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X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (PlayStation 2) artwork

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (PlayStation 2) review

"So, how did this game insert the Age of Apocalypse into their actual continuity? Well, the first thing Apocalypse does here is take over Genosha, displacing Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil and causing them and the X-Men to engage in some teeth-clinched teamwork. A number of the more notable villains were AoA baddies, such as Abyss, Holocaust and Sugar Man. Sugar Man even refers to being in the alternate universe, noting that Apocalypse is "as good as gold in any universe". "

Through the annals of time, the X-Men have had their issues as far as how they've been portrayed in the world of video games. Like, when I'm controlling Wolverine, I have one goal in mind: to put myself in the role of a somewhat psychotic powerhouse who dives into hordes of enemies to tear them apart with superhuman strength while relying on his auto-regenerative factor to dilute any damage those hapless foes could possibly inflict. An eight-bit version who suffers damage for daring to use his own adamantium claws just doesn't hold the same appeal.

For that reason alone, I enjoyed X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse. You can take control of a wide variety of superheroes and villains from the Marvel world and generally feel like you're handling the genuine article instead of some horribly flawed impersonator. Cyclops fires optic lasers, Storm calls down lightning, Ice Man makes bridges out of ice, Magneto can use his powers to draw in random objects and send them flying into foes and so on. It's nice to control a superhero and actually feel like I'm playing as someone who's definitely a few steps superior to the average person…and tearing through hordes of anonymous soldiers with reckless abandon in this game made that happen!

Released by Activision, this game reminds me of a comic book take on those Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance games. You control a group of Marvel characters in an action-RPG where you beat down enemies, collect loot, gain levels and build up various active and passive skills, but there are some things that make this game a bit better. In particular, you control a party of four characters; while in those games, you only had the use of one (or two, if playing with a friend). Of the large number of X-Men and Brotherhood of Evil members you can control, each has a specific skill that comes in useful as you progress through the game's five acts. Some guys can create bridges, while others are strong enough to move large obstacles and a few more can fly for brief periods. As long as you have the right guy for a particular job in your party, you can quickly shift personal control to them…which is far less time-consuming than retreating back to a base to swap guys out.

There's also some pretty good A.I. for the three guys not under your personal control when in battle (which is most of the time). I noticed them regularly using the special attacks I programmed them to and they'll use health and magic restorers when necessary. It generally seemed like if I suffered a death, it was because I wasn't paying enough attention to my guy and took too much damage too quickly -- something that can happen, as fights do get chaotic when multiple mutants are flinging their powers around. After a while, a smart player will only rarely have these problems, as you have a lot of leeway to customize each member of your party as they level up through the course of the adventure. Each level you gain gives you a handful of points to add to their base stats, as well as the ability to activate a new power or simply enhance one that you're currently using.

X-Men Legends II also gives players a good number of boss fights against a Who's Who of Marvel Villains. Some of them are no-names, such as Zealot (a guy who doesn't even rate his own Wikipedia page), but you'll also find yourself taking on more important baddies like Bastion, Mr. Sinister and, of course, Apocalypse. The story, such that it is, happens to be a bizarre mash-up of the X-Men universe and the alternate Age of Apocalypse reality. To explain…

The Age of Apocalypse continuity came to be in the mid-90s as an alternate world where Xavier was killed and Magneto took the mantle as the world's savior for humanity. Unfortunately, the energy manufactured by the X-Murder woke Apocalypse up long before Cable was around to confront him and he was able to enact his survival of the fittest doctrine to horrifying effect, setting up a huge war between his forces and Magneto's. Some new characters were introduced (and many of them found their way to the original timeline), while others had different allegiances. For example, Cyclops and Havoc worked for Sinister, who was stealthily trying to betray Apocalypse; while Sabertooth was far more noble, risking life and limb to save a young mutant girl named Blink. It was a really cool series that probably was the final comic-related stuff I got into because it was hard to imagine anything being better -- to me, it was Marvel's finest hour.

So, how did this game insert the Age of Apocalypse into their actual continuity? Well, the first thing Apocalypse does here is take over Genosha, displacing Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil and causing them and the X-Men to engage in some teeth-clinched teamwork. A number of the more notable villains were AoA baddies, such as Abyss, Holocaust and Sugar Man. Sugar Man even refers to being in the alternate universe, noting that Apocalypse is "as good as gold in any universe". Sinister is still a sneaky bastard and they even do a solid job of inserting the AoA's evil version of Beast into the equation. On the other hand, Sabertooth is just as protective of Blink, although no effort was really put into explaining why a psychopathic butcherer would feel an affinity towards a defenseless young girl -- you basically just get some dialogue that could be condensed into "Well, I just had to…now SHADDUP!!!!"

But it's not likely anyone would pick this game up for a riveting story. Besides, regardless of how effective the lines are, most of the voice acting (minus Gambit and a couple others) is nice. I have to give bonus points to one particular anonymous Madri priest from the third act for the pure gusto he put into over-enunciating every word while attempting to sound as decrepitly evil as humanly possible. Dude only had a paragraph or two of dialogue before I mauled him in about five seconds, but he made the most of that brief time in the sun!

It's not hard for a person to make the most of their time with X-Men Legends II, as most of the problems are pretty superficial. For example, the game has a lot of playable characters, but you're forced to use Magneto, Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm for the first dungeon, putting them a couple levels in front of the pack when the actual game gets underway. Making matters worse, that original quartet possesses every skill you need to handle anything the game has in store, so it almost feels like you're expected to use a specific party and any deviation to that foursome is made at your own risk. Such as when I swapped out Storm for Ice Man, so I could hear many more bad puns…and then found I couldn't interact with a machine that I needed to destroy with electricity to get to an optional item necessary to unlock a secret area. Experimenting is not so much fun when it leads to retracing one's steps…

I also found certain enemies annoying because you need to hit them with a certain combo attack just to make them vulnerable to damage. That isn't always easy to do, particularly when you're trying to hit a four-hit combo on one guy in a mob of baddies when that guy also has the ability to occasionally leap or teleport out of harm's way. Really, this was a pretty easy game where annoying little things like this posed more of a threat than the average enemy or boss encounter. Some "special" foes have certain powers, such as enhanced stats, the ability to spread status ailments by touch or improved attack power. Caution is definitely advised around enemies in that latter group, as the damage they deal is way more than almost anything else you'll fight and a character can easily be lost before you even realize how much danger they're in.

Still, I found X-Men Legends II to be one of the more enjoyable superhero games that I've played. You get a large group of characters to choose from, they all have many diverse attacks and passive skills, there are plenty of notable villains to fight and a decent number of secrets to scour each level to find. Diehard comic fans would probably have a blast experimenting with each character and putting together custom teams to do things such as access optional boss dialogue (for things like having Wolverine in your party when you meet Lady Deathstrike), but there's plenty of entertainment here for anyone who's a fan of building up character to unleash all sorts of attacks on hordes of adversaries.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 10, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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