X-Men Legends II - Rise of Apocalypse

Review

posted 11/18/2005 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
There is no doubt that certain genres are getting a lot of play on the PSP.  If you're a fan of racers and action games then Sony has you covered, but things aren't as rosy for those who gravitate towards role-playing games.  Thankfully Activision has a few superheroes that are ready to save the day.  It might not be the turn-based RPG some have been longing for, but X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse should satisfy just about anybody who is craving an exciting adventure. 

Before we get too far into this review perhaps you should know a little about my background with the X-Men.  I'm not your traditional X-Men fan, I've never actually read any of the comic books and have really only seen the first two movies.  I've seen the various cartoons they've had in the past, but I'm not the type of person you would want to ask if you needed to know something about this comic series.  In a lot of ways I'm nothing more than a passing fan, I enjoy what I see but do not seek this stuff out.  But I do know a good game when I see it, and X-Men Legends 2 is one heck of a good game.

Despite not knowing much about the mythos of the X-Men I do know one thing, Professor X leads the good guys and Magneto fronts those who oppose the X-Men (and everything they stand for).  So even I was intrigued when I realized that for this game both the good and bad sides were teaming up to fight something much bigger and stronger.

The idea of having the good guys team up with the bad guys is not only a fun one, but it actually serves to create some fun dialogue between the characters.  It also allows you to create a large variety of teams, something that ultimately helps to keep the game fresh as you go through its lengthy story.  These two teams obviously don't like each other, so working together can be volatile at times.  But it’s the constant bickering, funny insults, and name calling that keeps this otherwise simple story going.

That's not to say the story is bad, it's just not as fleshed out as most role-playing games you run across.  The plot involves the two groups of mutants teaming up to take on the extremely powerful Apocalypse and his (wait for it) four horsemen.  These extra powerful mutants are ready to destroy just about everything the X-Men love, from the jungles of Genosha to their base/mansion to an entire city (sorry, New York City).  It's up both the X-Men and the Brotherhood to destroy these horsemen and fight the ultimate baddie.

To do this you select a team of four characters to go off on this dangerous adventure.  Since you're not limited to only good guys you end up being able to mix and match a wide assortment of interesting characters, each with their own strengths and mutant abilities.  Obviously the game features the most popular characters, like Wolverine and Gambit, but it also has a number of characters that don't get the same kind of play.  You can choose from such characters as Bishop, Iceman, Juggernaut, Nightcrawler, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Sunfire, and Toad, just to name a few.  It's worth mentioning that this PSP version features four additional characters not found in the console versions, including a personal favorite of mine, Cable.

After you've chosen your team it's time to get out there and kick some butt.  X-Men Legends 2 is an action-RPG, with the emphasis squarely on "action."  Even though you have four characters, you only have to control them one at a time.  As you run around fighting whatever gets in your way your backup team will follow suit and aid in your quest.  Thankfully the three guys fighting alongside you are pretty smart; they do a good job of healing themselves, fighting other enemies, and just about anything else you could want from them.  The good news is that if you don't like how they act you can always tweak them to your liking … or simply switch to another character and do the fighting for them.



As you level up your characters you will earn additional moves and special abilities.  As you would expect these abilities help you enormously on your quest to take down Apocalypse and his large army.  These abilities aren't just useful for taking down bad guys (or maybe I should say "worse" guys), but they also go a long way to helping you differentiate between the various characters.  When you're not using your mutant abilities you are scrapping it up with a two-button combat system (normal and strong).  Although there are only two buttons, there are a number of useful combos that can be performed simply by getting your buttons in the right order.  Even with all these moves the fighting can get somewhat repetitious, but it's not too bad.

The game is broken up into five different acts, each with their own major boss battle at the end.  Each act starts out with cinemas that will knock your socks off.  Even after seeing a number of gorgeous games for the PSP I was blown away by the intro cinema, an animated video that looks every bit as good as what you would find on the home consoles.  Unfortunately the in-game graphics aren't as stunning, but they aren't bad either.  The real charm of each act is that there are a lot of different environments to fight in.  You'll be brawling in just about every creepy location, including sewers, an ancient Egyptian temple, forests, airships, and even a recently demolished New York City.  Just when you've grown tired of your surroundings you'll be rushed off to a brand new area that makes you want to explore and find everything you can.

While the game's five acts may not sound very large, each act is extremely lengthy, making for a game with a good 20 hours of gameplay.  While you may start an act for one reason, it quickly becomes clear that there are a number of things to do (bosses to destroy, heroes to save) in each area.  You'll constantly be running back and forth collecting items and making sure you killed every last enemy, all while looking forward to where you'll go next.  The game itself has a few nice twists and the story, while simple, will keep you going just to see who you'll fight and what revelation you'll learn next.

