Not enough chromosomes.
Did I just imagine it, or was that mutant a porcupine? Did Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman really just attempt to emote? Am I really watching Iceman ice-skate with a twelve year-old and did his girlfriend just get jealous about it? Is this really the new X-Men movie? Is it taking place in the Netherlands?
It would be easy, I suppose, to let the disappointments of the film skew the Activision video game review. But with cajones that can only be appreciated after one has seen the failure of the movie, Activision shied away from the film’s plot, creating an entirely new adventure to package a product that, ironically, is still almost as bad as the movie.
[image1]But first, we must note that X-Men: The Official Game officially has the lamest official subtitle for an official video game ever. This isn’t X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men: Rise of the Mutant Boy Wonder or even X-Women: Trouble with the XX-gene. It’s simply The Official Game, and that doesn’t describe the story at all.
The reasons for which become apparent as soon as one tries to summarize the plot. Apparently, after the events in X2, Wolverine and company discover that evil General Stryker lived and has been busy hatching a new plot. He’s built giant Sentinel robots that seek out and destroy mutants and the X-Men must rush to stop them. There’s also a bit of story involving the miraculous return of Lady Deathstrike, Iceman’s struggle to gain relevance, and Nightcrawler’s new friendship with Stryker’s psychic invalid child. It’s all about as coherent as our resident GR chimpanzee after getting into the ‘ludes.
But the story really isn’t the point. It’s official, after all, not coherent, compelling, or even curious. And with bureaucratic efficiency, The Official Game gets right to the punching and zapping and mutating without much narrative fuss.
In The Official Game, you play through character-specific missions as Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Iceman. Wolverine missions are standard beat ‘em up affairs in which you wade through masses of enemies alternating between light and heavy attacks and healing as you dodge. Some enemies require a little strategy, like jumping and striking instead of just wailing away in one direction. But that’s a very little bit, not really worth mentioning except for the fact that it’s the only thing worth mentioning in this otherwise generic action platformer.
[image2]Nightcrawler’s and Iceman’s missions, however, are genuinely engaging. Nightcrawler can teleport around areas seamlessly and easily. A light blue flame shows where the teleport button (the right trigger) will zap him. Pulling the trigger quickly sends you zipping along from lamppost to railing to hard-to-reach ventilation shaft. With an easy combination of buttons, you can also zap behind enemies and chain these teleport attacks together to deliver donkey punch after sweet donkey punch. It’s a neat mechanic and functions nicely.
In his missions, Iceman is always in flight, riding on an ice-bridge thingy. While he is always moving forward, he can accelerate or decelerate and pull quick 180s. It’s a little bit awkward to maneuver back to something you’ve missed in close proximity, but that seems right given that you are flying on ice. A few missions have timed sections during which you have to escape Death-Star-like obstacle tunnels. Take that, Darth Vader! Err, Magneto!
Iceman also shoots both an ice beam and a heavier shot called a “hailstorm.” He'll be called upon to do things like freeze coolant tubes with his ice beam, and then break them with his hailstorm, all while preventing a bulkhead from exploding by occasionally spraying it with ice.
The variety in the missions and level design is encouraging at first, but ultimately is hampered by the developer's inability to know when to say when. Many levels feature a task that initially seems pretty inventive, but then you have to do it again and again until all the fun is gone and the level ends.
For instance, in one Nightcrawler level you're told that a bad guy has set a bomb on the Brooklyn Bridge. Following instructions and the waypoint on the radar, you hastily defuse the bomb and the situation. Excellent work! But wait, what’s this? The same bad guy has set three more bombs on the bridge? Well, it’s off to work again teleporting up and down the bridge defusing bombs. Whew, that was a lot of teleporting. And then, uh oh, don’t tell me . . . more bombs. This “but wait, there’s more!” tactic is consistent throughout the entire game, ruining what would otherwise be a healthy variety of unique mission tasks.
[image3]The mission rewards suffer from a similar malady. By completing levels at higher difficulties, you can upgrade the skills of that mission’s main character. This is a good idea that isn’t taken far enough; there are no new combos to unlock, and many of the attacks look exactly the same fully-powered as they did when they were pathetically weak. These upgrades should have been your reasons to replay the game, but the experience is basically the same with or without them.
This wouldn’t be so bad if The Official Game featured content other than the single-player campaign. After all, if any franchise calls for cooperative play, it’s this one. X-Men is plural; X-Man, on the other hand, is simply a lonely mutant, or possibly a militant civil rights leader. Yet the short single-player campaign is all you get, and it isn’t worth playing twice.
We know it sounds bad, and it doesn’t look much better. The graphics are run-of-the-mill. Characters seem weightless, their legs and feet moving but not really interacting with the ground at all. Many objects are destructible, but the debris itself disappears along with the corpses of the many enemies. Some enemies, like the giant fire dragon, look pretty good, but the environments are cold and dull.
The cut-scenes, however, deserve special mention. They are performed not with CGI movies or even with the in-game engine, but with absurdly primitive flash movies that use cardboard cut-outs of the characters. Characters’ lips don’t move when they talk, nor does anything else. Next up: X-Men: The Official Puppet Show.
The Official Game looks its best on the 360, but the 360 looks its worst when playing The Official Game. In particular, some bad graphical glitches turned the screen to soup during one mission. The PS2, Xbox and GC versions, on the other hand, are nearly identical, sporting the characteristic fuzz that the next-gen version shaves off.
This caught-between-generations game manages to just barely clear graphical obstacles and shallow depth by introducing some simple, fun game mechanics. But like a real mutant, X-Men: The Official Game has a short lifespan. Thank goodness for its uncanny ability to turn into a refund.