Having been an immensely popular comic-book series for some time, the X-Men have recently enjoyed a new level of mainstream recognition thanks to the live-action movies starring Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. Whether you've followed them for years or have just become a fan recently, X-Men: Legends is game you'll probably enjoy.
A note: I played this on the GameCube, YMMV on other platforms.
Gameplay is typical for a hack'n'slash console RPG -- your party roams through a number of dungeon-like levels and kills a bunch of baddies, picking up experience and various goodies along the way. The game is arranged into a series of missions (some long, some fairly short) spaced by interludes in the X-Mansion.
Controls are generally good, and the character under your command will generally do exactly what you want, though sometimes large thrown objects will explode rather closer than you expect. Attacking and moving are simple and intuitive, though stringing some of the longer attack patterns together can be difficult. There is a limited ability to command those characters that are not under your direct control, but if needed it is a simple matter to take over whatever member of your party you wish. Enemies can also be thrown around -- off of bridges, into walls, and even into each other, making for some interesting battles.
The camera, however, is problematic. Despite obvious efforts by the programmers to make view-obstructing surfaces transparent, you will often find yourself completely unable to see your characters. Even when this is not a problem, you will also experience difficulty on occasion in trying to see an enemy. The ability to zoom in or out is very limited, and consequently you will sometimes find yourself being blasted by opponents who are offscreen and unseeable.
The incorporation of mutant powers is done fairly well, though at times it seems like the programmers worked a little too hard to come up with four different power attacks for each character. It seems odd, for instance, that Wolverine has any special attacks, or that Colossus has a special punch. It seems like any punch from Colossus would hit just as hard as this 'special' one. Additionally, it does seem a little strange for the mutants
to 'run out' of power (particularly Wolverine, whose attacks are all physical). This is a necessary concession to gameplay, however, and in most cases the attacks make sense and fit the character, so these are minor quibbles. The arrangement of attacks is also intuitive for the most part, with A and B special attacks for offense, X for buffs, and Y for the character's super attack (usually an area-effect blast rather than pinpoint destruction).
The ally AI is fairly competent, though it tends to underutilize powers. AI characters also don't seem to use health packs, even when they are set to do so automatically. Thus they will occasionally die. They will also get trapped in doors at times, and, because there is some effect caused by bumping into each other, occasionally fall off bridges and die. However, a lot of these problems can be solved by having your friend pick up a
controller and join the fray. It's not too hard.
Level design is a little uneven. Although some areas are very convoluted, progress is almost always linear, with only a few instances where there are genuinely different routes one can take through an area. Save points usually appear in every other zone of a mission, which is sometimes too infrequent, given the prospect of accidental character death. Additionally, there will be times when you need to have a particular X-Man in your group (usually Iceman or Magma will be required, but sometimes Storm or Cyclops), and you must pick your way back through a level to change out your team. You'll find yourself always using Magma or Iceman and trying to swap out other characters, but the game really isn't long enough for you to get used to them all. There is mercifully little key-hunting to do, and when a key or other pass is needed it can usually be found close to where it must be used. Additionally, just about everything in the levels can be destroyed, from trash cans up to (in some cases) walls. It doesn't all yield treasure, but if you're frustrated, having Magma or Wolverine blow up the scenery can blow off a little steam.
The spoils of war are not terribly exciting. Characters can only use three accessories, and the effects of these aren't usually very interesting, though they can be quite helpful. Some accessories can also be purchased using "tech bits", but this monetary system feels stilted and artificial; additionally, these tech bits can be very hard to find at times. Most items can be sold for tech bits, but because of a limited inventory size this is not a reliable way to make a buck. Health and Energy packs are only rarely dropped when you need them. On one level my dying characters strode waist-deep through a sea of useless energy packs, with nary a save point (where health packs can be purchased) in sight. Additionally, because of an obscure and arbitrary cap on the number of health and energy packs that can be carried, you will find yourself passing up a whole zone full of them with ease, only to run out in the next zone, where there are none to be had.
