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X-Men: Destiny (Xbox 360) artwork

X-Men: Destiny (Xbox 360) review

"A month after X-Men: Destiny was released, it was reported that developer Silicon Knights was forced to lay off 45 of its employees, at least half of its workforce. Now that I’ve actually played the game, I must ask: Only 45?"

X-Men: Destiny asset

A month after X-Men: Destiny was released, it was reported that developer Silicon Knights was forced to lay off 45 of its employees, at least half of its workforce. Now that I’ve actually played the game, I must ask: Only 45?

But I kid, because Destiny reinforces my theory that Silicon Knights actually axed all of its human staff years ago and is now operated entirely by an experimental video game-generating computer program, one that understands what a video game is, but lacks creative input. (I will henceforth refer to this program as Dyacktron 3000, because I like to think Denis Dyack fused with it to become a single entity, the way JC Denton merged with Helion at the end of Deus Ex.) This idea may sound far-fetched, but I refuse to believe that people who gave us Eternal Darkness, one of the most groundbreaking survival horror titles of all time, are also responsible for the dreadful Too Human, which I’m comfortable calling the most unimaginative game of the last decade.

But Dyacktron 3000 is learning. The whole cyberpunk Norse mythology thing didn’t work too well last time, but Dyacktron 3000 has realized that centering your game on decades-old (or, in that case, centuries-old) settings and characters with rich backstories spares the program the burden of having to build a new world from the ground up, which would take creative spark. This time, it has centered on the X-Men franchise, and thus Destiny’s universe needs no introduction.

Dyacktron 3000 has also spent the last few years studying other successful games and implementing common features. For example, the program has realized that it is customary in action games for defeated enemies to drop glowing orbs which award the player with “experience points,” and that said points can be used to unlock minor upgrades to abilities; these, Dyacktron 3000 would tell you like a student taking an oral exam, are called “RPG elements.”

But, as I’ve mentioned, Dyacktron 3000’s job is to understand what a game consists of, not what makes it good. As with its previous game, Destiny is a beat-‘em-up in which you enter a large, flat area, clear it of enemies, and then move on to the next flat area and repeat. It has gathered that relegating combat control to the right analog stick was an unpopular move last time, and thus players defeat opponents in Destiny by hitting a button repeatedly. Occasionally, Dyacktron 3000 segues from one battle to the next with a “platforming sequence.” Such instances begin with the camera slowly and delicately panning over every facet of the level, because Dyacktron 3000 doesn’t realize that players would much rather explore and figure out how to move through levels on their own than be shown precisely where to go.

Every once in a while, the player is pitted against a “boss,” i.e. a slightly larger enemy with a longer health meter. Dyacktron 3000 has also caught on to a popular trick amongst developers: When a boss’s health reaches zero, a cutscene is triggered in which the boss doubles in size and engages in the second “phase” of the battle. Dyacktron 3000 believes that the quality of a boss encounter is measured by its number of “phases,” because this is a philosophy employed by many game designers these days, and those game designers are wrong and stupid.

Another trend amongst modern gaming has caught Dyacktron 3000’s eye (or ocular lens or whatever). When the player engages in conversation, it is popular to present them with a “dialog tree” in which the player chooses what his or her character says. Furthermore, Dyacktron 3000 understands that linear games are often supplemented with “moral choices,” and recognizes that the mutants of the X-Men universe are split cleanly into two factions: the good guys, who want equality, and those under Magneto’s command, who see humanity as a threat. Since the game’s story has you battling against human “purifiers,” who wish to wipe the mutants off the face of the planet, Dyacktron 3000 seized a golden opportunity: Allow players to choose their allegiance throughout the course of the campaign, and even give them an accompanying “slider” by which to measure how good or evil they are!

Unfortunately, Dyacktron 3000 thinks using logic rather than emotion, and thus doesn’t understand the dramatic weight that makes moral choices, at their best, effective. The X-Men and Brotherhood have frequent verbal battles over the necessity of violence, but siding with either of them in any given situation simply determines who your AI-controlled allies will be in the following sequence. Either way, you’re playing the same game; your choices don’t change your path, nor have any long-lasting effects on the story. There’s a semi-cool battle against Magneto late in Destiny, and Dyacktron 3000 is forced to contrive a reason for you to fight him even if you’ve been fiercely loyal to his minions up until that point.

Bethesda and BioWare must have been popular subjects of Dyacktron 3000’s studies, because it borrowed another of their favorite interactive storytelling devices by giving the player a choice between several backgrounds. For example, I chose to play as a young Japanese girl whose father sent her over here on a ship, and this affects the story because occasionally she says, “I can’t believe my father sent me over here on a ship!”

Among the other discoveries that Dyacktron 3000’s research unveiled: that games seem to be more successful when one of the main characters is voiced by Nolan North; that something called the “Wilhelm scream” has been a staple of popular entertainment for decades; and that an Australian mutant who controls fire can rather conveniently use the phrase “another shrimp on the barbie.” Dyacktron 3000 also has Magneto levitate a suspension bridge at one point, because he did that in one of the movies, and it was kind of cool then.

On the off chance that a game simply being aggressively uninspired isn’t enough to turn you off, Destiny’s combat flat-out sucks, which is death for a beat-‘em-up, especially one as blandly, mechanically designed as this. Either the combos are overly touchy, or a large number of my button presses didn’t register… and even then, it’s more effective to simply spam quick attacks anyway. You select one of three mutant abilities and gradually unlock new powers as the game progresses, and it should have been cool to watch your character go from beating opponents with stone fists to literally trampling them under your feet as an enormous obsidian golem, but not when the combat is this sluggish, not when the enemies are this repetitive, not when the level design is so uninspired.

It’s certainly better than Too Human, in that it’s more colorful, there’s more variety in its environments, and it’s mercifully short. The cutscenes and dialog aren’t as self-important, either, but then they’re also… unskippable. Remember, though: Dyacktron 3000 is tasked with generating games, not generating fun. Its next release probably won’t be more entertaining, but it will include a cover system, an underwater level, and a few one-off novelty vehicle bits, just for good measure.


Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (January 08, 2012)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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Calvin posted January 10, 2012:

Harsh but probably a fair assessment.

I'd like to think some of the blame falls on Activision and the nature of most licensed development. Not everyone gets Rocksteady time or resources, sadly. Or Batman.

Here's hoping for an Eternal Darkness 2 anyway.
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Suskie posted January 10, 2012:

Honestly, having played Too Human, it's really not difficult for me to believe that Silicon Knights simply made another bad game. Though Destiny does feel noticeably more rushed.

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