X-Men Legends Review
The success of action-RPG titles on consoles has spurred on many clones. First we saw D&D-based fantasy games, then it was Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, then Sony's Everquest-themed Champions of Norrath, and now it's X-Men Legends. They all share some similar gameplay, which is mostly top-down hack and slash with some light roleplay elements thrown in.
X-Men: Legends has you taking on classic Marvel baddies as your favorite mutant heroes, and unlike most of the X-Men games that have been released over the years, this one's actually pretty damn good. While the RPG elements are lighter here than some players might expect, it's still got enough depth to be worth more than a rental.
If you've played any game that's even remotely similar to X-Men Legends, you will have no trouble picking up this game in seconds flat. There are a few differences, though: there is a bit less of a focus on having a large selection of special abilities, and more of a focus on standard attacks. To that end, your character has two attack buttons, and a jump button - which, in this game, actually is useful in combat.
Switching to special attacks is pretty easy, as you simply hold down the right trigger and press one of the normal face buttons to unleash one of four pre-set moves. You can also set these up with relative ease, and there are a couple of available characters that you'll want to switch specials out on pretty often.
The game includes real combos here that come when you press attacks in various sequences. These combos can turn out to be devastating, but they can also leave you wide open to enemy attacks, so you have to be careful which ones you use against certain enemies. On top of this, characters can perform combos along with the other characters, so there are plenty of opportunities to switch up attacks.
I'm not really sure here, but X-Men Legends might be the first X-Men game with cel-shaded graphics. And the game uses them well, animating the characters with the comic-style graphics while keeping the environments looking more like you'd expect in a modern game.
The special effects in this game are exceptional, and the animations are nearly perfect as well. Some of the environments look a little simplistic, but once you get to the areas that have a ton of action going on at once, you will understand why. Even when there's a ton of stuff going on at the same time, the frame rate in the Xbox version is solid just about all of the time.
The real problem comes when the game tries to show you cutscenes - while the cel-shaded graphics look great from a distance, they are hideous when seen from up close. Mouths refuse to move, the characters' faces are terrible, and the cutscenes lose any of their effect when you see your beloved X-Men in this mangled form. Again, from a distance they look great, but these models don't nearly hold up as well once you zoom the camera in. The game does include pre-rendered cinematics that fare better, but Raven should have stuck with those as much as they possibly could have.
Despite X-Men Legends' many predecessors, this game still manages to do some new stuff when it comes to gameplay. The most obvious thing you'll notice after a few minutes is that the game's AI can control other X-Men while you play at the same time. None of the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance-style games to date have done this, and it makes the single player mode quite a bit more fun.
With this AI comes a few basic guidelines you can give to your AI buddies - you can direct them to use special attacks at crucial times, as well as give them general "scripts" on how to play - for example, you want to set Cyclops and Storm as mostly ranged attackers, while a guy like Wolverine needs to close in for melee attacks. You can even set up your AI teammates to heal other team members when they get low, although switching between AI scripts has to be done from the menus rather than right from the game. The AI hangs at a few spots, accidentally getting stuck or even falling off a cliff, and there's an annoyance in having to pay to revive stupid AI characters that get killed.
Many of the standard BG:DA conventions still linger in this game, though. You can pick up health and mana containers and use them (each with a press of the Black or White buttons) at any time for a quick boost, and you can also level up and buy new skills and stat points with what you earned.
One aspect of these games that's missing, though, is equipment. Sure, you can pick up a few bits and pieces to augment your characters, but you can't see most of it in-game and these things don't have a major effect on how you play. It's just cool to get a new weapon in, say, D&D Heroes, and start killing stuff twice as fast as you were before - in X-Men Legends, there is no such thrill.
That's not to say that this game lacks depth. The sheer number of X-Men you can use (I counted something like fifteen) is excellent, as you can switch out your four-player party any time you get to an "Xtraction Point" - which also serves as a save point as well. The right combinations of characters will make the game much easier for you to get through, and playing through with a completely different set of characters makes the game very different. Four-player cooperative action also adds to the fun factor, and the many powers you can pick up when levelling means you can build your characters differently.
Raven Software has also included a ton of little things that X-Men fans will love. You can explore Xavier's huge mansion and check out each X-Man's room, and see all of these bits and pieces that really add to the game. On top of this, the game's story is actually half-decent, as it was written by some guys who used to work at Marvel. It's nothing that'll really jerk a tear or anything, but it includes quite a bit of the social commentary that we saw go into the movies and that has been present in the comics for years now. Again, the story isn't mind-blowing, but it's certainly above and beyond what I'd expect out of a mostly-action game.
The game includes some extras that, again, fans of the series will love, but those who don't know much about the X-Men probably won't care much about. The extra multiplayer options which allow you to go against other players are pretty basic and not really worth much of your time, and the gameplay just doesn't make for good fighting depth in a one-on-one situation. Most of the time, these fights just degenerate into little more than a button-mash party.
X-Men Legends does manage to innovate in the crowded action-RPG genre. On top of the unique setting, there is a decent story, AI characters to fight alongside, plenty of well-known heroes and villains, and extras for the serious X-Men fans.
X-Men Legends includes many of the sound effects that you'd just likely expect from a comic book-based game. All of the characters have their own sound effects for their powers, and fighting with the enemies sounds pretty satisfying. The music wasn't really anything that I'd consider too special, as it would come in at odd times and just not really add much to any of the game's fights.
The prolific Patrick Stewart makes a showing in this game, voicing - well, you guessed it - Professor X. None of the rest of the voice acting is worth much, despite a few B-list actors' names in the credits. Basically, nothing else is really that compelling, so even the not-so-great acting from the movies would have been preferable to this. At the same time, I didn't hear anything that was so embarrassingly bad that I just had to cringe.
X-Men Legends brings plenty of new features and fun to the action-RPG genre with AI buddies to fight beside, good four-player cooperative action, and plenty of new powers and extras to dig through. X-Men fans will find this a must-buy, and everyone else will still wind up enjoying this game for its solid gameplay.