There was once a time when I lived and breathed X-Men; by far it was my favorite comic book title growing up, and I have read the various books off and on for almost twenty-five years. You might say that I am intimately familiar with the material, so naturally I was jazzed to finally play the latest attempt to bring the fan-favorite property to a game console: X-Men: Legends. Years of mediocre games had left a bad taste in my mouth over the years, but this one looked like it actually respected the rich history of Marvel’s Merry Mutants. Set as an action RPG, complete with co-op mode for up to four players, and a storyline that promised to be right out of the books, this was a game I could not miss.
Cel-shaded graphics were a good choice for this title given the source material. Sometimes the characters in the foreground blend in too much with the environment and things get a bit muddied up, but otherwise the graphics are very well executed. I think, perhaps, that the decision to use the dark tones of the ‘Ultimate’ versions of the costumes may have contributed to this, as the brightly colored ‘classic’ costumes really pop in the flashback Danger Room sequences.
Character designs and animations are pleasantly accurate to the large roster of X-men available to you, and I recognized several action poses from the comics. The mutant power effects are visually stunning but the environments can get somewhat repetitive at times.Voiceover is generally pretty good; most of the characterizations are right on the money (Patrick Stewart as Xavier is a welcome surprise) with only a few characters receiving inappropriate casting (Mystique in particular comes off very meh). Music has a suitably heroic and epic flavor to it that nicely complements the superhero genre. Sound effects are top notch and the ‘snikts’ and ‘bamfs’ are nicely done. This was one of my bigger frustrations with the game. Single button controls are for the most part satisfactory, but the multi-button combinations are rather awkward. Using a character’s mutant abilities requires you to hold down the ‘R’ shoulder button while selecting a power from a four button axis, usually ending up in a muddled button mash. ‘Restore health’ is acceptable mapped to the ‘Z’ button, but restoring your mutant energy (which is required by your arsenal of mutant powers) uses ‘Z’ and ‘X’ in tandem, resulting in many unwanted health restores due to missing or not completely pressing the ‘X’ button. As you can guess, this can get really irritating if you are trying to juggle health and power meters for four characters in the heat of battle. It would also be nice not to have to jump through two menu screens and a loading screen just to configure your roster of characters.
The story in X-Men: Legends uses the tried and true ‘young mutant gets rescued and joins X-Men’ storyline, this time with Magma (from the classic New Mutants comic) in the role that Kitty Pryde and Rogue had in the comics and movie respectively. This works great to progress the story and introduce the rich history of the source material. There is a nice melding of the various versions of the X-Men (The ‘mainstream’ books, the ‘Ultimate’ series, and the movies) with plenty of direct references to each that a fanboy like myself can appreciate (two words: Fastball Special! The flashback Danger Room sequences are a blast and it was extremely satisfying to see a few of my favorite scenes leap off the page.
It has been said at length by other reviewers that Legends has a great four player co-op mode, and I absolutely LOVE the fact that additional players can hop in and out at any time, but I found the multiplayer experience to work best with just two players. All of my attempts at four player resulted in chaos and confusion. There is just too much going on at once, and the foreground/ background issues I discussed earlier contribute greatly to the confusion. This clutteredness, combined with the fast pace of the battles, found us actually losing track of our characters as we played (one time, I didn’t even realize that my character was dead. There I was, mashing away for no reason….). The reason why two players worked so well is because we set the AI to defensive or non-aggressive modes putting our controlled characters a bit ahead of the others. Add in the fact that enemies are actually harder as you add more players, and the fully manned co-op mode just becomes tedious and not so much fun. The AI, while not spectacular by any means, actually provided a more enjoyable experience allowing me to more successfully pull off combos and teamwork oriented play.Legends has about 20+ hours of gameplay to it. There are numerous side ‘quests’ (Danger Room trainings and flashbacks) and various items such as comic book covers, concept art and alternate uniforms that you can collect along the way. X-Men aficionados will enjoy this game as it stays close to the essence of the franchise. It might prove too tedious to go through a second time, however.