Activision's upcoming PSP version of X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is poised to be one of the highlights of the PSP lineup this fall. Our earlier look at the game showed it to be an impressive companion to the recently released console version. Developer Vicarious Visions was clearly going the extra mile with the game's conversion, packing in even more content than the console game had. Well, we finally had the chance to see a near-final version of the game to see just how it's turned out, and we have to say that it's certainly surpassed our expectations.
For those who missed the recently released console game and its predecessor, X-Men Legends, we'll bring you up to speed on the smartly done series. The games essentially took a Gauntlet-cum-action-role-playing-game approach for their gameplay and applied a liberal coating of X-Men to the experience. The comic characters have been longtime mainstays of the Marvel Comics empire, and they possess a legion of fans that has followed them through countless incarnations and books over the decades since their debut in the '60s. The game smartly blends the most-recent incarnation of the team from the Ultimate X-Men line, a modern update of classic heroes, but manages to mix in a healthy dose of historical characters as well.
The game's original story picks up where X-Men Legends left off and finds the team recovering from its epic battle against the brotherhood of evil mutants. Unfortunately, the team's respite lasts about as long as your average mayfly's life span, as Apocalypse, an ancient mutant of immense power, chooses to attack while both factions of mutants are trying to catch their collective breath. Following a vicious assault that finds members of both groups kidnapped by Apocalypse's forces, the teams decide to join forces to both rescue their friends and apply an intense boot to the megalomaniacal mutant. The PSP game mirrors the console version's story to a tee and sets you on a globe-spanning adventure to engage Apocalypse's forces as they attempt to take over the world.
The gameplay in the PSP version is equally faithful to the console versions, which added a good amount of depth to the original, resulting in a more satisfying experience. The core game mechanics have been perfectly re-created on Sony's handheld system. You'll play from a top-down perspective, and you'll navigate a series of environments, taking on all manner of foes. You'll lead a team of four X-Men, which represents but a fraction of the available characters. Your enemies will yield experience that will let you level up and customize your individual team members. Customization is where the fun really begins, as you can evolve your mutants in a variety of ways by enhancing their unique powers in specific manners. You'll also find items to equip in three different slots that will enhance their abilities. In addition to the main adventure, you'll also find a number of satisfying side quests and activities that will keep things fun, as well as manage to incorporate even more of the comic lore.
In addition to the side content seen in the console games, such as the ability to test your skills in the Danger Room (an obstacle course designed to hone your team's mutant powers), the PSP game features all-new content in the form of comic-book missions. The missions are similar in spirit to the flashback missions found in the original game, and they let players take a break from the Ultimate X-Men continuity to enjoy a romp through classic comic adventures. You'll find a total of nine comic-book missions that will let you play through fan-favorite story arcs. We had the chance to try one based on the classic "X-cutioner's Song" story arc, which was very satisfying.
The classic comic missions also touch on one of the other perks of the PSP game: additional playable characters exclusive to the portable experience. All told, you'll find four brand-spanking-new characters taken from the X universe that were not seen in the console game. While we've seen them in action, we can only talk about two of the new mutants. Cable should be a well-known face to fans, as he's been a prominent figure in the books for quite some time now. The mysterious cybernetic psychic is the son of Cyclops and Jean Grey in an alternate future where Apocalypse holds control of the earth.
X-Man is a newer character and is related to Cable by genetics. The young mutant is actually an attempted clone of Cable made by one of Apocalypse's minions; now X-Man fights for the forces of good. We were pleased to see that both characters feature unique handling and powers that are more than just palette swaps of each other or any of the other characters in the game. As for the other two characters, all we'll say is that one shouldn't be too surprising for longtime fans to see, while the other is a pleasant and unexpected surprise.
The PSP conversion of X-Men Legends II is made all the more impressive because the game's control and handling have been smartly adapted to the system, which has fewer buttons than its console cousin. However, the best perk of the PSP game is its multiplayer modes, which are definitely above and beyond what we were expecting. The game will feature ad hoc Wi-Fi support for up to four players, which is pretty much in line with most of the PSP's multiplayer games. But the slickest addition to the package is proper infrastructure mode support, which lets you play online via a Wi-Fi Internet connection. Though the menu and setup take a little getting used to, it's a great addition to the multiplayer experience. You'll be able to play the story-based campaign or Danger Room scenarios with up to four friends. In addition, you'll find skirmish modes for all-out mutant brawling. Though the near-final version of the game we tried had a few minor rough spots, the game played smoothly and retained the considerable appeal of its console cousins.
As far as the game's presentation on the PSP goes, it looks comparable to the console versions, albeit at a slightly lower resolution. Developer Vicarious Visions is playing with a slightly stacked deck, because it actually created the Alchemy graphics engine that runs the console games. As a result, its PSP version of the engine crackles on the portable system. The impressive computer-generated cinemas done for the console game have been brought over and have been remastered in 16x9 for the PSP. However, arguably the most impressive aspect of the game is its audio, which re-creates the console version by using three streaming audio channels--not something you hear on the PSP every day.
We're pleased to report that X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse looks like it's going to be at least as good as its console counterpart. The faithful re-creation of the console experience, the addition of new content exclusive to the PSP version, and, most importantly, the robust multiplayer options all add up to be a very promising game for the PSP that will most definitely be worth a look, even if you've picked up the console version. To find out the final word on X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, check back for our review, which is due shortly. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is slated to ship next week for the PSP.