Reviewed: May 27, 2003
Released: April 15, 2003
X-Men frenzy has never been greater now that the incredible sequel has finally come and gone and clearly teased us with an obvious third installment cliffhanger ending. Activision slipped in their X2: Wolverine’s Revenge just prior to the theatrical release and is now enjoying a nice cross-promotional hype that will undoubtedly send fans of the film scurrying to their local software store.
Wolverine has traditionally been a huge favorite of comic book fans since he made his 1974 debut in the Incredible Hulk #180. He has since enjoyed a long career with the X-Men in both comics and several animated series. But how well does our indestructible, ill-tempered superhero make the move to the Xbox, and is there really a good game lurking beneath the lamb chops and adamantium manicure?
GenePool certainly had all the right ingredients going into this project. Comic book veteran, Larry Hama was brought in to craft the script that does an amazing job of presenting the history of Wolverine in an entertaining way that won’t bore the fans who are already intimate with the story. If you’ve never read a comic book you will enjoy the story and if you have read them all you will enjoy certain subtle references toward events from past issues.
Several of the best villains like Magneto, Sabretooth, and Deathstrike are brought in to challenge our hero and with voice talent like Mark Hamill and Patrick Stewart, how can you go wrong? Read on…
The gameplay in Wolverine’s Revenge boils down to the all-too familiar action formula with a bit of stealth thrown in to mix up an otherwise boring experience. There are a few attempts to add some adventure elements to the game but they are quickly lost in what is otherwise a “kill ’em all” game.
Of course the biggest obstacle in game design is how do you balance a game where the star is indestructible? Answer – you screw up the entire game. Rather than have a slowly regenerating health bar Wolverine is forced to retract his claws to heal. If you can’t already guess, this leads to a repetitive pattern of kicking ass then hiding in a corner to lick your wounds.
You can also fight with your claws retracted, which isn’t as bad as logic would dictate. Logan is fully capable of kicking just as much ass with his kicks and punches and as an added bonus you “keep healing” during combat. This easily negates any additional damage the claws may do when extended, but without your claws you’re just a guy with a bad haircut wearing spandex.
Wolverine does have one useful superpower that comes into play frequently. Until now we’ve all had to imagine what “animal-keen senses” might look like. Not even the movies have touched on this aspect of his powers, at least with anything more than “raised eyebrows” when something odd is afoot. The game delivers a powerful visual representation of his keen animal instincts by activating something along the lines of “Predator Vision”. The screen goes into a sepia tone and you can now see fading footsteps, vapor trails of enemy scents, hidden objects, and even animated clues on how to perform stealth attacks.
Controlling Wolverine is problematic at best, partly due to some poor control design and partly because of a twitchy camera system. Controls couldn’t be more basic. X and Y punches and kicks and you can mix-up these buttons and do various patterns for combos, but they are seldom worth the effort in extra damage. As you get further in the game more attacks are made available and you can add the Y button to your move list, but combos aren’t really interactive. You enter the proper sequence then watch Wolverine do a 3-second move. During some fights the word STRIKE may appear and you can hit the B button for a cool fatality, again, non-interactive.
Of course the big problem with the combat is the AI of the enemies, even the bosses, just isn’t that good. Often, the bad guys won’t even see you until you are on top of them and other times they will get stuck in the level due to poor pathfinding. You can randomly mash attack buttons and pummel your way to victory with little thought or skill. Pretty soon, you will start to get bored with the entire process and start looking for things to amuse yourself like stealth-killing as many people as you can.
Since this game is all about the combat it’s a shame it ceases to become fun after the first few levels. The boss battles are a bit more challenging and definitely pay homage to traditional boss fights that veteran gamers all know and love. Each boss has a weakness and it’s up to you to find and exploit it. But even the boss battles suffer from poor design. In one of the early fights you have to stun the boss then toss him into some pipes. The only problem is you can’t choose the direction of the toss so you have to make sure everyone is in the proper position prior to the grab and toss move.
Stealth is a critical component of the game, which only makes the poor implementation of the skill that much more annoying. The black button must be HELD down to stay in stealth, which essentially renders your right hand useless for any other face button commands. Considering the frequency and often lengthy durations of stealth required this should have been a toggle. This is just as annoying as those games that don’t allow you to toggle crouch mode.
Some added bonuses to the gameplay are dog tags that are awarded with each stealth kill and boss battle. As you collect more of these your strike combo level improves and you have access to bigger and better combos. You can also find hidden data discs to unlock database info in Cerebro and there are even hidden costumes you can unlock.
Frankly, I am not impressed with the graphics in Wolverine. Aside from the cool sepia filter used for the sensory awareness portions of the game everything else is very primitive. The levels are not very sophisticated in design and the textures used to paint them are bland and repetitive. The camera system is full of problems that only enhance the serious clipping issues.
Since this game was simultaneously released on all platforms I can only assume it was programmed around the weakest common denominator. The power of the Xbox is hardly being tapped to crank out this action game and the fact that it supports HDTV 480p only enhances its shortcomings.
On the positive side, Wolverine is modeled and animated very nicely whether he is running, attacking, or sneaking up on an unsuspecting enemy. Unfortunately, all the attention in character design was used up on our hero. The enemies are fairly simple and their animation is often primitive. Professor X is so poorly modeled I’m surprised Patrick Stewart agreed to voice the part. Yech!
There is a decent soundtrack included with Wolverine’s Revenge, but if you don’t like it you can use your own custom tracks. You could even try the actual X2 soundtrack, but by swapping out the original music you will miss out on a few tempo changes that are cued by the action. It's not a huge loss.
Sound effects are a mixed bag. They are good and bad but they are also quite repetitive so even the good ones will wear on your nerves halfway through the game. However, the voice acting steals the show with Mark Hamill voicing the part of Wolverine. Apparently Hugh Jackman was either unavailable or unwilling to participate, but Luke…err...Mark pulls off the part flawlessly. The unmistakable voice of Patrick Stewart lends a certain authenticity to the entire project. He narrates the opening prologue and voices Professor X with a style like no other.
The core game will take you about 8-10 hours to finish, and if you are into collecting dog tags, costumes, and data discs you can probably milk another 2-3 hours of exploratory fun from this game. There’s no multiplayer, which is a shame. It would have been extremely cool for a 2-player versus mode with Wolverine going up against the in-games bosses.
I had high hopes for this title after seeing what Activision had one with the Spider-Man license, but I have to keep telling myself “it’s all about the developer and not the publisher”. In this case, GenePool are the ones to blame for a totally uninspired game with shoddy graphics, weak sound, clumsy controls, and only enough content to make this worth a weekend rental or perhaps a budget purchase when the title makes it to the Platinum Hits. Diehard fans will appreciate the story, but that’s about all Wolverine’s Revenge has going for it.