Published by Activision
Developed by Raven Software
Platform: Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC (reviewed on Xbox)
ESRB Rating: Teen
Hoping to repeat the success of last year’s X-Men Legends, Activision last week dropped the sequel that everyone knew was coming (especially since the first game closes with a classic comic “sequel set-up” featuring Apocalypse). With an expanded roster, more powers, and a new story, the game on the surface looks more like an expansion pack to the first game than a true follow-up, but don’t let the re-use of last year’s graphics engine fool you: this game has plenty to make it more than a quick “me-too” pushed out the door for a quick buck.
The story begins in media res, with Magneto and his Brotherhood busting into a heavily defended military base of some kind. It quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t standard villainous mischief, however, when the Brotherhood are joined by some X-Men. The odd group of mutants have arrived to spring the kidnapped Charles Xavier, and we learn that Apocalypse, the world’s most powerful (and probably oldest) mutant has launched a full-scale assault in a bid to take over the world, and is snatching select mutants for some sort of nefarious experiment with the aid of his Horsemen and Mister Sinister. With this brief setup, the game is off to the races, and the mutants are hurled rapidly from one paramilitary operation after another in an attempt to thwart Apocalypse and restore order to the world.
[ad#longpost]Gameplay will be instantly familiar to players of the first game. At any given time, players (up to four on one box, or via Xbox Live, for those what have the MS box) field a team of four mutants, chosen from the game’s deep roster. Bishop, Cyclops, Iceman, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Storm, Sunfire, Rogue, Gambit, Scarlet Witch, Magneto, Toad, and Juggernaut are all available at the opening of the game, with three secret bonus characters unlockable (SPOILER: Deadpool, Professor X, and Iron Man). The immediate availability of the roster is a nice change from the first game, where characters like Psylocke were acquired so late in the game as to essentially make them seem like afterthoughts. It’s a shame they dropped some of the first game’s roster (Beast, Psylocke, Magma, Jubilee, and Emma Frost), but most of the characters dropped were pretty redundant with other characters in the lineup (except perhaps Beast, who was a nice agile brawler that was also really strong…all the frontline types on the roster now are basically one or the other). The additional powers are nice, too, as it gives each character a much wider variety of possible character builds, making the game even more replayable than the original (which easily supported a half-dozen plays without losing my interest).
The game isn’t perfect, however. The storytelling seems clumsy and disjointed in comparison to the first game in the series despite the relatively cool idea of beginning in the middle of the action. As some sort of concession to the clinically stupid, the game also repeats your mission instructions from three different sources every time you get a new one, and then reinforces those instructions with cutscenes that say it all over again. The first time, I cut it a little slack because the “tutorial” level of any new game is kind of like that. After the fifth or sixth mission of having my next objective spelled out by three different sources in slightly reworded versions of the same text, I started skipping the cutscenes and just checking the “mission computer” for details. It’s a shame to see a game with such great gameplay saddled with mediocre writing, particularly when the actual premise of the game’s story is pretty cool.
The only other real issue is the voice acting, which is incredibly hit or miss. Patrick Stewart again takes up the role of Professor X, and is stellar as always (though some of the dialogue is a bit of a clunker). Wolverine is excellent, and Cyclops’ voice is good, though his dialogue is painful. Many of the voice cast from the original game return for this one, which is nice for those that like the consistency. Rogue’s southern drawl isn’t as grating as it was the first time around, but Gambit’s hokey Cajun-speak makes me want to poke out his beady red eyes.
Despite these flaws, the game itself is a blast, whether in single player or co-operative mode. Additional depth in the power sets and the characters makes for lots of customizability, and a revamped equipment system makes for some more interesting layers for the die-hard tinkerer to adjust. If that’s not your thing, you can tell the game to keep it simple, and it will allocate skill ranks, attribute points, and new gear as you pick it up without you ever having to do so much as press “Pause.”
Total gameplay time looks like it floats somewhere in the 20-25 hour range, though a tougher difficulty level is unlocked after the first pass that boosts all the enemies’ levels by fiftyor so and allows for serious power-leveling geekitude. Once you’re tired of running the missions, you can always dial up a buddy on Xbox Live and finally settle a few of those “who would win in a fight between…” arguments.