Reviewed: September 21, 2005
Released: September 21, 2005
Iím not the biggest RPG fan out there. In fact, I can probably count the number of PC and console RPGís Iíve actually finished on one hand. Sure, Iíve played a few hundred of them, but I generally lose interest in any game that goes beyond the 20-hour mark, especially when it requires a lot of repetitive level grinding.
The RPG genre hasnít seen much of a presence on consoles, but once role-playing merged with action gaming this unique hybrid has been met with relative success. Last year Activision and Raven Software brought us a unique RPG twist on the super-hero genre with X-Men Legends and even though the game had a few design issues it was a pretty solid experience; solid enough for a sequel.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is an inspired reinvention of the original game with more characters, more powers, and a streamlined interface to enhance the multiplayer component. It also includes the most-requested feature of last yearís game, online multiplayer, and not just some silly versus mode, but true cooperative gameplay for the main campaign.
Anyone who has been following this gameís development already knows that for this adventure the X-Men are forced into an uneasy alliance with Brotherhood in order to save the Earth from Apocalypse. With the addition of villains as playable characters we now have a huge cast of 16 playable characters, each with 10 unique superpowers. There are even some newly created characters designed exclusively for this exciting sequel.
Now, half the fun (and a lot of the strategy) is just mixing and matching the perfect team of heroes and villains to blast your way through each of the 70+ levels that make up the five acts in this massive game. There is an interesting dynamic in place where Brotherhood and X-Men characters donít always work and play well together. This is mostly played out in conversations, and once in the heat of battle all differences are set aside.
Despite the heavy emphasis on action, Rise of the Apocalypse has a fairly in-depth RPG engine at its core. Characters have numerous stats that dictate their abilities and the items they can and cannot use. Each character also has special items that only they can use. These are some of the most powerful and desirable items in the game and are often quite hard to come by.
Mutant powers and skills come in active and passive types that can be directed toward the enemy or used to influence the current party or just enhance the individual. Techbits, the currency of X-Men Legends II, are scattered about the levels, usually revealing themselves as you smash open boxes or defeat enemies. These can be used to purchase new items from Beast and Forge. Health and Energy Packs are just a few of the other numerous pick-ups you will find as you make your way through the story.
There are thousands of items in Rise of the Apocalypse and each character can carry about 20 of them. A unique scripting system randomly places these items into the game so you seldom find the same item in the same place on subsequent replays. This creates some interesting inventory management issues, especially when you get items you canít immediately use because of level restrictions.
The Hero Stash is a Resident Evil-style chest that lets you store your excess baggage and retrieve it later. The contents of this stash are transferred between bases and chapters in the story. Another alternative is to just temporarily swap out some team members and load their personal inventories with the items you want to save for later.
Swapping characters is also important to the gameís overall strategy. There are Xtraction points scattered about the levels, usually at key points where you would be wise to save your game. These glowing blue Xís also allow you to manage your team, bringing in new characters or reviving a current team member who has fallen.
One important feature that allows you to bring in these new characters, even at the later stages of the game, is the ability for unused characters to level-up, even while they are sitting back at the base. You can play the first several chapters as a select few characters and all of the other un-played characters will be leveling up at about half the rate as active characters. That way when you want to bring in a character you have never tried before near the end of the game theyíll be able to hold their own with the seasoned party members.
Ideally, the game is best played with a friend (or three), but if you are playing alone you can enjoy some excellent AI for the computer controller characters. You can go into the team management options and set preferences for each characterís aggressiveness and their favorite superpower. You can also adjust how often they heal; a useful feature since everyone shares from a central pool of health power-ups. One particularly nice feature will have your controller vibrate when your character's health gets dangerously low.
The combat engine is robust with plenty of opportunity for flexing your strategic muscle. The game actually tracks your damage per second (DPS) and rewards you accordingly, so itís in your best interest to use your team and their mutant abilities to their maximum potential, dishing out as much damage in the least amount of time, even if it means quaffing multiple Energy Packs during the battle to keep those mutant powers flowing.
Rise of The Apocalypse also allows you the freedom to micromanage all of the RPG elements of the game or automate a lot of the tedious chores like distributing items and choosing skills every time your characters increase in levels. For those who prefer their action-RPG with more action than role-playing, this is a tremendous asset.
The game is designed so you are free to roam in and out of missions. If one mission proves to be too difficult you can try another and come back later. A new character, Blink that you rescue early in the story, has the ability to open teleportation portals back to your base. This proves to be a most useful power, but the designers have been careful to balance its use with a mandatory five-minute ďcool downĒ period so you cannot abuse it.
Gameplay has been overhauled to really make use of the teamís superpowers. There might be some items stacked behind some burning debris and Storm will need to extinguish the flames with some ice or wind, or perhaps Magneto will need to use his powers to pull a lever , assemble a bridge, or operate a console that is otherwise out of reach. Cyclops might have to blast something with his deadly red beams or Wolverine might just have to kick some ass. Some puzzles and especially boss battles require multiple characters and multiple powers to solve.
