From the back of the box: “Magneto has unleashed his most diabolical plan ever. Now, as Earth falls under a shroud of darkness, X-Men Legends puts the fate of the world in your hands. Combine and customize teams of mutants through an epic series of battles to save mankind.”
Even though Magneto doesn’t appear and start causing havoc until partway into the story, this does describe the plot of this game. While most beam-em-ups don’t need a plot, this one has one that’s worthy of following.
Is the rest of the game good though? You’re about to find out.
The graphics are a mixed bag in X-Men Legends, thankfully concentrating more on the good than the bad. For starters, the CGI scenes that dot most level beginnings are highly detailed and well done. While most of them are nothing more than a quick pan and zoom of the level you’re entering, others are fancy battle scenes, filled with excitement and destruction.
The level backdrops received the same attention to detail. Detailed textures cover the floor and walls, and there’s plenty of objects with the same quality look strewn throughout the levels. In addition, most of these objects can be broken/tossed/blown up, sending debris exploding everywhere. I have to admit, there’s something fun just running through the levels, trashing the place, thanks to the level of detail.
Unfortunately, when you look closer at the characters that populate the levels themselves, the quality quickly goes downhill. The characters do not hold up under close inspection, as they are covered with low quality textures on a low polygon count figure. So low count that their mouths don’t even move during the many meetings that the X-Men have before their missions.
In addition, if you look hard enough, you realize that the animations are very limited in their quantity. For the X-Men, there seem to be three sets of poses – men, women, and Wolverine. Between those poses, you’ll find plenty of duplicates animations and stances. For the many evils you combat, you’ll find the same limitations, but the game doesn’t have you watch your enemies like you do your own characters.
The X-Men come from a varied cultural background, so obviously you can’t just use the same voice actor for each person. Unfortunately, thanks to not only the movies, but the cartoon shows, most people have a set ‘voice’ they have in their head for what the X-Men all sound like.
This game attempts to duplicate that, but fails in as many places as it succeeds.
For starters, the characters with a heavy accent of some sort (Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Gambit) sound pretty good. Then again, Wolverine isn’t all that difficult to emulate. Professor X is played by none other than Patrick Stewart himself (the same person as the X-Men movies), and his voice carries the game very far.
On the flip side, some of the other characters sound just wrong. Cyclops comes off as some kind of nerd. Storm just sounds wrong in my mind, like the actor is trying too hard. Jubilee and Iceman sound like they’re 35, instead of the 20ish or younger they’re supposed to be last time I checked.
Thankfully, short of the mission briefings and the confirmation ‘noises’ your team makes, they tend to be a pretty quiet bunch. Other than the occasional line they spout off when they kill somebody and their yells for assistance, they’ll keep their mouths shut.
On the music front though, well, let’s just say that there isn’t any music short of cinema scenes. You’ll hear the ‘dramatic’ music rise and fall as you go into and out of battle, but it tends to last for mere seconds before going back into near silence. Beyond that, you’ll hear nothing but background noise and the light mumble of something you might call music.
One final note – the cinema scenes are horribly silent as far as the speech of the voice actors go. The music and sound effects are the perfect loudness, but the voices are very quiet to the point of not being able to hear what they’re actually saying without turning on the option to display what they’re saying.
Utilizing both analog sticks to control both movement and camera controls, X-Men Legends is simple to control. A is best described as your weak punch, B your strong punch, X picks up items and people and throws them, while Y jumps. Black and White use a Health or Energy Pack respectively, while L calls your allies over for an assist. Finally, holding down R changes the four main buttons into your mutant powers, as well as attempts to lock-on to your nearest target.
I say attempt as the lock-on feature doesn’t work all that well. While it will lock-on to the nearest target, it’ll lock onto anything that can be destroyed or interacted with. This includes trash cans, tables, and anything that isn’t actively trying to kill you. This is truly only an issue with your ranged teammates (which odds are you won’t be manually controlling), so it doesn’t come up too often.
One last note – the controls can’t be remapped, but they work so well that there’s no reason to change things around.
In a nutshell, what is X-Men Legends you ask? If you’ve played Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance or Champions of Norrath on the PS2 or Xbox, just imagine the same game except with the X-Men cast and crew and with a current-day background. But what if you haven’t played either of the aforementioned titles? That’s what the rest of this section is for.
X-Men Legends is a 3rd person action-adventure beat-em-up, sprinkled with a bit of RPG elements on top. In short, you wander around these large levels, killing anything in your path with your team of four, and occasionally powering up your characters as you gain levels of experience.
It’s unfortunately marred with a few issues though.
