Summer is here, and that means box-office sequels and the ream of movie-tie-ins they bring with them. Marvel and Activision have done a serviceable job thus far, with the Spider-Man franchise garnering modest reviews, but the most recent X-Men game is not the same story. X-Men: the Official Game is not based on the third movie’s plot, but rather the events that transpire between the second and third films. This is a good idea and ties up some loose threads that go unanswered by the movies, but the execution is severely lacking. What’s even more surprising is that Z-Axis developed the game, and they are known for their meticulous, quality work.
Instead of throwing a glut of playable characters around like the superb X-Men Legends series, this game focuses on only three of the iconic mutants: Iceman, Wolverine and Nightcrawler. I had hoped for some deeper character development and more in-depth super powers, but these things failed to materialize. Each character has their high points, but each fails to reach the potential this game set up for them.
Wolverine is the biggest offender. His claws, endurance and enhanced senses could have made for some ingenious level design, but what we get is generic hack n’ slash that’s no better than the yawn-worthy SNES beat-em-ups of old.
Wolverine’s boss fights are also the most uninspired. The battle with Lady Deathstrike had some potential, as Storm was kicking up a tornado in the background, but again it took too much time. I slashed away at Deathstrike until my thumbs cramped up, and her regenerating health didn’t help matters. It felt like a particularly bad episode of Mad TV; one idea, taken far beyond the point where it was actually fun.
Iceman had an interesting gameplay technique that was underused, and at times poorly implemented. His levels are played like a rail-shooter/flight combat hybrid, because he is always surfing on a sheet of ice. The effect is pretty slick looking and the change of pace from
Nightcrawler is by far the most innovative and overall fun character in the game. It’s a mystery why he hasn’t been given his own game already. His combat it fresh and frenetic, taking cues from the second movie’s brief but memorable fight scenes. Nearly all of his moves are based on his teleport ability, allowing him to “bamf” in behind enemies and give them a good thwacking. His missions are also partially stealth based, giving Nightcrawler a feeling of versatility. Moving through the rather linear levels is made easier through quickly teleporting from place to place, using a blue cursor controlled with the C-stick. Out of all three characters, Nightcrawler’s campaign feels the most polished and refined, as if Wolverine and Iceman were thrown in simply to keep the X-Men title on the box, instead of calling it “The Nighcrawler Game.”
As with most licensed titles, X-Men has above-average production values. Graphics are decent for a GameCube title and take advantage of the hardware’s understated capability, most notably the distortion effect for Nightcrawler. Iceman’s surfing effect is original, with a trail of rapidly crumbling ice forming beneath his feet. Wolverine is again the least impressive character, with merely sufficient animations and no real glitz to his moves or powers. All enemies sport Havok ragdoll physics, but such a feature is mandatory these days in any reputable game.
X-Men’s most redeeming element is its sound, oddly enough. The developers have really pulled out all the stops here, hiring the actual movie talent and using some of the score as well. All of the actors do an excellent job, as I’ve come to expect from the likes of Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman and the others. The music is rousing and orchestral, but lacks some of the morose, melancholy aspects of X3’s score, probably because the film has a much darker, graver tone than the game. Sound effects do their job, and only that, with no frills or surprises—it’s the same stuff you’ve heard, ripped straight from the movies.
All in all the presentation hits more marks than it misses, except in one regard: cutscenes. Every last level intro and outro is done in a flat, almost static graphics novel style, with cutouts of each character and minimal animation. I would accept this if the game were based on the X-Men comic, but it’s not—it’s based on a movie that’s based on a comic, and I want real, fully rendered and animated cinematics to emulate the movie. Not only does this development shortcut make the game less immersive, but it almost cheapens the venerable performances of the actors. Patrick Stewart is one of my favorite actors, and not seeing the nuances of his Shakespearean acting was a real disappointment. I was also looking forward to seeing Alan Cumming reprise Nightcrawler, as he isn’t in the third film. Incidentally, Ultimate Spider Man, a game that is based on a comic, has very cleverly done cutscenes with full animation, which gives X-Men even less of an excuse for N64-era cinematics.
With such uniform, mediocre gameplay, save for a few rare high points, I really can’t recommend X-Men: the Official Game for more than a rent. The game won’t take more than a few hours to beat for the dedicated player, and the total experience doesn’t really warrant that amount of time anyway. There are a few unlockable extras, such as costumes, but replaying the tedious, uninteresting levels over again to hunt out all the little collectables is far from appealing. If you want some interesting back story that rounds out the films, and the unique rush of playing as Nightcrawler, give this one a go. Like so many other movie games, like Enter the Matrix or The Da Vinci Code, this one promises more than it delivers and ends up as only a passing distraction.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.
Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile