Super hero games have a particularly bad reputation among most gamers. For every rare decent licensed game there are always a slew along the lines of the abysmal Aquaman. Now that I’ve succeeded in sending shivers down your spine, I am pleased to announce that X-Men Legends most definitely does not suck.
Traditionally Action RPGs have been fantasy based. Champions of Norrath, and the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance series are both good examples of how a simple concept can be devastatingly fun. Basically you just run around an kill things to level up so you can kill bigger and better things. Now hack and slash gamers have a new toy in the form of a comic book inspired action RPG that combines simple game play, beautiful graphics, and a fun extra multiplayer mode.
There is a storyline in X-men Legends, a darn good one that takes enough liberties with the comic storyline to fit the game without changing so much that fan boys will revolt. You follow one of the New Mutants, Magma, as she narrowly avoids being captured by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and eventually comes to see the wisdom of joining the X-men. It’s a solid coming of age tale rife with flashbacks and little character details that completely captured the spirit of the X-men comics. It’s got angst. It’s got witty comebacks. It’s even got my favorite character (Gambit), so all is right with the world.
And, in a refreshing change of pace, the game play of X-men Legends rises to meet the storyline. Combat is quick, fun, and not too complicated with the button mashing. The majority of the play uses only two buttons to string together chains of melee attacks, although projectiles and mutant powers can be thrown in for variety.
You have a variety of characters to choose from in most missions, and normally have a team of four X-men at your disposal at any given time. You only control one at once and the AI does a fairly decent job of supporting you with your team, although sometimes your sidekicks don’t heal nearly often enough. For added fun, you can plug in additional controllers and let friends help you in the missions. The only downside to letting friends play is that they will have to wait from time to time when you are only allowed one X-man for plot purposes.
Well, the action side of the RPG is fun and fast paced, but I did find the RPG side of the equation a little lacking in X-Men Legends. While you can improve stats and mutant powers in each X-man as you gain experience, there wasn’t a vast array or equipment and items to round out the experience. Furthermore, many of the characters were interchangeable at high levels, making your choice in battle far more preference rather than situation dictated. One nice aspect of the RPG elements, however, was that all X-men collect experience in each battle; so you no longer have to suffer through leveling up forgotten weak characters when they are suddenly needed for the plot.
I was impressed with the striking dual nature of the graphics in X-men Legends/ While the characters are cell shaded and quite lovely, the backgrounds are rendered polygons. The difference in the two styles makes the characters pop off their background and further enhances the comic book sensibility established in this game. My only real complaint is the size of the characters on screen. I wish they could have been slightly larger, just so I could see the details of Gambit – err all of the character’s details.
As far as sound quality goes, X-men Legends falls into the upper range of average. The music is bland and tends to cycle annoyingly into battle music every few seconds. I would have almost preferred one long battle track playing through some of the levels rather then the distracting fade out. On the other hand, the sound effects are lovely. Things crunch, crackle, and explode with an over the top flourish. I sometimes would just randomly hit things to see what sounds they make.
Furthermore, the voice acting in X-Men Legends is lovely. I just wish there was more of it. Patrick Stewart even voices Professor X (Man, he’s been busy in the video game worlds recently – first Demon Stone now this!). Of course, one of the problems with having such a variety of character choices throughout the game is that it would have been prohibitive to record each character reading all of the incidental dialogue. Alas, you are forced to read quite a bit of text from time to time.
We have a game with a good story, eye catching graphics, and decent sound. What is left to judge? Well, one classic fault of Action RPGs is their length. With rare exceptions most can be finished on one or two days of solid play. X-men Legends stretches this total slightly with over 20 hours of storyline that can be clipped or padded depending on how many of the side missions you do or how long you stay leveling up in the Danger Room. The game itself isn’t difficult at all, and you’ll rarely find yourself dying and reloading due to the inordinate amount of health lying around. Of course if you play predominantly as Wolverine the game becomes even easier to beat. After all, he does regenerate.
While there isn’t much point to replaying the entire game once finished, the game does have a free battle system where you can pit your X-men versus the computer or versus your friends. It’s not as involved as some multiplayer modes or as fun as the in game co-op, but it is a nice touch.
So if you’re looking for a fun romp through the Marvel Universe, filled with action and PG-13 mayhem, you could do far, far worse than X-men Legends. Each version of the game; whether it be PS2, X-box, or Gamecube, shares the same fun game play and features, so go ahead and enjoy this diverting little title on the PS2. I’m pretty sure it won’t take Wolverine to convince you.