X-Men Legends was the best selling X-Men title to date.  X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is an all-new title action-RPG from Raven Software that looks to improve on its predecessor with an all-new storyline and a whole host of improvements. 


X-Men Legends II kicks off with a fantastic cutscene showing Magneto, Sabertooth, and Mystique infiltrating a military base.  Halfway through their assault on the base they meet up with Wolverine, Storm, and Cyclops, but instead of squaring off for battle they team up to free Professor Xavior from capture.  As soon as he is freed he reveals that one of the X-Men was captured.  It is at this point that The Brotherhood of Mutants and the X-Men team up to face their most powerful adversary – Apocalypse.


Building on the successful formula of X-Men Legends, this title allows you to play as the powerful X-Men, but also as members of The Brotherhood of Mutants.  Not just the 3rd string bench-warming mutants either – you’ll get to play as Magneto!  These well established enemies will have to put their deep-rooted mistrust, as well as any pre-conceived notions about each other aside if they are to have any chance of defeating their ultimate adversary. 

X-Men Legends II, similar to its predecessor, is a cel-shaded title.  The similarities in the engine are apparent, but it is also obvious that Raven has done some fine-tuning on the engine.  The graphics, in general, look more sharp than the previous game with the characters having a more detailed look to them.  The lighting system has also returned with improvements, such as more brilliant lighting and better seamless transitions between one effect and another. 


The detail level in the character models are much improved.  The same black outline present in all cel-shaded titles is present, but it looks like Raven has thinned it a little bit to clean up the character model.  They don’t look like cut-outs as much anymore and seem to be a better representation of the characters from the comics. 


The Cube version is capable of 480i which clears up the only other issue I saw with this title – the text (and there is a lot of it in the menu system) is a bit muddy on a standard TV.  At 480i, this game is fairly sharp. The Xbox version supports 720p, which easily trumps 480i, but this version doesn’t look bad by any stretch. 

Associated Production Music and Gregor Narholz composed the original score for this title.  Narholz, who scored Return to Neverland, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, The Rookie, Soul Plane, Star Trek, X-Files, Seinfeld, Friends, and Saturday Night Live, did an amazing job with the score.  The music swells and ebbs with the nature of the action and gives this game an epic feel. 


I have to tip my hat to Activision for securing Patrick Stewart to reprise his role as Professor X in X-Men Legends II.  Stewart turns in his usual exemplary performance and gives this game a great production value.  The other voice actors in the game are up to the job as well, each giving life to their selected characters.  A good portion of the interaction between the individual characters is done with voice work, and it helps suspend the immersion of the title.


There are a few repetitive voice-overs in the game, but you’ll be trading out your characters often enough where it shouldn’t become a nuisance.  The environmental effects in the game are polished.  When you go to the island of Genosha you’ll be squaring off against vile insects that make a disgusting crunch and splatter sound when you pummel them.  Similarly, robot sentries make a whooshing sound as they fly by.  They also make a metallic echo and a satisfying metal scrape as you bash them into scrap.  When you combine powers with another member of your team and pull off a combination, you’ll get a disembodied voice that booms “Combo!” in an over the top cheesy manner.  It’s all in good fun.

X-Men Legends II features a combination system that is more deep than it appears on the surface.  For instance, you can pop up an enemy by hitting A A B in succession.  You can stun with B A B B.  You can even trip your enemies with A B A.   Pulling off special moves is about as simple – just pull the right trigger and hold it, then press X to boost, press A or B to use a superpower, or press Y to launch into your Xtreme power.  Each character’s power is vastly different than the next, so knowing which power to use and when will add a bit of depth and strategy to the title.


The D-Pad allows you to select which character you are going to use.  On-screen you’ll have your currently selected characters, and hitting the D-pad in the direction of the hero on-screen will immediately switch control to that character. You can play the game with as many characters as you desire from 1 to 4.  You can also make this selection for multiplayer.  This would, of course, have an effect on your character selection as you’ll have less people to choose from.


Navigation through the menu system is very simple.  This is a good thing as the system underneath those menus is very complex.  Each character has body, focus, strike, and speed.  These affect the character’s ability to take damage, dish it out, use their powers, or attack and dodge rapidly.  When you level up, you are given a number of points to allocate to your character’s abilities.  You also get a point to allocate to the powers menu, giving your character new latent or active abilities. 


X-Men Legends II features almost double the number of active and latent powers giving you an incredible array of options in which to customize your mutant team.  Want to make Wolverine have more advanced claw strikes but no regeneration?  Easily done.  Want to make Magneto able to fly almost indefinitely?  Just allocate the points accordingly.  This level of customization and 16 characters to select from,  you could have a different team every time you play.