First off, the positives. X-Men Legends drops you right into the middle of the action the instant you start off the game. You begin play with Wolverine, a claw-wielding regenerative superhero with bones of adamantium. Not only is he ‘the best at what he does’, but he’s also the most balanced X-Man you’ll get a chance to play as.
In short, odds are you’ll be playing as Wolverine most of the game.
Now, to keep this game from becoming Wolverine Legends, you’ll run across your first teammate (of many) very quickly. From that point on, you’ll be able to freely switch from teammate to teammate, using their powers and skills to your advantage as you beat the living daylights out of your opponents.
You’ll also quickly learn about Combo Moves. In short, two X-Men will combine their powers (announced by a very jarring COMBO! each and every time you do it) to do additional damage to their enemy. For example, Cyclops’ Optic Beam and Wolverine’s Brutal Slash will combo into Optic Claw. While the name of the move and what powers you’ll use to do it differ depending on the X-Men available, one thing won’t change – the drastic increase in damage you’ll do to your opponent.
In addition, you’ll also gain more experience if you kill somebody with a combo move. The amount of bonus experience will increase if you have either (or both) of the team leaders (Cyclops or Storm) in your party. Because bonus experience translates into more levels, and thus a more powerful team, you’ll be doing combos as much as possible.
So, what do you do with all this experience? When you gain enough experience to gain a level, you’ll get one stat point to put into a primary stat of your choosing: Strike, Agility, Body, and Focus. Strike allows you to deal more damage, Agility makes you resist damage, Body allows you to take more damage before ‘death’, and Focus gives you more Energy, which powers all of your special attacks.
You’ll also gain the occasional stat point (set by the designers as to when), and this point will be automatically assigned. This allows you to develop your characters as you wish, as these extra points help balance out your character if you choose not to yourself.
When you gain a level, you’ll also gain a point to put into your mutant skills. Depending on the character, you’ll have a gambit of long range or melee skills (some have both) and a couple of general skills that boost your traits in general. For example: Wolverine can learn Brutal Slash (single target slash that does more damage the more levels you have in it), Claw Flurry (weaker multi-attack slash), Feral Rage (boosts attack speed and stats for a limited time), Healing Factor (allows him to regenerate lost health), Sharpness (native boost to all melee skills), and Toughness (boosts maximum health), among others.
As you only get one point per level, odds are you won’t be able to choose every power on the list by the time you finish the game. Therefore, you’ll be concentrating on a few powers per character, making them the best that they can be. Is there a right or wrong way to develop your superhero? Not at all. Some ways are obviously better than others, but you can’t ‘gimp’ yourself if you tried.
As there are a total of 15 X-Men to play as in this game, odds are you’ll be concentrating upon a core team of people you know as well. However, since you need the rest of the X-Men occasionally to use their powers to affect the environment, the game doesn’t punish you for not using everybody. In short, the teammates you aren’t using will gain about 80% of the normal experience that everybody else is, keeping them within a level or two of the rest of the team.
In a game that always has 3 teammates with you, your team’s AI is important to making it look like you’re part of the team. Unfortunately, your AI has issues just getting from place to place, much less fighting as a team.
Not only do they get hung up on the most basic of obstacles (say, if you jump over a railing to a floor below), but unless you force them to attack with a special move with the L button, you’ll find them sometimes just standing in place getting beat on by their opponents. The fact that they can’t even counterattack if they’re being hammered on is embarrassing to say the least, and destroys any illusion you might have of the game.
The enemy AI on the other hand, knows how to fight. They’ll dodge your ranged attacks, get out of the way of your melee strikes, shoot from behind cover, and run for help if they’re overwhelmed. Why the developers couldn’t have given some of that AI to your teammates is beyond me.
All of the above is why I nicknamed this game Wolverine Legends as I played. He’s by far the best member of your team, as not only can he do a ton of damage in melee, but he’s capable of regenerating his own health once he’s out of combat for a few seconds. While he can’t lift cars or fly through the air, he can do enough damage to destroy the most hardened of objects or enemies in a matter of seconds.
Thankfully there’s one saving grace to this game – the multiplayer. At any time you have AI teammates around you, another player can pick up a controller and join in. When this happens, one’s enjoyment increases exponentially, as the game is a ton more fun. It also hides your teammate’s AI, as you’re too busy kicking ass onscreen.For your $50, you’ll get about 20-25 hours of gameplay, a story that keeps you moving forward, lots of pretty explosions, and a fun multiplayer game. If you wish, you can even start over and play through a second time with a different set of characters. Unfortunately, there are no additional difficulty levels or bonuses unlocked (short of some new costumes) by finishing the game, so odds are you won’t jump at playing through again.