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.
Z-Axis tries to capture the intense, ethically-charged feel of the X-Men films, but ends up with an average brawler and little replay value. All but one of the main characters feel unfulfilled, and the one that works doesn’t make up for the two that don’t. Cutscenes are disappointingly low-tech, but the graphics and sound make this game passable. Rent it if you’ve always wanted to play as Nightcrawler.
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