The only real awkwardness in the game setup was the menu system. There are different buttons for "Back" and "Accept", but in most cases "Back" also accepts your setup, while "Accept" sends you back to the game. Also, some actions at save points will return you to a menu once completed, while others will send you back to the game, forcing you to enter the save point and start the process over again. The "objectives" system was also not particularly helpful, as some objectives only appeared on the list after being completed, and others never got checked off even if I did them. Ignoring that screen is easy, though.
Despite the (mostly minor) problems, gameplay is a blast. The breadth of moves (and characters) available means that you'll probably never run out of ways to engage the enemy, and the destructability of the environment means that battles are visual treats. The first time Wolverine slashes a guy and knocks him THROUGH a wall, you'll know what I mean. Your exploration of the X-Mansion in the interludes also provides some nice insights into the massive web of backstory behind the X-Men, though it seems a little smaller than it should be. And I frankly had a ton of fun just getting around at times; there's a unique thrill in ice-gliding through New York City as Iceman.
The writers for the game have produced a very good story that lays out the situation simply enough for X-Men novices to understand what's going on, while simultaneously layering in a number of references for the comics' hard-core fans to enjoy. The various X-Men and their abilities are introduced gradually enough that we get an appreciation for most of them. The plot is reasonably tight, the various X-Men and villains all behave
naturally, and the dialogue, though occasionally stilted, never really bogs down.
Thematically, however, the story disappoints. The usual arc of human hatred for mutants is nicely constructed, but the parallels to real life are drawn only tenuously. Given that the plot could have allowed a more convincing analogy to real-world terrorism, this is something of a disappointment. Also, the rapid end to the story sort of waves off the mutant vs. human problem, leaving the issue hanging without any real sense that progress has been made. The inclusion of a major, non-mutant, sympathetic character whose viewpoint changes even a little might have helped this out; except for a brief cameo by Moira McTaggart, all the humans in the game appear as unrelenting monsters. A more on-the-fence character who comes down on the side of the mutants would have created a more optimistic closing.
Given the usually lame and paper-thin stories one usually finds in games, however, this was much more fun and a lot meatier.
Most of the voice acting is quite good; Patrick Stewart shines as always. A few characters, however, feel a little off. Wolverine is particularly uneven -- sometimes dead on, sometimes sounding like a piggish moron. Cyclops also sounds a little too peppy, and Allison's voice grates on my ears. The music in the game, however, is seriously annoying. Outside of combat, the music is repetitve and droning, adding no pleasure and in some cases seriously detracting from it. It's nice that the tune changes in the proximity of enemies; however, the battle music is only louder, not better. Fortunately, the score is mostly quiet enough that you can ignore it.
Sound effects are nothing to write home about, but not bad either.
The graphics in this game are generally good, with just a few painful failings. The character models move realistically, and it's a real treat to see enemies tossed about by Storm's tornadoes. Most of the attack effects are strikingly good, though the buffing powers almost universally look lame. Character and enemy designs are very good during gameplay, but as many reviewers have noted, the heavy outlines of the pseudo cel-shaded
technique cause the game's appearance to suffer in many of the cutscenes. The movie-style cutscenes look fine, though a few characters look distorted or rubbery.
The environments in the game also look very good, for the most part. The Astral Plane, however, is horrible. You'll have to do several levels in this monotonous, semi-transparent, muddled hell-hole, and I grew to dread it.
The character heads used in the HUD and the character screens are pretty uneven. Some of them look awesome, and others look simply hideous. Allison and Gambit look particularly bad, but ugliness, flawed proportions, or muddled texture are not uncommon. Which is unfortunate, because you see these heads constantly.
The game is pretty short, even more so if you don't partake in many of the Danger Room missions. The second playthrough offers the ability to choose the appearance of the characters from several iterations of the X-Men saga. The linearity of the levels means there's not much else new to do the second time around. However, the "Danger Room" feature from the main menu offers you a chance to play out numerous scenarios and battles, for some additional gameplay. You'll be able to get a little extra mileage out of this one, but not a lot.
OVERALL: GOOD (76%)
X-Men: Legends offers great hack-and-slash gameplay and an entertaining storyline, paired with a much-loved franchise and generally good graphics. There are a few sour notes in the graphics and programming, and the music is a boring droning mess, but these problems don't ruin the fun. Though not a game for the ages, Legends is a solid offering that will please hardcore X-Men fans and newcomers alike.