The graphics in each of the levels is pretty good, with a lot of added details to make it seems like you're not just going through the same room over and over again.  And it's not just the backgrounds that look good, the characters themselves are colorful and well animated.  Granted, they are a bit on the small side, but it's generally easy to keep track of what's going down onscreen, even when there are a mountain of enemies surrounding you.

Like the graphics, the sound is also very good.  The music sounds like the type of thing you would hear in a comic book movie, though maybe not as memorable as the theme from Super-Man or Tim Burton's Batman.  The voice acting is great, which is a good thing because there is a bunch of it.  Not only is there a nice collection of playable characters (who get a chance to talk from time to time), but you also get dozens of non-playable characters who have more than a few things to say.  If you're an X-Men novice like myself you will find all the background information you could want from talking to these NPC's, all with convincing accents and dialogue.  While there is a lot of no-name talent in Rise of Apocalypse, there are a couple of actors you'll probably recognize from the get-go, such as Patrick Stewart and Lou Diamond Phillips.  Unfortunately Magneto is not played by Sir Ian McKellen … probably too busy with his movie career



Controlling your team of mutants is a fairly easy task.  Despite the PSP having fewer buttons, the controls feel just as solid as they did on the Xbox and PS2.  They had to make a few changes to get everything to work, but you'll barely notice what was sacrificed.  Perhaps the biggest change is that we no longer have control over the camera, which might sound like something you need but it's not.  With only a few exceptions, the camera does an excellent job of staying on the action at all times.  Switching characters is a breeze and you will never have trouble using health or other items as they have been mapped to the D-pad.  It may seem odd to use the analog nub to move around, but once you get into it you'll be slicing through baddies like a pro.

The game does have some problem keeping everything running smooth, though.  From time to time the game will slow down to a crawl, giving it a poor-man's bullet time effect.  Also, the game will just stop to let the UMD load, usually when you've just come out of the menu (or after the system has sat untouched for too long).  Thankfully these problems don't happen that frequently, but it's noticeable … and sometimes kind of annoying.

Like its console counterpart, X-Men Legends 2 has a lot of load time.  It's never as pronounced as the PlayStation 2 version, but you will definitely be looking at a loading screen more than you would like.  At first it will seem odd that it takes a couple seconds to pause the game or go into any menu, but before too long it just becomes part of the overall experience.  I can't say I ever accepted the loading, but considering that the console versions were plagued with much the same problem, I can't say I'm surprised to see it here.

While I'm on the topic of the game's inadequacies, the biggest problem with X-Men Legends 2 has to be its disturbingly confusing menu system.  Let's not lose sight that we're talking about a role-playing game, the type of product you would usually spend a lot of time micro-managing.  But sifting through the various menus in this game is a real hassle, partially due to the fact that it seems like there's no rhyme or reason to the order.  Everything just seems thrown up with no organization or anything, it's extremely frustrating.  Before too long I found myself just wanting the computer to do everything for me (which is actually an option).  If you spend enough time working on your characters you can eventually turn them into almost anything you want, but I wouldn't be surprised if most gamers just decide not to deal with it at all.


Although you can bust through the game's story in the one-player mode, the real fun happens when you team up with your friends and play multiplayer.  The PSP version of X-Men Legends 2 offers a couple of different ways to connect with your friends, including both ad-hoc (playing with people in the same room) or infrastructure (playing online).  Both of these modes come with a few hitches, but they are the best way to experience the game … and may actually have you going through it more than once just to play it with others.  I noticed some lag while playing online, but it was rare and never took away from the experience.

Once you've grown tired of fighting legions of enemies, battling exciting bosses, and declaring war on the game's interface, you still have a lot to do and see.  There are a number of really interesting bonus features to collect, including new characters, new levels, and more.  In fact, this PSP version of X-Men Legends 2 actually features 9 all new missions and four more characters.  Not only does this PSP game cram everything the consoles had, but it actually adds some new stuff that may give this version the edge.  Gone are the days when the portable versions are stripped down.

Regardless of whether you're a fan of the X-Men or not, Rise of Apocalypse is a fun game that will have you glued to your PSP for dozens of hours.  It may get a little repetitive towards the end, have some slow down problems, and have an interface from hell, but even if some faults this ends up being one hell of a great handheld experience.  With online play it's easy to see how people could still be interested in this long after they've beaten Apocalypse.  Not only is X-Men Legends 2 a great RPG, but I dare say it's best on the PlayStation Portable.  If you still haven't experienced this adventure then this is the version for you.






B+
With a lengthy story, plenty of playable characters, tons of extras, and online play, X-Men Legends 2 is one great adventure game. If you've put off getting the game so far then this PSP port is the version for you!