Usually, video games for movies are fairly anti-climactic. I’m not talking about “genre” games, like Star Wars: Empire at War or 007: Agent Under Fire, but the “official game of the movie”. You know how the movie/game begins and ends; you know the role you play, and how to play it. This usually leads to a fairly mundane gaming experience, even in the most graphically appealing movie games. Sadly, the fact that X-Men: The Official Game doesn’t follow the path of the movie plot doesn’t stop it from being boring.
In X-Men: The Official Game, you’re essentially playing X-Men 2 ¾ . The game serves as a loose lead-in to the 3rd movie, revisiting locations from earlier movies in the series, as well as a few locations seen in the 3rd installment of the series. The action centers on Wolverine, Iceman, and Nightcrawler, who serve as the only 3 player controllable X-Men in the game.
One can only surmise that making only 3 of the X-Men playable is attributed to the short timetable in which the game was developed. One point where the game stands out is the different experience when using each of the characters.
Wolverine, as undoubtedly the most popular of the X-Men is seen as a required component of any X-Men title. As the X-Men are a group of mutants committed to non-violent activism, Wolverines snarling façade gives the developers the necessary outlet for sarcasm and darkness in a playable character. His character is the “tank” of the 3 playables, slashing and bashing his way through endless hordes of enemies. When you’ve cut your way through enough of the teeming masses of baddies standing in Wolverines way, you can engage his “fury” attack, which allows for special attacks that mete out additional damage while healing at a slightly increased rate. In this game, Wolverine acts as little more than a puncher, and with his more interesting attacks available only for short bursts, playing as Wolverine becomes monotonous. (Some of this has to do more with level design than the character itself, but I’ll get to that in a bit.)
The second playable character, Iceman, serves as an interesting departure from playing as Wolverine. As any comic fan knows, Iceman’s abilities stem from his ability to produce ice directly from his body. He uses this ice to protect himself, attack enemies, and most importantly, travel. One such ability clearly added to the game for playability sake, is Iceman’s ability to regenerate health (not a power he has ever possessed in the comics or movies). Playing as Iceman is easily the most exciting part of the game. As Iceman, you are constantly in motion on the ice slide, firing bursts or steams of ice at enemies and targets, and defending yourself with an ice shield. The constant motion, along with the ability to occupy nearly any open space in the level with his ice slide makes playing as Iceman relatively entertaining.
The experience of playing as the final playable character, Nightcrawler, is a mix of the two other characters. Nightcrawler is a character with the ability to teleport to nearly any location visible to the player (within a certain range). In addition, the player can use this teleport power while targeting an enemy to “teleport attack”, appearing behind the enemy and using a combo attack of punches or kicks to neutralize them. This attack is extremely useful, as Nightcrawler is not built to take a lot of damage. He also has the ability to transport to a “shadow realm” to regenerate his health (an ability I am fairly sure the character does not have outside of this game). Nightcrawler is very acrobatic in his movements and can jump a considerable distance between objects in the game. This ability is called upon during almost every time the player is required to make use of Nightcrawler.
This leads me into my biggest point of contention with X-Men: The Official Game: level design. The level design for this game is just not very good. In several cases, the player is given the option of playing the upcoming portion of the game as one of the 3 characters. Doing so locks out the ability to play as either of the other two characters until you have completed that series of missions as the player you initially chose. No matter what portion of the game you’re playing, you know what you’re going to get.
As Wolverine you’ll see an endless array of bad guys whose only purpose is to slow you down from reaching the end of the level. Every 10 to 15 enemies you kill, you’ll be able to use your ‘fury’ attacks to spice up the action a little bit. Then you heal, and repeat the process. This becomes tedious after even just the first few missions as Wolverine.
As Iceman, you’ll get a lot more action, and a lot more enjoyment in playing the character, but the levels as Iceman seem to only loosely fit the plot laid out by the game, and why you’re doing what you’re doing isn’t all that well explained. However, sliding through the various mazes and traps in the Iceman levels is easily the most enjoyable part of this game.
As Nightcrawler, you’ll teleport from place to place, usually acting as a scout or assistant to a more physically powerful non-playable character (such as Colossus) in opening doors, primarily serving to advance the story of the other two characters. On a related note, Nightcrawler is obviously included in the game to explain why he does not appear in the movie itself. I won’t spoil the reason, other than to say it does fit well with the emotional nature of the Nightcrawler character.
Sadly, the appearance of other X-men during portions of the game only serves to remind the player they have access to only half the team. This combined with a lack of unique combos (whether single player, or through the combined use of multiple characters abilities) also detracts from the game play.
The only place where the level designers succeeded was in the boss levels. Combat with X-men villains, such as Sentinels or Pyro, a former mutant under Professor Xavier’s tutelage, is exceptionally well done. While this helps to drive the gamer through the tedium of the standard missions, it also serves to make the game that much more disjointed.
Visually, there is very little new in the Xbox version of this game. The environments are relatively well formed, if not overly engaging. Still, there are some standout moments. The battle between Iceman and Pyro over a nuclear power plant at sunset is particularly striking, especially in the detail of damage done to plant in contrast with the sunset on the horizon. The characters themselves are rendered in a way we’ve seen before, and offer nothing new, even in motion. The cutscenes do add a nice visual touch, as they are displayed in “comic book in motion” form: pages turning, written sound effects, as well as some spoken dialog. However, mission briefings/plot advancement is often done as written text or audio only, and sometimes over the top of the background sounds/action, making them nearly indistinguishable.
In terms of audio, the game is above average. This is mostly due to the voiceovers of Hugh Jackman, Alan Cumming, Shawn Ashmore, and of course Patrick Stewart as Professior X. In an official movie game, having the main characters voice by the actors is key. The sound effects in the game are standard fare, with only the character specific sounds (such as Nightcrawler’s teleport) getting any sort of unique treatment. The voiceovers of the NPC’s are very average impersonations of the voices from the movie series.
Controls in the game are fairly standard and acceptable with only one real issue: camera control as Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler can only teleport to where he can see, and focusing the camera on specific items to teleport to can sometimes be a hassle, especially on missions requiring a large amount of movement in a short period of time.
In terms of overall game play, X-Men: The Official Game offers a mixed bag: well-known, likable characters in mostly familiar environments, doing what they do best. Sadly, the lack of a discernable plot, limited character selection, some bugs (enemies walking through barriers, jumping of the screen only to appear on the other side), and boring basic level play lead this game down a bad road.
If you’re a die-hard X-Men fan, you’ll really like playing as Iceman, and you’ll enjoy finding out why Nightcrawler isn’t with the X-Men in the movie. If you like hack and slash type games, you’ll enjoy playing as Wolverine. Seeing the enemies trotted out to act as bosses at the end of the levels is almost worth the price of admission. Overall, this game fails to live up to its title or its lineage. If you’re really in the mood to be one of the X-Men, you’re probably better off playing either of the X-Men Legends titles.
Uninspired, repetitive game play with little new to add to the X-Men mythos, X-Men: The Official Game serves mostly as a loose lead in to the 3rd movie. Decent voiceovers, good boss levels, and play as Iceman serve as the hallmark moments of the game.