"If X-Men Legends was a Diablo expansion pack, would anybody care? What if it was named Final Fight 4? For all the allure provided by the possibility of controlling a squad of X-Men, X-Men Legends comes up amazingly short with tired game design and an overall lack of excitement. This is a cardinal sin for an X-Men game, a comic book series which is anything but tired. "
If X-Men Legends was a Diablo expansion pack, would anybody care? What if it was named Final Fight 4? For all the allure provided by the possibility of controlling a squad of X-Men, X-Men Legends comes up amazingly short with tired game design and an overall lack of excitement. This is a cardinal sin for an X-Men game, a comic book series which is anything but tired.
The story perspective of X-Men Legends alternates between the senior X-Men (and X-Women; political correctness apparently doesn’t apply to mutants) and a new recruit, Magma. For those totally unfamiliar with the movies, comic books, cartoons and previous video games, the X-Men are a squad of genetic “mutants” with special powers devoted to helping preserve the human race.
In this game, their enemies are Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants. If the X-Men are the Gandhi-like pacifists, then the Brotherhood are the angry Germans, intent on establishing their superiority regardless of the cost to life. In particular, Magneto is a sort of evil visionary convinced that mutants are the next step in the evolution and deserve to preside over the earth.
All of the major characters from the various installments are here, and their background stories meshes surprisingly well with their out-of-game attitude. For example, the gruff Wolverine isn’t picking daises for female characters. Comic book faithful will no doubt pick away at conflicting aspects in the game, and the existence of the completely new Magma, but casual fans shouldn’t be disappointed.
X-Men Legends disappoints in terms of gameplay. It is pure hack-and-slash with some RPG elements thrown-in. Think of a console version of Diablo with multiple characters or Kingdom Hearts with X-Men characters. You wander around, slash a few things, heal up and then continue for another few hours until you get to the bottom of a military installment. Repeat times 15 levels for the full gaming experience.
Games of this genre usually attempt to distinguish themselves by offering different perspectives on playing, but X-Men Legends disappoints in this aspect. Despite having a roster of 14 playable characters, most are clones of one another. Gambit is a slightly slower and more powerful Jubilee. Storm’s ranged attack isn’t blocked by walls like Cyclops. Wolverine has mutant healing as opposed to Colossus’ iron skin and Rogue’s energy drain. Changes between characters are only minor tradeoffs which do not alter them from the three archetypes of a fighting tank, mid-range support and long-range bombing.
Each character does have distinctive moves true to their comic book origins, such as Wolverine’s healing powers and Jean Grey’s telekinesis. However, these powers often come across as lackluster in display. The sole difference between characters seems to be what colored blob of energy they’ll throw at your opponents and minor damage characteristics. The top down perspective of X-Men Legends does not fully exploit the explosive nature of the powers seen in previous incarnations of the X-Men.
You can customize what each X-Men learns in terms of powers and stat-bonuses, but in this aspect X-Men Legends feels like Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Damage is based on stat points in categories like strike (strength), agility (defense), focus (magic points) and body (hit points). There are a slew of equipable items to find and buy with credits dropped by enemies that increase these various stats. However, take out all of the X-Men characters and you could easily plaster any generic hack-and-slash with RPG elements (Kingdom Hearts, River City Ransom, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) over it.
Things are kept somewhat lively by fighting a few unique enemies. Battling obese boss characters like the Blob and the Juggernaut is strangely fun due to their size, which isn’t often seen in slasher games. These moments of fun are too rare, as the standard enemy is microscopic because of the top down perspective. These enemies make up the vast majority of things to kill, and it’s not uncommon to wade through four to five per room in an area.
It should be noted that you can adjust the camera angle to make everything appear closer, but this creates a catch-22. If you zoom in, you can’t see where the many ranged enemies in the game are attacking from. You could alternate between zooming in and zooming out, but this should be reserved for tourist dads wielding the camcorder while on a Florida vacation. There are also a fair share of blind spots in the game, where what you need to see can’t be spotted regardless of how you shift the camera. This fact is irrelevant; by September 2004, there were many fully functional examples of camera usage. It is unacceptable for X-Men Legends to repeat a problem present in Nintendo 64 games.
The complete lack of excitement I felt while playing X-Men Legends was the greatest problem. The first few missions are fun, as you test out the limits of your team’s powers and say to yourself, “Oh, isn’t this neat, I’m controlling Wolverine!”
Then the bad overshadows the good. There’s little diversity between characters’ fighting styles and special attack appearance. You fight through thousands of grunt enemies like mutant control cops and morlocks. Half the missions seem to be set in huge labyrinths with hundreds of rooms each filled with multiple enemies, regardless of whether you’re in the New York sewers or the USS Arbiter.
Know what? It’s just boring once you get past the fact that the X-Men are involved. The game does feature strong voice acting by Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier) and Ian McKellen (Magneto) and plenty of extras like readable originals of X-Men comic books and a trivia game. But who cares if you have to slog through two hours of hacking to advance the story or obtain a concept art bonus?
In the end, X-Men Legends is a complete disappoint. With such a dynamic license and intriguing back stories, Raven Software had a chance to create a truly landmark game. Instead, the end result is a lackluster hack-and-slash game featuring generic gameplay bolstered by Psylocke and Gambit taking the place of Hero X and Princess Y.
Community review by sgreenwell (January 08, 2005)
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