I’ll be the first to admit that I have a certain nerdy fondness for X-Men. Perhaps it’s because as a child I was an obsessive fanboy over Fox’s X-Men animated series (I still maintain that it’s one of the best cartoons ever). I used to get distraught whenever the network changed the show’s timeslot, fearing they had confirmed my worst nightmares and cancelled it.
Given this, you probably think I was drooling at the chance to play the newest X-Men game. Not quite, for you see I’ve always been reluctant to accept any incarnation of the X-Men that differs from the TV show. If the team’s roster, appearance, or voices are even the least bit different, I’m offended in some creepy way; how dare they bastardize my beloved cartoon show like that!
But X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse actually reminded me a lot of the animated series, both in terms of character and storyline. That aspect alone made it a joy to play. From the gameplay perspective, Legends II is never short on cheap fun. I almost view the game as modernized version of Konami’s excellent X-Men side-scrolling arcade game.
The gist of the story: the earth’s most powerful mutant, Apocalypse, and the creepy Mr. Sinister (the penname of many goths who write angst poetry online I’m sure) have teamed up to conquer the world. What follows is your typical fare of comic book action and drama.
Like its predecessor, Legends II lets you assemble a team of four mutants to do battle with the forces of evil. Only this time Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants form an uneasy truce with the X-Men (I’m sure you’re gasping in disbelief). Yes, Apocalypse is that damn powerful.
This was obviously done to give you access to awesome characters like Juggernaut and Sabertooth (the former being my character of choice). The designers certainly emphasize how uncomfortable the two teams are at having to join forces, but some of the mission briefing scenes are ridiculously campy when it comes to making that point.
The character selection is definitely a strong point. Fifteen mutants, from Iceman to Gambit to Rogue, are available from the get-go, with three unlockable characters (one being the loud-mouth assassin Deadpool). Because characters in your active party gain experience much faster than those on the roster, it makes having a dynamic team somewhat difficult (unless you constantly switch characters). For this reason, Legends II has substantial replay value, as you can try the game with new combinations of characters.
Legends II isn’t particularly challenging and the levels are downright repetitive. To the designers’ credit, they utilize a vast number of familiar locations from the X-Men universe, such as Department H, the Savage Land, and Genosha. I was a bit surprised, however, that an entire chapter takes place in Canada (not that I have anything against our neighbors to the north).
But the variety is little more than superficial. While you’ll fight inside temples (three of them to be exact) and futuristic bases, most of the levels follow the same layout: a twist of narrow corroders broken up by the occasional huge room. Your typical objectives involve deactivating generators, reprogramming security computers, and killing lots and lots of bad guys.
These bad guys, unfortunately, are the game’s chief drawback. The great thing about sci-fi is the ability to stretch the truth and sometimes venture into the outlandish. Unfortunately, adversaries are your usual fare of robots, super clones, and giant insects. Much like the levels, these are merely superficial distinctions: groups of enemies always fight the same and are tactically incompetent. And for most of your adventure, you’ll be facing small groups at a time. What a shame, considering the game’s best moments are when you’re facing upwards of 15 enemies in over-the-top battles.
Pummeling baddies is also rather easy, thanks to the wide variety of superpowers your characters posses. I loved using Juggernaut’s “demolition” charge to smash enemies around like bowling pins. These superpowers consume energy, which replenishes over time or can be restored through the use of potions. Combo moves are also possible, though usually it’s hard to coordinate them (they happen mostly by accident).
Boss battles also lacked the epic feel of a true comic book battle. Maybe because, instead of being genuinely challenging, the bosses are instead given contrived “weaknesses,” such as being dependent on some piece of machinery to provide them with energy.
Only once in the game did my entire team die, and that was at the hands of SugarMan, a seriously messed up villain. Most the time, found it harder to defeat the super-grunts with “combo” shields; in order to damage them, you must perform a combo attack to deactivate some stupid force field. Sounds easy enough, right? Well it gets really friggn’ old when they continuously interrupt your combo by knocking you around, forcing you to keep on trying for upwards of three minutes.
I noticed, however, that playing as a mutant that relies on ranged attacks (Cyclops, Iceman, Magneto) was decidedly more difficult than opting for the brutes like Colossus or Juggernaut. And not difficult in a good way – it’s like they simply weren’t powerful enough.
My last complaint deals with the game’s interface, which is counterintuitive in every regard. The menus aren’t logically organized and the team management screen is a mess (plus it’s detached from the game, forcing you to wait for it to load). The game also sports a half-hearted RPG item system. After the first level, I just set the system on “auto manage” and saved myself the trouble. Equipping various items looted from fallen enemies proved too much of a detraction. The entire system felt tacked on, considering Legends II is clearly an action-driven game.
Graphics-wise, Legends II is perfect. The characters are rendered in a fluid comic book style and the rag doll animations are especially fun to watch. Levels feature intricate details and props (most of which are destructible). When the royal rumble fights break out, all of this comes together to form one helluva scene: enemies and teammates alike flying across the screen, destroying everything in their path.
Beautifully rendered 3D cut scenes accompany each of the game’s chapters; the opening sequence is particularly well done. Other scenes, though, seem like wasted effort.
The voice acting was much better than I expected. Great care was taken to give each character a fitting voice. Looking back, I don’t even remember what the musical score sounded like. Maybe it’s because the other annoying sound effects – such as enemies excessively grunting as I pummeled them – got in the way.
Whenever I tried to play online, I found the game excessively laggy. Most of the time, however, there are very few public games available. Legends II is definitely a LAN party game, or one where you schedule a time with your friends to play.
Legends II was a great 11-hour time waster. No excessive thought or challenges, just an endless stream of bad guys waiting to get their asses handed to them. Fortunately for me, I played my friend’s copy of the game because, I regret to say, I wouldn’t have shelled out the $40 for it. Fun, yes, but it’s simply not worth the asking price (perhaps if the game was longer or more challenging). You’re better off renting a console version for the weekend.
By Augustus Krumb, contributor to Rich Powers’ site (posted by request).
More of Mr. Augustus Krumb’s gaming commentary can be viewed here.
Ed/Pub:LisaMPowered by Sidelines