Storm needs food… badly!
Growing up with mutant powers is hard, especially when they're something of an uncontrollable nuisance. I should know - I've had to deal with them my whole life.
My powers first manifested themselves in the early 80's. I was playing Autoduel on my Apple II Plus when suddenly the screen froze. It was about that time when I realized that the room had filled with smoke and the computer was, in fact, on fire. Denying my mutant heritage, I blamed the fire on a faulty 16KB RAM expansion card (yes, I do mean KB). A couple years later, it happened again and my Macintosh SE burned down. Then, a few years after that, my computer turned on randomly, refused to turn off, and took it upon itself to rename all my files the names of fonts.
Not being isolated to just computers, my powers destroyed the first Playstation in the Game Revolution office when the screen turned entirely pink, machine code running down the screen, and across the top it read "Watch in amazement as the Playstation eats itself!" Then there was the launch event for Westwood's Lands of Lore III, where I fatally crashed their game about one hour into its debut. Flash forward to the last few weeks, and I have a computer that shuts down if I get within five feet of it. Crappy mutant power? How about the power to randomly blow up computers?
If only Professor X was around to take me in and teach me to control my, um, talent. Instead, I'll have to be satisfied by taking control of scores of mutants with significantly better powers in the best console game based on Jack Kirby's creations, X-Men Legends. And when I say scores, I mean it. Choose from 15 different X-Men, including favorites like Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Jean Gray and Nightcrawler. This game is most assuredly based on the comics, however, so if your introduction to the X-Men was through the movies, expect the characters to be slightly different and much more colorful.
And the comic geekiness doesn't stop there. From reliving classic X-Men missions to a built-in trivia game that earns you experience, knowing the comic universe definitely gives you a hand in battling the forces of Magneto. This is a game that not only focuses on comic nerds, it was designed for them.
The story begins with Wolverine responding to a disturbance downtown. A young mutant named Magma has picked a particularly bad time to have her mutant powers fully manifest themselves. The forces of evil, well aware of Magma's powers, are on the scene to recruit her into the Brotherhood. Mystique and the Blob capture her, and it's up to Wolverine to make chase. However, he is very soon joined by others.
The gameplay is very recognizable: it's fancy Gauntlet with Storm instead of the Wizard and Cyclops instead of the Elf. Your main hub is the Xavier Institute, complete with all your favorite residents and even the Danger Room where you can hone your skills. From there, you choose missions from either the mission computer or through dialogue with mutants reminiscing about past exploits.
Once in a mission, the gameplay is fairly basic: explore maps, fight enemies by mashing the attack buttons, solve puzzles by using your mutant powers, and fight the level bosses. It's roughly the same kind of you do in games like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath.
However, in X-Men Legends you will always be in control of four mutants at the same time. At the beginning of each level, you select the four mutants to take on the mission, controlling one active mutant while a slightly customizable A.I. controls the others. You can switch between the four by pushing different directions on the D-pad, so if you're unhappy with the way the computer is handling Cyclops, you can hop into the driver's seat and zap things yourself. This comes up pretty often, too, because the A.I. isn't very good. Computer-controlled mutants end up dead more often than not.
In addition to the ability to play as four players, X-Men Legends also features a significant RPG element. Mutants gain levels, increase their stats, and acquire new powers. For example, Iceman has very few abilities from the outset, but eventually you'll be freezing enemies and sliding around through the air on your own ice sidewalk. The entire group gets experience together, keeping all the mutants powered up for any level regardless of whether or not you've previously used them. The level of customization in the RPG aspect of the game is more detailed than most actual RPGs, though you can auto-level up if you wish.
Unfortunately, the hardcore RPG elements of the game seem to clash with the action oriented (button-mashing) gameplay. This is most evident when you attempt to play the game multiplayer. As you may have surmised, up to four people can play at a time, replacing the computer A.I. as your teammates.
That's only during the missions, though. Back at the Xavier Institute, only one player plays, exploring the mansion and interacting with plot elements, disrupting the multiplayer game flow. Also, you end up pausing the game every time somebody levels up, especially if you're playing with fellow geeks. Imagine customizing your RPG character with three of your friends waiting for you to finish. Needless to say, if you take too long, one of your "friends" may decide that instead of mashing buttons, he's going to mash your coffee table.
The graphics definitely do the job well, using cell shaded characters and animating the cutscenes with the solid in-game engine. The Xbox version obviously is the cleanest, but the other two do not suffer that much by comparison. A good deal of the environment can be destroyed; you'll bash apart everything trying to find Danger Room discs, classic comic covers, and health power-ups.
However, the developers took a bit of a short cut by relying on invisible walls to guide you through each level. If there's an open street in front of you, you should be able to walk down it instead of running up against an invisible barrier. Hey, go ahead and drop some trees, buildings, debris or whatever to block the path, but just refusing access what looks like a perfectly accessible part of the level ruins the immersive nature of the game and just smacks of laziness in level design.
Given a little patience, however, X-Men Legends will reward you with a good storyline and fun gameplay. Numerous collectables and hidden items lend a lot of replay potential, which you'll also derive from focusing on the different mutant abilities available from the different X-Men. Though some issues do exist, they are minor, especially to the die-hard X-Men fans who long to have mutant powers of their own. Good ones, I mean.