That band of merry mutants is primed and ready for yet another adventure in the upcoming X-Men Legends II, an updated build of which we recently got to check out during an Activision press event. With just a scant few weeks before the game blows up on every major console and PC (along with the PSP in October), we got a taste of it on just about every platform to see just how far it has come since the sequel was announced in 2004.
Our first stop during our hands-on time with Professor Xavier's bunch was to see how the multiplayer game works. The good news is that online is going to be a big part of nearly every version of X-Men Legends II. In fact, the only version of the game that won't feature online play is the GameCube version (for obvious reasons). It's great news that the PS2, Xbox, and PC versions of XMLII are shipping with online support for up to four separate players. It's even better that the PSP version of the game, shipping just a month later, will feature wireless multiplayer for up to four players as well, via either infrastructure or ad hoc. It wasn't working when we were playing the game, but it sounds like it's going to be a great addition to the handheld version.
Speaking of the PSP game, this was our first chance to try out the handheld version, and we were very impressed with its sharp look and familiar gameplay. The storyline that is common to all versions of the game is present and accounted for in the PSP version, and it goes something like this: In a bid to stop the evil Apocalypse from taking over the world, the X-Men and their mortal enemies, the Brotherhood, begrudgingly join forces. As they snake through the maps that make up the XMLII world, the two teams will be taking on wave after wave of baddies and bosses intent on taking both groups down. The boss fights themselves tend to be pretty involved affairs, and they will test both your problem-solving and teamwork skills in the process.
An example of these skills can be seen in a boss battle we played in the PSP version of the game. Trapped in what appeared to be an underground tomb, our group of mutant adventurers came upon that odd collection of clone sisters, the Stepford Cuckoos, who came at us from every direction. To add complexity, periodically one sister would turn transparent and become invulnerable to our attacks, meaning we needed to choose our targets wisely. Once we plowed through the strange sisters, we met up with that biogenetic maniac, Holocaust, who was intent on roasting us alive with his highly charged microwave blasts. In order to take him down, we needed to not only hammer him with our store of mutant powers, but also take out a number of granite thrones, on top of which sat magic mirrors which were granting the fiery freak his powers. These kinds of interactive and destructible environments look to play a big part in all the boss battles in XMLII.
In our initial look at the PSP version of XMLII, we didn't have a good idea of how the powers worked yet, especially with regard to the shoulder buttons. After a little while of playing, we could happily say that the game controls just fine. The left shoulder button is used in conjunction with the directional pad to choose your character; the right shoulder button lets you activate your special mutant-powered offense. Simply hold down the button and press the associated face button to let fly with your best attacks. It's a pretty easy setup to learn and not that big a departure from the admittedly more intuitive console controls. In addition to all this, the PSP version of XMLII will feature four unique characters, as well as a handful of levels that will only appear in the PSP game.
Stare Into the Abyss
Over in the Xbox version, we took the multiplayer for a spin with one other human player and two CPU-controlled heroes (though, as expected, the game supports four players over Xbox Live). In this particular stage, our first goal was to rescue the Brotherhood's flame-wielding psycho, Pyro, who was trapped in an energy field--the dastardly handiwork of Apocalypse. After Pyro was released, he briefly became a fifth member of our ragtag group of adventurers, and he lent his mutant powers to our struggle to find the boss of that particular stage, the spring-armed fiend Abyss. The Abyss battle was something to behold. What started as a simple rock 'em, sock 'em affair, quickly changed in scope when the fray moved to two blimps flying through the sky--Abyss on one, and the X-Men on the other. Abyss' cronies were in full force as we fought for survival on top of the speeding zeppelins. After some experimentation, we found the key to victory: tossing bombs at the blimp on which Abyss stood, thus knocking him out of the sky. But that wasn't all. After successfully taking him down, we were transported to a strange alternate plane of reality, where we had to set off a number of bombs to get to the final stage of the boss battle and take down Abyss for good.
We found that the online play in the console version of the game moved quickly, and that the CPU-controlled teammates weren't much of a hindrance. Even when they were slacking, a quick press of the left trigger would call them to your side. Any human-controlled team member can choose the path through the dialogue trees that open up when you talk to non-player characters. Unlike the first game, equipment drops are completely random this time, ensuring that anyone can get good gear if they exhibit a little patience.
Moving over to the PC game, we encountered an entirely new territory to explore. Here our team, which included heavy hitters Juggernaut, Wolverine, Rogue, and Colussus, roamed through the serpentine confines of what appeared to be an underground military installation. As the team made its way through the corridors, it came upon a number of traps, which would give off a nasty shock. In order to make our way past them, we had to find a number of generators that powered the traps and take them down. In fact, these power generators were a theme throughout the entire mission, as we had to backtrack a couple of times to find generators that we had missed in order to open up blocked doors further into the level. Luckily, the PC game makes all this movement a cinch. You can either use the arrow keys to move your controlled character, or use the old point-and-click method similar to dungeon crawlers like Diablo.
The mouse interface translates well to the XMLII game. You click on an enemy to attack him, and you can choose your active character by clicking on the appropriate face on the lower left-hand side of the screen. Assigning attacks to keyboard buttons is also easy, and you can customize your setup to your particular needs. It didn't take us long before we had all our favorite mutant power keys assigned to the number keys and were cutting a swath of destruction through Apocalypse's legions.
Though all of the versions of XMLII had an impressive look to them (with a visual style reminiscent of the first game), the PC game, with its sharp resolution, had Marvel's mutants looking fine indeed. The visual effects for the mutant powers, such as Wolverine's spinning attack, were well done also, lending a real feeling of impact to those special attacks. Activision producers told us the game has been designed to run even on PCs of modest power, though we don't have official minimum-required specs to report just yet. Nonetheless, we feel confident in saying that the PC debut of the XML series will indeed be a viable option for X-Men fans who prefer to game on the computer. Voice-over work by the likes of Patrick Stewart (reprising his role of Professor X) and Lou Diamond Phillips (who plays Forge), in addition to the rest of the cast, seemed solid as well. We loved hearing Rogue's southern drawl in the PC version, and Colussus' brusk Russian brogue was a perfect complement to his powerhouse displays.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the high-quality cutscenes that were on display in all versions of the game. They look great and do a fine job of setting up the storyline context for all the missions you'll be undertaking with the X-Men. With all the rumored troubles with the third X-Men movie, and the departure of director Bryan Singer, perhaps the folks at 20th Century Fox should just hire these guys to helm the project. We know we'd watch it.
X-Men Legends II is due to hit stores for consoles and the PC in just a few scant weeks, and for the PSP about a month after that. If you're curious to know more, be sure to check out our just-published video interview with one of the producers of the game, also taken at the recent Activision press event. Expect a full review of all versions of X-Men Legends II as soon as the game is released.