but the physics could have been refined so that players didn't have to spend three minutes jumping to get Wolverine out from between a cliff and a tree, for example. Thankfully, it appears that it's possible to get out of anywhere a character can get into, but for a major release, this ideally wouldn't have been an issue at all.
A host of other complaints I have about X-Men Legends are minor and largely personal, such as some of the voice actor choices and the lack of hidden bonus missions within the regular ones. However, the basic score of X-Men Legends' gameplay would be unaffected by them anyway. It's dull at times, repetitive and a tad on the annoying side when it comes to getting stuck in tight spots. On the other hand, it's fast-paced, easy to get into and relatively deep for what I at first expected to be a glorified Double Dragon clone. Fans will appreciate it more, but then again, it was designed with the fans in mind. At its core, X-Men Legends has solid gameplay, plenty of fan service and good production values.
X-Men Legends uses a subtle mixture of detailed cel-shading and traditional polygonal graphics to excellent effect. The characters and items are in cel, but far from the whimsical stylization of The Wind Waker, these cels have an astounding amount of detail and manage to look truly 3-D while at the same time retaining the comic book feel that cel-shading is so well suited to. It's easy to forget that they're not purely polygonal like the rest of the game is.
As for the polygonal parts, they're flawless. No matter how hard I tried, I didn't ever see a single jaggie during play. No matter how many enemies were onscreen at once, the frame rate seemed smooth and effects were always top-quality (though in all fairness, there were never a whole lot of enemies on the screen at once). Larger objects are subtly darkened along the edges to give them a more comic book-ish look and trees and the like feature very distinct dark lines that almost look like they were inked by a comic artist.
Texturing was so-so. Climbable snowdrifts in an early level stood out like sore thumbs because of their oddly last-gen texturing, and a few other things had this noticeably old texturing about them, as well. On the most part, though, things looked like they should have and I don't have much else to complain about here.
The one other deficiency I noticed was the camera angle. The camera can be rotated to a degree and can zoom in or out a bit, but it never pans down to the point where any horizon can be seen. While this did eliminate draw-in, it seems like a cheap way to do so and at times felt restrictive. If you can hear the enemies but you can't see them, how are you supposed to look around to find your target? I'm not sure it would have significantly helped or hurt the game as a whole to implement a wider range of camera movement, but what we're left with just doesn't seem like enough.
Okay, so there's more to the sound than Patrick Stewart, but he's definitely the best thing about it. The rest of the voice cast is fine, and some of the other voices are actually quite good (take Beast or Wolverine for example), but none of them approach ol' Jean-Luc when it comes to the nuance and life each character's voice is given by his or her actor. As an aside, the characters' lines are wonderful - straight out of the comics and not a single one out of place.
The soundtrack is largely forgettable. This isn't to say it's bad, though; its theatrical sound is nicely used to add another dimension to the gaming experience. It just fades into the background most of the time. Sound effects are ho-hum except for a few things, which is too bad given the game's comic book roots. All in all, sound is the least important of X-Men Legends' categories, and overall its weakest.
The value of X-Men Legends depends largely on how many friends you have who like the X-Men as much as you do. If the X-Men aren't your thing, or you have no idea who the X-Men even are (do you live under a rock?), there won't be much to get out of this game. After all, it's seeing the comics translated so well into a different medium that makes it such a blast to play.
Assuming that you are a fan, one player alone will still have trouble not getting bored past a certain point, though it's always satisfying to test out a character's new strength and abilities after a level up. Two players together should have no trouble enjoying a full play-through, which could take anywhere from 15 or 18 all the way up past 30 hours, depending on how much time the two of them spend actually advancing the story.
Add in a third or fourth player, though, and this game's replay value shoots through the roof. You'll all be goofing off so much and having so much fun just blasting bad guys together that you might only rarely actually advance the storyline. Though it does get old after an hour or three, it'll be fun again by the next evening, giving the average gamer plenty of fun-filled weekends.
Like the X-Men? Like video games? Then this is the X-Men video game you've been waiting for. It's got crisp hybrid graphics, a simple yet expansive combat system and non-stop waves of bad guys both large and small to claw, blast and kick your way through. The storyline is classic X-Men fare, and little details like characters' lines and dorm rooms (Colossus has an easel in his room, for example) really add a lot to the fan service.
Though there's not much to do outside of fighting, Raven has managed to make the fighting fun enough that most people will keep coming back. And most importantly, don't forget: the more, the merrier. This is a fine game in its own right, though not a spectacular one, but where it really shines is in multiplayer. So put down the comics and the controller for a bit first, ring up some friends, and then sit back and enjoy some of the most entertaining game nights you'll ever have. Excelsior!