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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Xbox 360) artwork

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Xbox 360) review

"It’s probably meaningless these days to praise a game for its wall-to-wall brutal violence, but you’ve got to give X-Men Origins: Wolverine credit for having the audacity to do what its PG-13 counterpart couldn’t. Someone must have let Marvel know that in this industry, beheadings, dismemberments and the boundless spilling of bodily fluids are precisely how you obtain mass audience appeal. "

It’s probably meaningless these days to praise a game for its wall-to-wall brutal violence, but you’ve got to give X-Men Origins: Wolverine credit for having the audacity to do what its PG-13 counterpart couldn’t. Someone must have let Marvel know that in this industry, beheadings, dismemberments and the boundless spilling of bodily fluids are precisely how you obtain mass audience appeal.

It’s a good fit for the character, too – after all of this big talk about Wolverine being an “animal,” it’s high time they actually let him live up to his reputation. He lets his claws do the talking, yet his world is so cruel that this seems the natural course of action. This is a man who’s been used and betrayed so many times in the century or so he’s been alive that you get the sense that words just aren’t going to cut it anymore. In Wolverine, he’s angry at the people who have wronged him and he’s angry at everyone else for not getting out of his way. At one point, a man in a lab coat walks into a room to find Wolverine standing over an array of bloody corpses. Wolverine asks the terrified scientist if he has such-and-such security clearance, and he says yes. Rather than ask him to cooperate, Wolverine knocks him unconscious, drags him over to a computer terminal and scans his hand before continuing on. He’s done talking.

I certainly wouldn’t make the case that Wolverine’s plot is meaningful, logical or well thought out – it is based on the movie, after all – but I can’t overstate how much this depiction of the titular mutant works in the game’s favor. Wolverine doesn’t do anything that countless other action games have done, but in this context, it’s a thrill. Think about the character. Being able to survive nearly any wound means there’s very little for him to be afraid of, carrying a hundred pounds of adamantium does wonders to toughen him up, and living for as long as he’s lived leaves him with very little reason to be patient. Wolverine isn’t merely a video game badass. He’s a beast, and the game’s average action sequence isn’t so much a battle as it is a mauling. It’s an X-Men game cut from the God of War cloth, and it’s nearly as good as the games it imitates.

Anyone who’s played any action game over the last five years should immediately know what to do once they’ve picked up the controller. You’ve got your quick attacks and your strong attacks. You’ve got your grabs and your finishers. Most of Wolverine’s most notable moves have been seen in countless other titles: Volley enemies above your head and then engage them while airborne, execute enemies with environmental objects, block at just the right time to pull off a slick counter maneuver, etc. A magic system has even been implemented, though it’s not really “magic,” per se: Wolverine has a selection of very strong attacks that would be overpowered if they hadn’t been placed under some sort of limitation. Like, he’s got this sweet spin attack that lasts quite a while and is a very effective way of taking on multiple enemies, but once your rage meter drains, you’ve got to kill more bad guys before you can use it again.

The game’s first level lets you run free as nothing less than an unstoppable killing machine – Wolverine absorbs every pitiful gunshot like he’s being hit with Nerf darts – and then it’s down to business. Soldiers presumably switch to adamantium bullets (ha!), occasionally employ cloaking devices, and begin fighting with some semblance of actual skill. Developer Raven wisely sets up battles so that Wolverine engages in melee combat with sword-wielding foes while numerous other foes slowly chip away at his health with guns from a safe distance. Winning becomes a battlefield assessment. You could kill the guys who pose the most immediate threat to you, but if Wolverine’s health drops too low, he’ll be at greater risk if the shooters are still alive and kicking while his vital organs are exposed.

Speaking of which, Raven made the most of Wolverine’s regenerative ability, as accumulating damage reveals layers of flesh, muscle and metal bone, all of which is slowly covered up again as he heals. It looks sick. Also note that of the countless games to use a regenerating health bar, Wolverine is one of the few in which it actually makes sense.

Despite the presence of one genuinely overpowered attack (the lunge, which allows Wolverine to pounce on enemies from absurd distances and frequently sets him up for an instant finisher), I’m surprised how fresh Wolverine remains throughout its seven- or eight-hour campaign despite its repetitive nature. While your basic moveset generally remains the same from beginning to end, experience is rewarded more amply to players who experiment with a wider variety of moves, which certainly helps. There are frequent efforts to mix things up with a variety of cinematic set pieces (while rarely resorting to quick-time events, thankfully) and the puzzles are clever enough – and unimposing enough – that I found myself wishing there were more of them, which is an unexpected reaction.

But the game is repetitive. There’s very little variation in the basic enemy types, and even the mini-bosses—most of which are beaten by repeatedly jumping onto their backs and stabbing them – are recycled ad nauseum. A few of the levels drag on for a little too long, as well. It’s not as vicious a problem as it sounds, since you’re always pretty much doing the same thing anyway, but it’s punishing to spend over an hour staring at the grey interiors of Stryker’s laboratory only for there to still be no end in sight. A more frequent change in scenery (i.e. a sensation of progress) is literally all I need.

Still, it says a lot that I was able to tear through Wolverine in a mere two days. I can whine about repetition all I want, but when I’m able to enjoy the game in four-hour torrents by my own free will, I suppose I’ve got no right to complain. You play something like Wolverine for visceral chaos; there are more intelligent games on the market, but sometimes it’s fun to just wreak havoc as a big, whirly cloud of death. That you’re doing so with this character makes it all the more enjoyable – Wolverine’s been overdue for such a raw depiction for ages, and the fact that you’re at the helm of his every action makes following his quest for bloody vengeance all the more satisfying. God bless video games, man.

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (May 09, 2010)

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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