There are also some significant benefits for creating the perfect team. While these arenít always obvious, active characters will gain certain benefits by simply being part of a specific team configuration. A good example is the all-female team of Storm, Rogue, Scarlet Witch, and Jean Grey. With these four babes in your team playing as any of them will transfer 5% of all damage you inflict back into your own health. There are more than 15 of these special team configurations, each with their own rewards and bonuses, some of which can be stacked.
Multiplayer is not only more fleshed out with the new cooperative play, the interface is much more streamlined. Each character has four hot keys for mutant powers and you can now switch out your characterís powers, almost in real time, with only a few quick button presses. This is especially nice in multiplayer so the game isnít constantly being interrupted by somebody in the team tweaking their abilities during combat.
Picking an active character requires just a quick tap of the D-pad, much like the recent Fantastic 4 action-RPG. There is also exclusive multiplayer content and some well-thought-out gameplay mechanics in place like the ability to rejoin the party with a squeeze of the left trigger if you fall behind.
Academy Award nominee, Blur Studios was brought in to create some of the most fantastic CG movies ever seen outside of a Square-Enix game. The opening movie will blow you away and there are plenty of engaging cutscenes that intersperse the massive and open-ended storyline.
There is also a massive collection of some of the most amazing splash screens Iíve seen in my 20+ years of gaming. This is some high quality art of all of your favorite heroes and villains in exciting action poses plus comic book art and a lot of secret unlockable goodies.
The game graphics are sharp and colorful with detailed textures and advanced lighting, shadows, and particle effects. Character design has been greatly improved with larger characters and a cel-shaded art style that gives the game a much greater comic book feel to it. The color palette is rich and diverse with heavy outlines around the characters to make them pop off the environments.
The camera is lower and closer so everything is much larger and more detailed than before, at least when playing alone. As more human players join in the game the camera will pull out to give everyone a fair view of the action. The character select portion of the HUD is also removed during multiplayer. The rest of the HUD gives you instant access to all pertinent information as well as an optional mini-map or even a larger transparent map overlay.
The missions are captivating with unique locations like the Weapon X facility, the Infinite Factory, plus other detailed indoor and outdoor environments ranging from Canada and Egypt to New York City. The levels are massive and intricately designed with multiple paths, character specific challenges, and plenty of hidden areas. Levels are also highly interactive, or perhaps "destructible" is the word I am looking for, although there are lots of things you can smash with no apparent benefit or reward.
Technically, the game looked great when I did my Xbox preview last month on a 720p Dell monitor, but alas, the HDTV I review my games on only supports 480p and 1080i, so I didnít get nearly the same level of PC-sharpness that owners of 720p capable screens will get. It still looks good, but it didnít blow me away.
The audio presentation mirrors the quality of the graphics and gameplay with excellent voice acting for all the characters, including the majestic voice of Patrick Stewart as Professor X. Speech is restricted primarily to cutscenes and major encounters, leaving you to read lengthy portions of text for most of the game. The music is perfectly matched to the cutscenes and the gameplay with dynamic cues for a tempo that complements the action.
There are some excellent sound effects, both environmental and plenty of spectacular sounds for all of the various mutant powers. When you get a group of four superheroes unleashing their own special blend of whoop ass the multi-layered sounds are quite entertaining, and the Dolby Digital mix puts you right smack in the middle of the mayhem.
With more than 70 missions spread across five large chapters most gamers can expect a good solid 30-40 hours of gaming. There are some seriously challenging levels and boss fights in the game that will have you saving and trying out various combinations of mutants for the best results. I would have preferred a "save anywhere" system, as some of the Xtraction points are stretched a bit too far apart, but that is where Blink comes in handy.
The cooperative online and local multiplayer modes are long overdue and a huge asset to making this game last well beyond the solo campaign. The cooperative campaign mode is so much fun that you might never even play it by yourself.
And for those of you who donít work and play well with others there is an interesting Skirmish mode that basically lets you pick your mutant and test your powers against up to three other players. The only restriction here is that you must have already reached level 16 within the gameís main story mode. While this wonít guarantee a totally even match, it will hopefully keep newbies and casual troublemakers from spoiling the fun of serious mutants.
Fans of last yearís X-Men Legends game are going to absolutely love what Raven has done with Rise of the Apocalypse. I wasnít the biggest fan of the original game for several reasons, most of which have been addressed and resolved in the sequel. Honestly, I had a hard time tearing myself away from the single-player game, and once I started playing multiplayer I was hopeless hooked.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is one of the most amazing action-RPGís of the holiday season. Whether you are a hardcore X-Men fan, an RPG-lover, a single-player, or a multiplayer, this game has something to offer everyone, and with more than 70 branching levels and over 100 potential hours of gameplay, there is a whole lot of X-Men and Brotherhood action just waiting for you to explore.