Spayed and neutered.
Few X-Men feel the love quite like Wolverine. Storm might be a hottie and Nightcrawler might inhale more smoke than Snoop Dog, but Logan is the heart and soul of the family. After all, he's mean, swarthy and constantly irritated, the ultimate white trash wrecking ball.
He's also the focal point of the recent X-Men film series, getting all kinds of screen time in the original and getting even more in the sequel. This makes the brash bastard perfect video game fodder, which is sadly a good way to describe X2: Wolverine's Revenge. A poorly conceived third-person action romp, X2 is all bark and no bite, effectively declawing the cantankerous canine. [Editor's nerdy factoid: Actually, the wolverine is from the mustelidae family, related to badgers, otters and skunks.]
The game is all about Wolverine's enigmatic past. It seems the Shiva virus was implanted in certain mutants during the somewhat illicit Weapon X program experiments, and as luck would have it, that's Wolverine's old haunt. It's up to you to get to the bottom of things and find a cure before the viral load triggers and you wind up melting into so much X-goo.
X2: Wolverine's Revenge tries to do a few things different, the most notable of which is the fact that you can play it as a stealth-oriented MGS clone or as a straightforward smashfest. In all likelihood, you'll do a little of both.
Stealth, however, has a better pay off both visually and literally. You can move stealthily by either entering stealth mode or a crouching run. At the press of a button you can toggle Wolverine's 'Heightened Sense mode,' a cool concept that really draws out the subtleties of the character.
While in Sense mode, the screen turns orange and you gain a few abilities, including better enemy perception thanks to heat detection, illuminated footprints and enhanced olfactory powers. Yep - you can sniff out the bad guys. Apparently, they all smell green, because little trails float around the screen telling you where they are. If you sneak up on one, you'll even get a strange little ghost image of where you should be to score a stealth kill.
The stealth kills are important because they're the primary way you acquire Dog Tags, which open up four levels of 'finishing move' strikes. You'll only really need these when surrounded by a few enemies at once, but they certainly come in handy. Unfortunately, the only time you can pull them off is when you see the big 'Strike' flash across the screen, which is a bit stupid.
But they look pretty cool, much more interesting and cinematic than the lackluster punching and kicking that makes up the melee combat. Aside from an awkward droid sequence late in the game, you do not get any useful items or interesting gadgets, which I suppose goes with the character.
What you do get is the ability to whip out Wolverine's claws at will, leading to slightly more damaging attacks. When sheathed, Wolverine slowly recovers health. This sounds fine on paper, but it ends up stunting the game flow because you're constantly standing around waiting for the meter to refill.
The prodigious fighting gets monotonous as the combo system is pretty much nonexistent, basically amounting to button-mashing. You also have a Feral Rage meter that increases as you hit/get hit; when it's full you go nuts for a few seconds and do uber damage. Thrilling. Boss battles degrade into learning simple patterns and figuring out why you can't just beat them up like normal and instead must throw them into something a few times to win. This was fine on my old Genesis, but come on already, that was 10 years ago.
The action is further hampered by the moronic A.I. Guards just stand around waiting for you to sneak up on them and rarely react to fallen comrades. Though they'll sometimes give chase, they'll also run straight into fire.
Broken up into five acts, the game is almost entirely set in big enemy fortress installations with tons of doors and keycards and bland metal everywhere. Do not expect wide open areas in which to roam like the beast you know you are. Instead, it's a brutally linear corridor crawl. You'll always know where to go because there's hardly any room for exploration; it's very much one room after another.
Making this doubly worse is X2's unbelievably aggravating checkpoint save system. You can't save at will, which is fine since saving after every enemy is kind of cheesy. But this game falls too far on the other end of the spectrum, only allowing you to save after certain segments of action.
At first it's not too bad as it's broken up into 5 minute gameplay chunks, but later on in the game you'll find enormous stretches of action without any kind of save option. You'll kick ass for 20 minutes, stumble upon a new area towards the end of the level, wind up in the wrong place and die...taking you all the way back to the beginning of the level. This kind of trial-and-error only works when the checkpoints are well spaced, but here they are not. Replaying the same half-hour stretch of action seven times just because you can't get past one part at the very end makes you want to grow claws and disembowel the TV.
The camera doesn't help much either, forcing you to constantly re-orient it manually to get the best view of the action. But the view does have its moments. While X2 isn't a graphical marvel at all, it does the job with a solid framerate and decent animations. All three versions look largely the same, though the Xbox probably looks the best with the Gamecube running a close second. Otherwise, they're identical.
On the flipside, clipping problems abound and can even lead to total meltdown, at least in the PS2 version. During a battle with Sabertooth, I apparently punched him into deep space, because he disappeared into a gray void while his health meter was still active. Couple that with the saving issue and it's restart hell.
The sound is an equally mixed bag. The voice cast is good, with platinum-haired Jedi Mark Hamill supplying Wolverine's husky voice and Patrick Stewart even showing up as Professor X. And though the score is fitting, the insanely redundant sound effects will make you want to either growl or hurl, depending on what you ate for breakfast.
Though the game is linear, you'll open up some bonus bits along the way, including a variety of costumes, backstory text in the form of Cerebro files and a somewhat wimpy Challenge mode which only becomes playable after you beat the game.
And if you're such a fan that you must beat it, only do that in a rental, because there's no way I could recommend buying this wallet draining mutant. While the heart of the character is here, the brain is not. Save your money, Bub.