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. Logan can pull off about three combos and string together some nasty slash-impale moves, but the experience comes off as stale after the third level or so. I spent literally ten minutes in a single room, slashing the snot out of baddies, with no level progression or gameplay changes. Just reams of enemies. This would have been fine for a training bonus game, but it doesn’t fit into the story mode at all.
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 Logan’s ho-hum levels is welcome, but Iceman could’ve used some diversity. He’s constantly chasing down some flying projectile or putting out fires, and his rail-levels are a real pain to retry, mainly because there is a lack of mid-level checkpoints. His boss fight with the giant fire dragon was a high point, however.
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.”
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