One issue with the controls is one that rears it’s ugly head in almost any 3D title – the camera.  While the camera can be controlled with the thumbstick, it never feels quite close enough to the action or quite far away enough.  When you are trying to manage four players, it can’t be far enough out so you can keep an eye on your team.  When you are playing single player, the camera just won’t get close enough in an isometric view to really enjoy the details.  That said, this camera is far better than many other 3D titles, I just wish I had a little more control over it.


Everyone who has read my previous reviews knows I’m not a fan of the Cube controller.  On this particular title it isn’t as uncomfortable to use, so I’ll leave it alone. 

Tinkering with the X-Men license is delicate work.  The first title did well but only let you play one side of the story.  With X-Men Legends II, you get to play both sides, and it is more fun than you might have imagined to play as the bad guys.  As you move through the twisting and turning storyline, you’ll encounter more than 100 varieties of enemies.  In a Diablo 2-type fashion, enemies can have random mutant powers and are often lead by bosses with unique powers.  They may be immune to cold or extra armored or a wide variety of other augmentations.  It breaks up the monotony of just smashing the same enemies over and over as some of them are very tough.


As tough as the randomly generated enemies are, they don’t hold a candle to The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse.  Apocalypse’s henchmen are often what I’d call ‘puzzle-battles’ where you have to use your environment to defeat them.  This can mean using an enemy’s own explosives against them, breaking a particular shield item in the area or – for the simple ones – just getting into melee range and bashing them into oblivion.   You’ll face long-standing enemies, friends that have turned to the other side, and some classic enemies from comics long past.  Even my favorite enemy, Archangel, makes an appearance. 


The game features more interactivity with the levels and more action than the previous game.  Once you pass certain points in the game you can select from a wide variety of missions, 70 in all, that allow you to further the story and build up your mutant teams.  As you go through missions you can find hidden items such as comic books and CDs for the Danger Room, just as in the previous game.  These unlock training missions for your characters, as well as pictures from original comic issues. 


The heart and soul of X-Men Legends II is the cooperative multiplayer game.  The single player game feels like a button-masher as you try to mind the health, power levels, powers, and location of four characters.  Put plainly, this is a party game. Since the Gamecube has no online capabilities to speak of, you are limited to local 4-player co-op.  This removes one of the primary upgrades with this title and that will impact your platform decision.  If you always have 3 other people ready to play X-Men with you, you are golden.  If you are like the rest of us and mostly have to hook up with friends online, you’ll immediately see the limitation. 


The downside of the local-only co-op player in the original title was the constant pausing to level up your character.  This has been fixed for the sequel as your characters have an AI system to allocate health potions, energy potions, skills and skill points, and equipment.  This allows players who like their RPGs lite to set their AI to manage the bulk of the items and stat management without their intervention.  If you are a hardcore micromanager you can individually level your characters, set your stats, and load up your equipment as you see fit. 


The equipment issue has been fixed on this title as well.  In a more Diablo-like fashion, you can get normal equipment, rare gear, and unique gear.  The unique gear can grant a specific character incredible power and it adds the ‘collectable’ element to the game.  Given the amount of gear that drops, you won’t be fighting over the gear in multiplayer – there is plenty to go around.  The non-normal gear that drops is often obviously aimed at a specific character.  For instance, Bracers of the Seasons enhances Storm’s powers nicely. 


Overall, the gameplay of X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse is suited to high-speed run and gun action.  It is a great deal of fun if you can find a friend to play with. Since you can’t go online and find people to play with, online co-op isn’t an option.  Your mileage may vary.

There is a ton of collectable gear in this game.  You can select from 16 players and customize their powers and stats any way you’d like.  Don’t like Wolverine?  Don’t use him!  This is your game to play any way you’d like.  There are four difficulty levels to select in the game, the final one being locked until you finish the game once.


Playing the game single player shaves a bit off the overall fun level.  Playing it multiplayer, even with just one more player, makes this game incredibly fun.  With the mission system allowing you 70 missions to play this could be your ‘weekend game’ until the release of the 360! 


One issue with the replay of the game – the game is very linear once you get into the missions.  Sometimes you are simply searching for a part, a player, an enemy, or the next exit, and you won’t be able to move on until you find it.  This will make the second run through slightly less exciting and somewhat predictable.  It’s a small thing, but worth mentioning.


The major issue with the value of this title is the lack of online capabilities.  While this is no fault of Raven or Activision, it does hurt the overall ‘push’ to pick this title up.  If you are a Cube-only gamer, the game is still a lot of fun.  If you have an Xbox, the rest of us will be playing on Live.

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