X-Men Legends (Xbox) review
"Thatís the best thing about X-Men Legends; it totally discards any of that overbearing crap. There is a story, there are plot twists, but, ultimately, itís about Magneto trying to dominate the world and the X-Men trying to stop him. The game establishes that and reminds you with the occasional cutscene, but itís all business beyond that. "
I like the X-Men, but I hate X-Men comics. I like most of the characters, I like the setting, I like the concept of a team fighting to save a world that hates them, but I canít stand the superhero soap opera melodrama that the series is so prone to.
-Nightcrawler is actually the son of a demon! A mutant demon...
-X-23 may be (one of) Wolverineís long lost daughter(s)! No, wait, sheís just a clone.
-Magnetoís dead! Now heís back. Now heís dead again. Now everyone thinks heís back, but itís just a clone. Now heís really back. Dead again. Back again, but with no explanation given. Damn writers.
And I canít even remember the last time I picked up an issue that could be understood without three pages of backstory. Thatís why X-Men Legends succeeds; it totally discards any of that overbearing crap. There is a story, there are plot twists, but, ultimately, itís about Magneto trying to dominate the world and the X-Men trying to stop him. The game establishes that and reminds you with the occasional cutscene, but itís all business beyond that.
Combat seems simplistic at first, like itís nothing more than a glorified beat-em-up. You control one character and the AI handles your three partners. You fight your way through dungeons and take on hordes of robots, soldiers and mutant freaks whoíd like nothing more than to rip your face off. Confront the dungeonís uberboss, engage in some witty banter, beat said uberboss into oblivion and call it a day. No puzzles. No pointless treasure hunts. Straightforward.
Things arenít as simple as they initially seem, though. Your team gains experience with every enemy killed, but leveling up is much more involved than your typical RPG. Each level attained gives you new points to work with, points to increase stats, points to unlock new moves or strengthen old ones. Trouble keeping Cyclops in the not-dead category? Increase his defense. Rogueís punches arenít landing often enough? Increase her speed. Characters can learn to fly, can learn to teleport farther, can become stronger in any area you wish, and while each characterís abilities are tailored to fit certain statistics, the game never forces you to follow the plan. You can make the lumbering Colossus faster than Nightcrawler; you can make the agile Nightcrawler stronger than Colossus.
But the best thing is that all this fine-tuning hardly slows the game. When a character gets a new level, youíre automatically informed. Press start, make the necessary adjustments and get back into the fight without a beat missed.
Enjoying Legends is easier if youíre a comic fan, but itís by no means necessary; thereís enough playable characters that, even if youíre only vaguely familiar with the mythos, youíll find a familiar four to make a party with. Cyclops, Jean Grey and Storm all make appearances, and, of course, Marvel canít do anything X-Men related without tossing Wolverine in. You know those faces. But what about the prim, prompt and posh Psylocke? The sub-zero shenanigans of Bobby Drake, the Iceman? Colossus, the raging Russian with a punch that could stagger the Hulk? Maybe you donít know much about them, and you donít have to. But if you want to, itís as simple as walking up to them and asking a few questions.
You can get through the game and never switch around your party, finish it with the same four you started with, but thatís not recommended; Legends rewards you for experimenting. Nightcrawler can teleport through walls, hitting switches and unlocking otherwise unlockable doors. Iceman can make ice bridges over bottomless chasms, instant shortcuts. Storm can even use lightning to weld the holes of a sinking ship, doubling the time you have to rescue the scientists within. It rarely requires you to have a certain hero in your party, but having the right X-Man at the right time can make for a much smoother ride.
In the end, though, these details are nothing if theyíre not well-wrapped, and Legends accomplishes that. The AI doesnít randomly throw blows; they conserve energy, watch your back, follow orders and call for help when their health hits the red. Doesnít matter if youíre facing the wimpy Toad, the unstoppable Juggernaut or even the master of magnetism himself, theyíll put up just as much a fight as any human would. Combining attacks, healing each other, using their unique talents to overcome obstacles; it all makes your team actually feel like a team.
The X-Men comics could learn a lot from this game. Legends doesnít force gushing emotions on you; it doesnít introduce Wolverineís Jilted Lover of the Month and expect you to cry over her. Instead, it focuses on teamwork, character development and, most importantly, kicking ass at every opportunity. If youíre a comic fan, chances are you own this already and Iím preaching to the choir. But if youíre an RPG fan or an action fan or just a fan of quality games in general, X-Men Legends has a place on your shelf, if for only one reason: Itís damn fun.
Staff review by Zack Little (August 16, 2006)
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