Wolverine is the most celebrated character in comic history, recently named #1 in Wizard Magazine’s Top 200 characters of all time. Accolades aplenty have been heaped upon the anti-hero since his first appearance in 1974. The character is older than I am in real life, but there hasn’t been a movie to celebrate the unique character in all of that time – until now. By the time you read this, X-Men Origins: Wolverine will be in theaters, and we have a game to match. Before you groan and roll your eyes at yet another movie tie-in, let me first tell you that this one is different. X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t start out with that name – Raven Software began development long before the movie was in production. This means that this game isn’t so much of a movie tie-in, as much as a game that happens to star Wolverine, and happens to be released at the same time as the movie. Normally there is a disadvantage in reviewing games like X-Men Origins: Wolverine early in that I can’t review the movie content prior to playing the game. However, in this particular case, my wife was able to attend the premier of the movie by the same name prior to seeing the bulk of the game. The movie will stand on it’s own two feet (and quite well by Laura’s account), but the game doesn’t quite follow the movie as tightly as other titles such as Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk. That isn’t to say that the movie and the game are unrelated, just that the game isn’t simply a cookie-cutter outline of the movie.
X-Men: Wolverine starts off with an impromptu skydiving session in to the jungles of Africa. The movie reaches back to Logan’s childhood, but this title begins by showing the interaction between Logan, his brother Victor, Col. Stryker, and several other surprise members of a strike team working on location in the jungle country. The game unfolds with flashforwards as we learn about Logan after his adamantium infusion, as well as a very specific mission in Africa that caused Logan to turn away from his Victor to become Wolverine. What could cause Logan to abandon his life to seek out an experimental infusion as well as a complete loss of memory? What could be so horrible as to make him turn away from humanity to become a beast. Raven wants you to step into some of the most famous comic book shoes of all time, and I’m happy to report that it is a real treat to do so.
X-Men: Wolverine is one of many games coming to shelves this year that utilize the flexibility of the Unreal 3 Engine. The folks at Raven weren’t content to use the stock engine though, adding some incredible shader technology, larger environments, environmental effects, as well as a destruction system applied in a very unique way. You see, since Wolverine can take incredible amounts of damage with almost no penalty (The Hulk ripped him in half at one point in the comics!), the damage system really is best applied to Wolverine himself. To that end, Logan has a damage model that can range from ‘I got a little blood on my shirt’ to ‘Oh my God! My ribs are sticking out! You can see daylight through my guts!’ and everywhere in between. The game features three separate damage models, one for skeleton, one for muscle, and another for skin and clothes, so a great deal of graphical work went into his appearance. Wolverine isn’t the only guy to get the royal treatment though – Liev Schriver and will.i.am lent their likeness to the game via motion capture. It makes for a very authentic experience. Finding action figures in the game unlock classic comic costumes, but we’ll get back to that later.
There are also some great engine effects that are new for Wolverine – during several points in the game Wolverine finds himself walking on a precarious perch, triggering some vertigo-inducing camera distancing work. Similarly, there are some great motion blur moments when leaping to and from moving vehicles at high speed. The artists on Wolverine also took a trip out to the movie set to make sure that they also brought the various locales from the movie to life. Wolverine’s Feral Sense system allows him to ‘see’ scents, which gives a bit of a washed out view allowing him to track enemies, as well as hidden paths, collectables, and destructible items. It’s a nifty effect that allows us to use Wolverine’s sense of smell in a gameplay-impacting fashion.
Given Activision’s track record, I’d have to imagine that Blur did the CGI work for the game, and it is awesome. Most of the game uses the in-game engine to tell the story, but occasionally we are treated to some great graphic work. It isn’t all sunshine and roses in the land of Wolverine though – occasionally there is some graphical tearing or odd pop-in to mar the graphical presentation. Also, when the action gets particularly heavy (smoke seems to trigger it most of the time) there are framerate issues. Most of the time it isn’t severe, but it is certainly more than noticeable.
There is an easy way to score well in the sound areas – simply get the voice actors from the movie. As I mentioned before, Raven got Hugh Jackman, Liev Schriver, and will.i.am to lend their likeness, as well as their voices to the game. The other supporting actors and actresses do a decent job of handling their lines. While some are cheesy, it is a game based on a comic book – it’s somewhat expected.
One thing that is unfortunately expected is something that comes with using the real actors – repeating voices. Wolverine repeats his catchphrase “I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do isn’t very nice” quite frequently, as well as all of the other little jabs, grunts, and yells as he cuts down his prey. These will also occasionally overlap with each other, which brings me to my next point. My only other complaint with this game and so many others is that there are no subtitles. While you can independently control the music, effects, and voices, there is no subtitle option. For those of us with hearing problems, it’s a must – I wish all developers would realize this and implement it across the board.
