X-Men Legends is the new X-Men licensed game to come out on home consoles. For the most part the games that have come out on consoles have been good to downright crappy. The true gems to this point was the X-Men Arcade Game from Konami and the X-Men that showed up in the Marvel vs. Capcom series of games.
This time around Raven Software has come up with a 4-player Action/RPG hybrid game with a deep storyline behind it. This game uses the same sort of perspective as the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance series of games and has the same sort of gameplay, but it sets itself apart from those games in many ways.
The graphics of X-Men Legends are pretty good, although they could probably be a whole lot better. For those that have knowledge of the X-Men comic books, this games character style comes from the Ultimate X-Men line, a re-imagining of the X-Men from their humble beginnings. On the flip side the story is very much steeped in the “regular universe” X-Men, so it is a bit hard for anyone with comic book knowledge to understand the splitting of concepts. For those that know nothing about the comic books, you won’t care about it one bit.
The characters are animated and drawn in cel shading technology. Most of the time the game looks really good, but when you get close-up shots of the characters you start to see the heavy black outline around each character that separates them from the nicely done environments/levels. Luckily things don’t get close-up very often, so the game runs smoothly without you seeing the noticeable black outline. The animations for characters here are quite good and the enemies have some pretty cool animations, especially those with massive mutant powers.
The levels are well done as well. The X-Men travel all over as they go through the storyline, so each level is set in different climates and situations. The only problem with the graphics is that there can be a bit of slowdown here and there, but the funny thing is it doesn’t seem to be tied to anything massive that is happening on the screen, it just happens.
The other small problem is the camera. I’m not a big fan of the overhead viewpoint, although I understand the two pronged reason why the choice was made: so you could see all the characters easily and so you wouldn’t notice the cel shading as much as you might if the action was closer. The camera can work against you sometimes, but camera control is a problem in almost all games in existence, so it is easy to overlook it here.
The sound and music are exceptional in this game. The music changes as you go through each level and I find the score to be rather well done for a game that moves so fast and furiously.
The sound has both its ups and downs. Where it excels is during the action. Many things can be picked up on levels and thrown and each item has its own sound. For the most part the voiceovers are well done. It is amazing that they got Patrick Stewart to do Xavier’s voice and many of the other voice actors do a good job, like Wolverines and Magnetos. Then there are the horrible ones out there like Cyclops and Mystique who sound like they are just “going through the motions” with their lines.
Control is relatively easy in this game and it is well laid out in the instruction manual. X is your regular strike, Triangle is for jump, Square is for actions and Circle is a special hit. The shoulder buttons allow you to regenerate health and energy if you are low on either and also allow you to use your mutant powers via the R2 button.
The place where control could have been better implemented is when doing the level ups of characters. When you want to level up a character you have to hit select and it takes you to your team. You then choose who gets a power-up and go from there. The problem is that this game is so hectic that hitting the Select button takes you totally out of the game as you level up your characters in the team. It would have been cool to have a more seamless level up option, especially with the extra loading times that come along with the Playstation 2 version of this game.
The gameplay in this game is very good and it becomes even more fun when you are able to have 3 friends join you in your crusade. There are problems with this game though, but I will get to those later.
This game is very steeped in the “regular universe” X-Men books. Raven and Activision were smart enough to bring former writers of the X-books in to pen the story for this game. It is obvious that there are pieces of story from different times in the X-Universe and it is all well put together.
The foundation of this game is team action. At the beginning of a mission you are allowed to pick 4 X-Men to take on the mission. In some missions you will find that it is better to have one X-Man over another in certain situations. Luckily if there is a blue X around you can save your game and switch your team should you get stuck. Basically you need at least one melee character (like Wolverine or later Colossus), one or two long-range characters (like Cyclops, Iceman, Jean Grey, Storm, etc.) and one or two “power” characters (like Rogue) that can do both the close-up and long range battles. Generally you will want to control the melee character because that is the one that does the down and dirty stuff and usually has the most frontal assault power on your team. Early on you have basically Wolverine to fill that role, but later on you will pick up some characters that can replace Wolverine if you so choose. The beauty of this game is that if you have any friends they can just plug a controller in and join you at any time as you are playing. This leaves the possibility of people coming and going and makes this game a pretty good idea for a party game.
Using your character’s mutant powers is tied to the R2 button. From there you are given a 4-point choice via the face buttons of the mutant power you want to use. When your character reaches level 15 (and the beauty is all characters get experience whether they are in the party or not) they are given a special mutant power that is a lot stronger than their usual one. Cyclops for instance is given a wide optic beam instead of his laser-like thin beam. You are also able to do many special moves with two characters. If anyone is a strong character they can pick up Wolverine and throw him toward an opponent for extra damage for instance.
That is basically how you play through this 20+ hour game. However there are still problems in this game. The first one is that it is way too easy for you to have a character just fall right off into a death trap/hole. When that happens they are gone until you can reach a blue X in order to resurrect them (for a price) or add another member to your current team. This also ties into another major problem, the friendly AI isn’t very smart.
You can choose their AI tendencies from the character menu, but for the most part they just do things on their own. In many cases the ranged characters will just sit back and use their powers while your melee character takes major damage trying to lay waste to the front line of enemies. This of course is where Wolverine comes in handy because he has the passive ability to heal and given enough of a break he can heal himself back up to 100% power. The friendly AI is also very picky about when they use the health potions that are littered all over the place. They might die before they use it even if you set the AI tendency to use it if there are over 2 potions available. Until you get a mutant that has healing powers you really have to rely on the potions, so you have to keep a tab on your other characters and their health/energy and switch to them via the d-pad if necessary.
Outside of those things the only other thing I can criticize is the loading time on the Playstation 2 version. I don’t have another version available, but the loading times are long here. It even loads the character screen when you hit select to power-up, which totally disconnects you from what you were doing in the game. If the loading times were a bit tighter I think this game would go a lot more smoothly.
Overall this is a fun game and I was only able to play it with one other person, but I have heard there are inherent problems with 4-players on the screen at once in regards to geography, but that happens a lot in a game like this (Final Fantasy Chronicles is a good example as well). The only minus is that this is not playable over Playstation 2 Online or Xbox Live.
As said in the gameplay section, this game will keep you occupied for a good 20+ hours of time. You will be both excited by this game and probably frustrated by your friendly AI as you go through the game. If you’re into X-Men at all I think you owe it to yourself to at least rent this game and see if you like it. The bosses can often be hard, but each one does have a weakness that can be exploited if you have the right character.
The other beautiful part of this game is that you pick up extras as you are going through the game. You pick up comic books, art books, Danger Room discs, etc. With the last one you can go into the Danger Room and run a simulation of the situation contained on the disc with the character it is for. Also while you are going through the game you unlock other characters to add to your team.