X-Men Destiny Review
When's the last time you played a superhero game you really enjoyed? DC Universe Online? City of Heroes? Was it X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which came out over two years ago? Batman: Arkham Asylum? Or even earlier than that? There is no shortage of games based on Marvel, DC, or entirely new characters, and while the choice of new superhero games this fall is a little weak, Activision has a new offering for you to try: X-Men Destiny. Featuring a new origin story for one of three characters, this game offers what should be a fresh look at the world of the X-Men, and the idea of choice in what otherwise would be a linear game sounds intriguing.
Unfortunately, none of that actually comes together. In trying to innovate, X-Men Destiny compromises what has always worked for these games - playing as the most famous superheroes in the world - and the story-oriented choices you make aren't nearly as interesting as the developers, Silicon Knights, seemed to think. While you do have the choice to configure your new superhero how you want and level up additional powers that your character cribs from other better-known mutants, the action still winds up being derivative and repetitive enough to leave you wondering whether your gaming budget would have been better spent elsewhere in such a crowded season of blockbuster titles.
The game starts out at a rally in San Francisco to try and unite the causes of mutants and humans. Charles Xavier is dead, Magneto is missing, and this once fine city has been hit by a massive earthquake. Anti-mutant forces have organized and militarized into a group called the Purifiers, and they're trying to capture and kill all the mutants they can - including the famed remnants of the X-Men as well as the members of the Brotherhood, the mutants that would rather crush humanity than coexist with it. You're asked to choose between three characters, each with strengths and weaknesses. No matter who you pick, you then get the same choice of one of three sets of powers - two based on melee attacks and one on ranged - and players are forced to pick both their character and their main power set right at the beginning of the game based solely off of a text-based description. (It'd have been nice to try out the characters and power sets before committing.) Each of these skill sets can be upgraded, and on top of that, you'll have three X-Gene slots which you can mix, match, and upgrade. You might want Toad's Offensive X-Gene, Colossus' Defensive gene, and Avalanche's Utility Gene. And just for fun, toss on Quicksilver's costume - all of these modify some set of your abilities, and the three X-Genes can be upgraded with XP orbs that you'll be picking up from defeated enemies.
It gets even more complex than that, though: each specific gene - Toad's Offensive, Colossus' Defensive, etc - have a level progression that you'll be going through, and you even get extra bonuses if you assign all four slots - the costume and the three genes - to one character. There is some fun to be had simply in figuring out which fights are better handled by specific gene combinations. And of course, you'll have to find all those genes and costumes if you want to use them; some are granted as rewards for simply completing main story missions, some are just sitting out in the level, and others are hidden or only accessible if you beat special challenge rooms. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why you get any particular gene in a given area of the game; often, you'll even pick up genes for mutants that your character hasn't actually met in-game yet.
I'm stalling on talking about the story, because it's a drag to talk about. You'll be fighting off a new threat that is presumably started by Magneto, but it's clear pretty quickly that he has nothign to do it. You'll accept and complete missions to advance the path of the X-Men or the Brotherhood, and gaining faction points with either (or both) as you go. The game is structured like your standard derivative (and linear) 3D beat-em-up, where you do a modicum of exploration and then a bunch of nameless thugs pop up for you to defeat - and once you're done, a door opens and you're allowed to continue. Throw in annoying boss fights, poor voice acting, a disjointed plot, and what feels to me like a lack of enthusiasm on the developers' part, and this game starts to fall apart quickly. Sure, the combat system and depth in the progression for your character wind up being one of the strongest parts of this game, but that's not enough to keep people - even huge Marvel fans - happily playing through this lackluster game. And with no multiplayer or cooperative modes anywhere in sight, this game won't be spinning in your console for long, either, especially since it's pretty short - which is actually kind of a blessing in disguise, since this game wears out its welcome quickly. Much as we saw with Activision's recent Transformers: Dark of the Moon movie tie-in, this feels like half a game, and it's not even half of a very good game - and it all comes at the full $60 price tag on PS3/360.
X-Men Destiny tries to provide a unique look at a universe full of mutants, but it falls flat in many ways and only barely manages to stay afloat otherwise. The new characters are no substitutes for being able to control the "real" thing, and the costumes only make these new mutants wanna-be impostors at best. This game should not have made it past the concept stages, not for a property so well-loved like Marvel, since there's no execution that could have fixed this, either. Usually this is the point in a review like this where I suggest that serious fans might give X-Men Destiny a shot, and I guess that's the case here - but I'd recommend you save your money and grab it from Gamefly or Redbox instead of plunking down the full purchase price. Even then, I still recommend that you pass on this game unless you're just desperate for a new superhero title, and even then you might be better off with Infamous 2, Wolverine, or another run-through of Prototype. Hell, busting out some classic X-Men Arcade on a smartphone or tablet might scratch your mutant-bashing itch better than this game.