Have you played a third-person action title recently? Then there is a good chance you’ll be able to pick up Wolverine and play it without looking at the controls at all. In the beginning of the game, Wolverine has only a few powers, but as the game progresses you’ll unlock more. The left thumbstick controls movement, and the right thumbstick controls the camera to a degree (We’ll get back to that in a minute). The face buttons issue your various attacks, but it is the bumpers that add the modifiers. For instance, holding the right bumper and then tapping the left bumper will lock onto a distant enemy and then allow you to lunge on top of them, cutting them to ribbons. Similarly, holding right trigger and then pressing Y makes Wolverine do a “Drill Claw” move. You can unleash his trademark rage by holding the right trigger and then B. Even as your repetoir of moves expands, the controls remain easy to use and very accessible. Replaying the game means keeping your skills, so it’s fun to unleash the overpowered skills on the early underpowered enemy soldiers.
You can unleash Wolverine’s Feral Senses by hitting up on the D-Pad, but after a short while it’ll revert back to your normal vision. Since there is no meter for this particular skill, you can simply toggle it back on if you aren’t done using it. I found it quite useful throughout the game for finding the appropriate path or hidden objects.
If there is one thing that constantly plagues us as gamers since the dawn of 3D engines, it has been the camera. X-Men Origins: Wolverine does a decent job of putting the camera where it needs to be, but there are certainly moments where you’ll be tugging the right thumbstick like mad to try to refocus it. For instance, when you are fighting some of the larger foes in the game you’ll find that the camera wants to keep the camera locked on them. There are some collectables and good hiding spots to regenerate, but it’s hard to see where you are going to get to them if the camera just can’t be bothered to do as you ask. As I said, most of the time it works just fine, but expect some minor annoyances there.
If you think back to 2006 you’ll recall X-Men: The Official Game. The graphics were decent, and it used many of the actors from the movies, but the gameplay was lacking in many ways. Switching developers from Z-Axis to Raven has clearly made a difference as this title does a far better job with our be-clawed anti-hero. Our recent preview of the game compared X-Men Origins: Wolverine to Sony’s God of War series. While I can’t quite agree with that statement, I can say that it does match the intensity. Wolverine follows the same sort of system that was in X-Men: The Official Game, with players allowed to spend skill points, equip Mutagens, and otherwise unlock enhancements and skills based on their combat prowess, but it is just better implemented here. As Wolverine pulverizes his enemies he gains experience that can be used to increase his health, increase his maximum rage meter, upgrade his attacks, reduce the cool-down timer on his regeneration factor, and much more. Additionally, fighting the same types of enemies over and over eventually yields greater damage on them. Put simply: By killing machete-wielding humans, you get better at killing machete-weilding humans.
As Wolverine grows stronger you’ll unlock new attacks utilizing points gained from leveling up. These are all accessible in the Fight Moves section, giving you a bit of info on the attack, as well as the button combination necessary to unleash it. As you kill enemies, you’ll also gain Rage from them. Much like the aforementioned God of War, these red orbs will flow towards our anti-hero, allowing him to perform spinning slash moves that rival that of Kratos and his blades. If this sounds like a slam, it is quite the opposite – God of War was one of the best games I’ve ever played, and Wolverine does a great job of playing the role of a distant cousin.
The game utilizes a checkpoint system, periodically (and frequently) saving as you progress through mission or pick up collectables. As I mentioned earlier, the storyline unfold in seamless flashbacks and flashforwards through Wolverine’s history, including his time working with his brother in the jungles of Africa, an assault on a weapon area (you’ll face a very BIG boss here), as well as his transformation in the Weapon X facility. There is very little loading if you install the game to the hard drive, keeping the action moving forward.
Many of the missions culminate with boss battles, but there are also frequent miniboss battles as well. There are some rock monsters and W.E.N.D.I.G.O. prototypes (they are essentially the same thing – you’ll defeat them the same way) that you’ll face quite a bit in this game. Unfortunately they offer very resistance, but they take forever to kill. More stall tactic than threat, you’ll even face four of these guys at the same time – they still weren’t threatening.
Wolverine does have some new tricks to offer. While jumping from vehicle to vehicle may not be new, jumping to the front of a helicopter cockpit and ripping it apart, or fighting from the perspective of an enemy sniper scope is certainly something new. Raven brings the character to life far more than simply copying the movie by the same name – Wolverine is the best X-Men title to date, setting a new bar for hero games.
The problem with most videogames is that they are just too short. X-Men Origins: Wolverine took me a little over a dozen hours to complete, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it – quality over quantity. X-Men Origins: Wolverine features the usual collectables (dog tags and action figures in this case), but this time they have the added bonus of giving you extra experience or unlocking classic costumes. Finding all of the action figures unlocks new challenges that can be accessed from the main menu. While this is all well and good, I have to admit that I enjoyed finding all of the included Easter Eggs in the game. One level had “Surprise!” on the walls and a quick puzzle manipulation revealed a hidden birthday cake not unlike that of Portal. Another area revealed a dead soldier with an exclamation point over his head and what looks like Frostmourne, the Sword of Arthas from World of Warcraft. I’m eager to explore the rest of the game to see what else there is to find…