A minor evolution.
Fans will like anything associated with their fanaticism. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s guaranteed. We know X-men fans will buy absurd figurines, their childrení¢â‚¬â„¢s future virginity, and the occasional boxing keychain. Yes, we live in a world of crap, and all it takes is a profound love of mutants to move buckets of Taiwanese merchandise.
So it will be no surprise when X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse tops retail charts. Riding on a successful but hardly legendary first installment and perched atop the massively popular film series, there is absolutely no way this game can fail. Of course, in the X-Men universe, statements like í¢â‚¬Å“I can never fail,í¢â‚¬? only come out of the mouths of cocky villains just prior to their humiliating defeat. Will this be the fate of X-Men Legends II ?
In a word, no. In more words, read on.
The story begins with the X-Men and their arch-enemies, the Brotherhood, teaming up to foil the plans of Apocalypse, Marvelí¢â‚¬â„¢s number one baddie. Apocalypse has devised a plan to use the mutant powers of four X-Men to make himself even more sinister. Your team of X-Men and Brotherhood characters chase him and his minions around the world, finally serving him a hot slice of humble pie.
This would have been much more exciting if the story werení¢â‚¬â„¢t so reliant upon the conversations with NPCs. You are given choices about what questions to ask informants, but none of the choices ever disappear, so every conversation feels more like a FAQ list on everything X-Men. If youí¢â‚¬â„¢ve played Baldurí¢â‚¬â„¢s Gate: Dark Alliance or Champions of Norrath, you know the formula: dialogue exposition over dungeon-crawling hack-and-slash. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s tempting to say that hacking and slashing never gets old, but it does, and X-Men Legends II pushes our collective hack-and-slash tolerance up against the envelope.
The differences between this game and others of its kind is its party format. You control four heroes at any one time, although you only actually ‘control’ one of them. As you move through maze-like dungeons, oodles of bad guys hurl themselves in your direction, ready to be mowed like a mutant lawn. Each character has default melee attacks that can be strung into short combos as well as a long list of í¢â‚¬Å“mutant powersí¢â‚¬? (read: spells) that they can unlock and unleash as they gain experience points. With over twenty powers per character and a fat eighteen total characters to choose from, thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s a lot of super-power possibility.
The choice of X-Men is really the big step up from its almost identical forbear. For a good bit of the game, you will experiment with new characters and new abilities, but after a while you will give up on that and just concentrate on leveling up a good mix of four.
And leveling up is maybe a little too tedious, even for an action/RPG. You can distribute stat points, skill points, and equipment for your team, but keeping more than four mutants adequately equipped is like dressing and coaching an entire special olympics team by yourself. Thankfully, the game includes an í¢â‚¬Å“auto-distributeí¢â‚¬? function that makes sure each character is wearing what they should be and spending skill points wisely. Still, you want to have some control over which skills are being boosted, even as you might grow tired of dressing them and wiping their drool-covered chins.
Each skill has its own animation, and that means there’s a lot of action to be seen. Some are more useful than others, but the sheer variety is an obvious plus to the game. On the other hand, the skills never í¢â‚¬Å“evolveí¢â‚¬? or look any different when they are ultra-powerful. Wolverine’s feral slash looks the same at level one as it does at level twenty, and that’s just a bummer. Sometimes you want to feel the damage you’re inflicting and not just read the numbers appearing magically over your head.
Still, the increased number of playable characters has other benefits. Party members can sometimes interact with one other in combat. Colossus can pick up Wolverine and throw him into a crowd of baddies. Iceman can freeze an evil spider-thing while Scarlet Witch spontaneously combusts it. These í¢â‚¬Å“super combosí¢â‚¬? net a little extra experience and are flat out satisfying to watch.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to plan or predict these super-combos since the computer A.I. doesní¢â‚¬â„¢t always use super powers when you do. By smashing the í¢â‚¬Å“I need helpí¢â‚¬? button, you can try to coax the computer into using a pre-determined power, but you also have to listen to your character pathetically cry for help over and over again.í¢â‚¬Å“Help! This enemy is too strong for me!í¢â‚¬? If Apocalypse is too cocky, the X-Men are too whiny.
They also talk too much – not to each other, but at you. Letí¢â‚¬â„¢s say Magnetoí¢â‚¬â„¢s energy is low and you try to get him to cast a Magnetic Shell Beam. Magneto says, slowly and importantly, í¢â‚¬Å“I cannot do that because I lack the power.í¢â‚¬? Enough of that and youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll consign Magneto to hanging with the gimps back at X-Men headquarters.
The enemy A.I. is less chatty, but just as predictable. Button-mashing away? So do your enemies. Like raging rhinoceroses, bravado meets stupidity in a steady stream of bum-rushing. I shouldní¢â‚¬â„¢t complain, since almost all action RPGs these days seem to have left competent enemy A.I. at the door, but Ií¢â‚¬â„¢m complaining anyway. I can do that, even though I lack the power.
For the most part, the game is identical across all three consoles, except that the Gamecube version isn’t playable online. Hacking through baddies with a bunch of faceless strangers isn’t as fun as it sounds, though, thanks to frequent loading screens and the unpredictable pauses that occur any time someone in your party opens their character menu.
The best way to play is with a real team of mutants; in other words, your friends. Co-op mode is in every version of the game and works well, although some camera zooming issues can make it a little tough to keep track of your dude, especially in the heat of battle.
For the most part, everything looks all right. The cel-shaded graphics are presumbaly there to mimic comic book illustration. Still, the images seem kind of clunky and the physics are underwhelming. The backgrounds and environments are all variations of dungeon walls and boulders, but at least most everything in the game can be smashed, picked up, or thrown. When things are really flying around, mutants firing away, and me calling for help or complaining about my lack of power, the framerate can dip quite a bit. That doesn’t happen all too often, and usually a couple moments of slow-motion allow you to get your bearing and find your character.
The load times are frequent and annoying on the PS2, though they are nearly nonexistent on the Xbox. My favorite mutant power? An internal hard drive.
Ií¢â‚¬â„¢ve complained about the irritating voices during combat, but the overall voicework is decent. Patrick Stewart again voices Professor X while the rest of the mutants make do with new actors.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse will inevitably be popular among X-Men fanatics as it dives pretty deep into the X-Men mythos. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s a solid hack-and-slash action/RPG, nailing all its marks with easy puzzles and epic boss battles. Even better, it is a long game, and the variety of characters and skills gives an illusion of depth. But there’s not a great deal here that you haven’t played before – like, last year – and we can’t help but feel that this particular dungeon-crawl epic needs more updating and fewer characters. A little more, shall we say, mutation?