When I was ten my brother brought home a comic book I?d never seen before. I was a stranger to the X-Men and had never seen characters like Wolverine. Superheroes usually wore silly tights and shouted battle cries like ?Shazaaam!? and ended up as badly animated Saturday morning cartoons. It was no surprise that I was completely overwhelmed with the seriousness and depth of story that X-Men offered, and of course became completely obsessed with Wolverine. After taping six tinfoil-wrapped HB pencils to the backs of my hands and clawing the hell out of the entire house, my parents brought up the topic at the dinner table of taking me to the vet to have me declawed and neutered. After that, I have to confess that Wolverine became more of an internal fantasy.
This is the appeal of a game like X-Men: The Official Game ? it caters to the player that has always wanted to be Wolverine, to chomp a cigar, take zero crap from anyone, call everybody ?bub?, be invunerable to harm and to beat the living crap out of any bad guys that have the bad judgment to try to get in your face.
The game is a movie tie-in from the recent X-Men 3 movie release, but is actually a prelude to the events in the new film, so the game is not only spoiler-free, but may enhance your enjoyment of the film, providing an even tighter bridge of how the second X-Men film leads into the story of the third. It?s a good thing to see a film-tie in that isn?t just a side-scrolling platform jumper that weakly apes the plotline of a film ? developers are finally working with the film creators to use the movie game as an additional storytelling element outside of the two hours of screen time a movie allows ? in this case, the game covers the aftermath of X-2 in which the heroes return to Alkali Lake to retrieve the stolen pieces of the Cerebro computer taken by Colonel Stryker, and along the way encounter villains presumed dead and organizations like Hydra bent on destroying the X-Men.
The game is basically a brawler ? you play one of three characters from the X-Men storyline; Wolverine, Iceman, and Nightcrawler. Each character has their own specific missions and the missions are played in a tree-branching structure - for example, you can play a short arc of four consecutive missions as Wolverine, culminating in a boss-fight mission, and then go back and play a separate branch of three missions played as Nightcrawler, where you play events taking place at the same time as the Wolverine missions. What?s more, each of the playable characters has a completely unique play dynamic and control scheme, which makes each of them fun to play in their own right ? Wolverine will have you simply beating and slashing the crap out of everything handy, whereas Nightcrawler will be teleporting speedily and strategically all over complex levels, from ledge to level to pipe to catwalk, zapping in over bad guys to deliver punches and kicks only to blink away to safety a heartbeat later. Iceman almost plays like a flight combat game, streaking through the air on an ice-bridge, shooting blasts of superchilled air (think ?lasers?) and hailstorm (think ?missiles?) as he jets about. Most of the missions are fairly straightforward ? you?re placed in an environment, and wave after wave of anonymous bad guys are thrown at you which you get to dispatch. Some fighter-style games will overwhelm you with an endless complexity of different attacks, defenses and special moves you can apply to take out opponents; this game simplifies things with perhaps a half-dozen attacks you can apply, placing an emphasis on strategic play ? you may find yourself surrounded with bad guys bashing down your health bar faster than you can cope; a timely retreat around a blind corner of the level or a quick dash into an empty room to use the doorway as a bottleneck to take down enemies one at a time becomes critical.
The game is fairly short, with around two dozen missions enhanced with unlockable bonus Danger Room missions. Each individual mission has selectable difficulty at the beginning, with higher difficulty paying off in the form of extra ?mutation points? ? each playable character can be upgraded on about a half-dozen statistics, giving an RPG- character development element to what would be a straight out fight game otherwise. The selectable difficulty is a nice touch, as the missions are a bit inconsistent with their difficulty level ? you?ll breeze through a brawler level with hundreds of baddies throwing themselves at you to dispatch with style, and then you?ll be hit with a maddeningly frustrating level you?ll play through over and over trying to find the one tactic or trick that the developers based the level on.
One of the nicest touches of the game are the descriptive cutscenes between missions, which are told in a graphic-novel style that is a treat to watch. Animated storyboards featuring photocaptures and voiceover from the actual film actors have a unique style that bridges the two media of game and film perfectly
Graphically, the game isn?t necessarily a stunner. Levels are fairly straightforward in their geometry, and many of them are simply enclosed environments where multitudes of enemies are thrown at you until a predetermined amount are slain. Textures are crisp but not necessarily detailed, and in the case of the standard X-box version, do not even feature such standards we?ve become accustomed to such as bump-mapping or other techniques. There are some impressive set pieces borrowed from the comic history ? an early level played as Wolverine has you battling around the disembodied head and limbs of a large Sentinel who barks instructions to his minions in a sinister electronic monotone ? but for the most part the game is a little lackluster in the visuals department, which is disappointing for a game that is based on such a dynamic property.
Accoustically the game is decent ? music is borrowed from the symphonic score of the X-2 film, and a very generous amount of voice talent is loaned to the game by Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Alan Cumming, Shawn Ashmore, and Tyler Mane ? respectively, Professor X, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Iceman, and Sabretooth. Nothing spectacular or standout among the cacophony of grunts, battle cries, screams, groans, and superhero sound effects ? some of the combat audio will get a bit repetitive, and perhaps have you reaching for the stereo to pump some serious combat tuneage overtop of the audio of the game.
Suggestions: The game has some replay value in terms of unlockables ? collecting Sentinel Tech and Weapon X files ? essentially, ?Hidden Packages? ? throughout a level unlock some decent bonuses ? from vintage costumes for the characters, civilian duds for all of your heroes, to playable Danger Room levels for each of the characters. You?ll probably end up going online and downloading some sort of cheats to enable these features, as the game is just not quite enjoyable enough to revisit the same frustrating levels again and again at increasing levels of difficulty to get that 100% completion rating.
Overall, it?s a mixed bag, and it almost hurts me to say anything negative about the game, as there?s so much promise that it doesn?t quite live up to. It?s a blast to play as Wolverine and be thrown hordes upon hordes of dumb bumpkins to beat up, bash and slash ? and, surprisingly, the two supplementary characters of Iceman and Nightcrawler turned out to be equally engaging to play as, something I never expected ? but the execution of the whole package tells me that this game was brought home with a strict budget, a strict timeline, and a strict mandate not to deviate from the design documents or do anything daring or new. It?s basically EA?s Lord of the Rings movie tie-in titles with Marvel?s heroes substituted in. That?s not a bad thing, mind you. It?s a game with a set purpose ? give you lots of battles and lots of baddies to take down. But it doesn?t strike out into any brave new territory or define it?s own genre ? sadly, not living up to the legacy of its source material. Overall, it?s a weekend rental, and doesn?t quite justify the premium purchase price.