X-Men Legends E3 2004 Preshow Impressions

We get a look at Raven Software's upcoming RPG based on Marvel Comics' mighty mutants.

At a recent Activision pre-E3 press event, representatives from the publisher and developer Raven Software demoed X-Men Legends, the upcoming action role-playing game based on the popular Marvel Comics franchise. The game was considerably further along than our first look at it last year. It was in a more-cohesive form and featured cinematics, voice, and a proper menu system that offered a much better feel for how the game is coming together.

The demo began with an intro cinematic that set the game's story, which is being handled by Man of Action, a group of former Marvel writers who know a thing or two about crafting tales of world peril. The cinema offered a bit of setup for the first level, which was the basis of the gameplay demo. In the CG cinema, Professor Xavier, voiced by Patrick Stewart, fills you in on recent events before sending you off on a mission. It appears the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants is causing all sorts of trouble. Their mischief includes targeting a young mutant named Allyson Crestmore (10 points for anyone who knows her codename and group affiliation in the old-school Marvel Universe) and attacking various mutant-friendly and government locations. The good professor sends out his mighty X-Men to stop the brotherhood and discover why they woke up on the wrong side of the bed at the start of the game.

The demo showed off the action RPG's real-time group mechanic, which lets you command a team of four X-Men on the fly. The team consisted of Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, and Gambit. The demo level opened with the gang arriving on the deck of the USS Arbiter, a military vessel under attack by the brotherhood. A voice-over from Jean Grey, thanks to the magic of telepathy, offered some general information on what needed to be done on the boat during a brief fly-through of the area. When the quartet of characters came under human control, Cyclops started out as the initially controllable character. The rest of the team was controlled by the game's AI and followed fairly close behind. For the purpose of the demo, each of the X-Men already had access to the full array of powers they will earn throughout the course of the game. When you start the game, the characters will have access to a pretty standard array of physical melee attacks and will have one special attack based on a facet of their individual mutant powers. As you progress through the game and earn experience, the members of the team will gain new powers, ranging from fairly straightforward attacks, such as the different variations of Cyclops' optic blasts, to passive abilities, such as Storm's ability to fly, which lets her hover over obstacles. You'll also gain access to each character's "extreme" power, which is essentially a screen-clearing smart-bomb-like burst of power. Storm's Cyclone Fury move was used as an example of an extreme power and showed the white-haired mistress of the elements calling down a devastating flurry of lightning strikes that made short work of the enemies onscreen.

You'll be able to tweak a pretty comprehensive set of AI behaviors via a menu to govern your team's behavior in combat, and you'll be able to take direct control of any of them as the need arises. If you find that your manual control of one team member gets you in a bind, you'll be able to summon your buddies via a "panic button" assigned to the left trigger, which will bring everyone running. Using each character's powers seems to be a fairly easy process, thanks to a smooth control layout that relies on switching the use of the face buttons on the game controller. The main uses of the face buttons will be the standard melee attacks and context-sensitive action button, but by holding down the right shoulder button, you can swap the buttons' uses for your available mutant powers. As with previous incarnations of the mighty mutants in games, use of their mutant powers will be governed by a meter that will deplete as you use their various abilities.

As the demo progressed, the action moved to the interior of the Arbiter and showed off the "extraction points" you'll encounter. These will let you swap new characters into your four-man squad if they're available and perform general party maintenance. Ice Man and Nightcrawler were swapped into the team, and unique gameplay options opened up based on the powers of each member of the party. The interior area of the Arbiter offered a mazelike environment of debris-filled corridors that made exploration challenging. In addition to piles of debris that blocked many corridors, walls of flame were on hand to impede the team's progress as they set out to rescue trapped crewmen. Fortunately Ice Man's and Nightcrawler's powers were put to good use. Ice Man's ability to fire beams of ice was handy when dealing with walls of fire, since his ice bursts would extinguish them. His ice beams were also used to create bridges across seemingly impassable gaps to let the team access new areas. However, if you didn't have Ice Man on your team it would still be possible to handle the same challenges with other characters. For example, Storm's winds could be used to extinguish the walls of fire, and Nightcrawler's ability to teleport could be used to get past the walls of fire to reach switches that would deactivate them.

As mentioned, the extraction points will let you perform general party maintenance in addition to adjusting the roster of characters in your four-man team. You'll be able to unlock new mutant powers and upgrade existing ones as well as assign points to various attributes. In addition, you'll be able to use the currency in the game, called "bits," to purchase items from Forge that will range from equipable items that will enhance a character's stats to standard health items. The final, and likely most vital, use of the extraction points is the ability to revive fallen team members, for a price.

The game's overall presentation looked good, with each member of the team being well represented by detailed character models based on the Ultimate X-Men designs. From what we saw, each member of the team will feature a good amount of animation punctuated by some nice little flourishes. Nightcrawler, for example, will have a teleportation attack that will send him quickly porting around his foes, landing numerous blows, before they can react. The large environments we saw were broken up into detailed, more memory-friendly zones with a number of interactive elements. You'll be able to keep track of the onscreen action through one of three camera angles: close, mid, and overhead. The story sequences used a mix of real-time cinematics that tapped the in-game graphics engine and fully CG segments. The audio in the game will make use of a number of well-known voice actors, including Patrick Stewart, Lou Diamond Phillips, Ed Asner, and Cree Summer.

The game will have a roster of 15 playable X-Men, and you can eventually access locales such as the X-Mansion, Muir Island, and Morlock Tunnels. X-men Legends should have plenty of content from the comics to please X-Men fans. The addition of a two-player co-op mode, which will put you and a friend in control of two members of the team, and a four-player skirmish mode are nice additions to what appears to be a very promising game. X-Men Legends is currently slated to ship this fall for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. Look for more on the game from the E3 show floor next week.

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