American pop culture is a strange thing. Comic books are at the height of their popularity and comic book movies are being made as fast as the comic companies can sign over the rights. Also, the quality and creativity in comic books are arguably at their highest levels, with the majority of comic book story arcs nowadays rivaling the complexity of television series or even a novel. In fact, writers from other mediums of entertainment are even using the comic and graphic novel form to convey their stories. Naturally this comic craze has spilled over into the video game industry and one of the games leading the way is Activision's X-men Legends II. The Xbox and PS2 versions have gotten their fair share of praise, but now the PC version is in the spotlight: Can this gem shine even brighter?
Like any good action game XMLII starts off with an intro clip, with Magneto, Sabertooth, and Mystique beating the living crap out of unsuspecting guards in an underground base. These three members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are just getting warmed up when they run across X-men co-leaders Storm and Cyclops, who are accompanied by the ever berserk half-pint, Wolverine. What seems to surely become a superpower battle, with thousands of dollars in property damage, instead takes another turn, with the X-men and the Brotherhood teaming up. What could be a threat so powerful, that these sworn enemies must join forces? Ill give you a hint, it starts with "Apoca" and ends with "lypse ". In XMLII you square off with the first Homo Sapiens Superior, En Sabah Nur a.k.a. Apocalypse. A secret prophecy has fallen into Apocalypse's hands and the X-Men and Brotherhood unite to fight against him to defend the world that hates and fears them.
Gameplay style does not differ much from the original Legends, using the same interface as in the previous installment. Apparently the team decided ‘if it's not broke why fix it?' The keyboard and mouse interface lets you easily move between characters, but unfortunately that's the only thing it lets you do easily. To be blunt, the keyboard and mouse controls are going to take some getting used to. There was no simple key binding allowed in the options menu, although the game did allow you to bind a few attacks in your 4 quick attack slots. XML II has an unprecedented 16 playable characters and you can man up to 4 characters from either the X-Men or Brotherhood at a time. These characters come from all over the X-Men universe from Beast to the Juggernaut and over 160 different mutant powers between them. The PC version also offers two exclusive characters to play and additional ‘Danger Room' missions.
After the daunting task of mastering the controls, you will find that XMLII improves greatly on its prequel, sporting tightened Artificial Intelligence. The original X-Men Legends seemed to have a very bad problem with collision detection: if a NPC could not blow up, fly over, or run through an object, they would just stand there and not walk around it. Although this made sometimes for some very easy boss battles, it also made it more difficult for you to keep your team together. XMLII has greatly improved on some of the worst flaws in the original.
The big draw from XML II, especially on Xbox, has been the multiplayer co-op and the PC version takes a very familiar route with this aspect of the game. In a style that reminiscent of games like Diablo II, players can host or join online co-op games. Have you been playing online with 2 other guys for 3 hours and worried that you will lose your level 16 Nightcrawler? Don't worry because XMLII lets you save your online game like you can a single player game. And the best thing about the PC version is that online play is free, no monthly Xbox Live subscription to worry about. The only real drawback of PC online co-op is that few people play it. Every time you go online it's like rolling the dice to see if you are actually going to see another human being, but if you are lucky it will only take a few minutes to start playing with friends. Also real noteworthy aspects of gameplay are the subtle homages included for hardcore X-Men fans. For example when you form a team with Iceman, Cyclops, Beast, Angel, and Phoenix, you will hear the announcer yell "Old School", a homage for the Original X-Men team and will give your team a stat bonus. The many subtle goodies is what make XML II one of the best games that have come out in the past year.
In true console to computer port fashion, XML II has its share of graphics upgrades. The cel-shading has gotten a facelift, a bit more detail has been given to characters, and most of them have alternate costumes. The pc takes full advantage of these graphics upgrades with the ability to expand the resolution up to 1280 x 1024. XML II offers all kinds of new special effects from exploding buildings, to the old' "level up" special effect, and everything is just so much better the second time around. The sound department does not pull any punches either. Sound effects are as crisp as ever, and top notch voice actors including Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop) and of course Prof. "X" himself, Patrick Stewart, make their reappearances.
X-Men Legends II is a gem for comic book fans, or fans of a good action RPG. The game offers a very balanced proportion of depth, control, and action. All that being said, X-Men Legends II is a decent, but not great, port from console to pc. Despite the free multiplayer and the pc exclusive content, it's hard to recommend this game over the console versions because there is just not enough originality for it to stand above the other versions. If you do not own a console version of XML II, then by all means go and buy this game; X-Men Legends II is not worth missing. However, if you are already playing XMLII on Xbox Live than there is nothing you are missing with the PC version. In the end, it does not take a world class telepath to know that the console version, at least this time, may be the best.