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
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
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
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
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.
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.