X-Men Legends is the upcoming title from Activision and developer Raven Software that aims to do something video games have been attempting for a little over a decade: Create a game that does right by the long-running X-Men comic series. As longtime fans of this series who've optimistically sought out games bearing the uncanny mutants' moniker can attest, it has been a pretty bumpy few years. To be fair, crafting a game that pleases fans of the series, which has been going on for decades, is a pretty tall order for any developer.
Surprisingly, veteran developer Raven Software, who is best known for PC games like Jedi Outcast and Soldier of Fortune, appears to be pulling off the intimidating task with more than a little flair. Our looks at the game over the past two years have shown it to be a promising RPG-style approach to crafting a game that plays well and does right by the license. This impression has been cemented during our recent look at a playable work-in-progress version of the multiplatform game.
For those who haven't followed the game or the X-Men that closely, we offer our exclusive handbook feature and a humble primer on Marvel's comic juggernaut. The X-Men are a group of men and women who represent the next step in human evolution. They possess varied superpowers and use them to protect humanity, despite the fact that they're feared and even hated by most non-mutant humans.
X-Men Legends is based on a recent series, Ultimate X-Men, that has offered a new contemporary take on the popular X-Men mythos. While this may dismay some purists, the Ultimate books have managed to provide a wealth of cameos from well-known characters from the classic comic series. As a result, X-Men Legends is coming to the table packing a veritable Who's Who from the series, ensuring the biggest array of cameos and guest appearances in a comic game to date. By opting to go with the current book, Raven has managed to make the most of its roster of characters and has included a wide assortment of characters from the series.
One of the cooler elements of the game is the inventive approach to some of the missions you'll come across. While the game uses the Ultimate X-Men characters, the development team has managed to squeeze in some nods to the classic incarnations of the old-school X-Men teams that longtime fans know and love. For example, plan on seeing the traditional costumes from the '60s, '70s, and '80s popping up during some missions that re-create some classic moments.
Given the X-Men's rich history, it's a bit surprising to us that no one had tried creating an X-Men RPG. Thankfully, that's just what Raven Software has done, offering up an action RPG-style game in the vein of Baldur's Gate and Champions of Norrath. The game's story will unfold via a pretty standard mix of prerendered computer-generated cinematics, in-game cinemas, and in-game dialogue that fills you in on what's going on. We had the chance to try out a work-in-progress version of the promising game and we were immensely pleased by how it's coming together.
The game's structure and mechanics should be recognizable to veteran gamers in the single-player mode. You'll get quests, fulfill them, and then come back to the hub area to move the story along. The story itself is being kept vague to ensure a fun and surprising experience for players. However, the basic gist of the story revolves around the X-Men's efforts to thwart Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants from doing some serious damage to the human race. A new mutant named Alison Crestmere, whose powers have recently begun to flare up, appears to figure significantly into the Brotherhood's evil plans. Obviously, this leads Professor Xavier to send in the X-Men to save the day and figure out why Alison is so wanted.
This basic clash between the X-Men and the Brotherhood leads to your first mission in the game when you start out controlling Wolverine as he attempts to track down Alison, who was abducted by the Blob. The first chunk of your time in the game is going to be spent familiarizing yourself with the game's controls and tracking down the Blob. You'll encounter a number of grunt-style enemies who fight smarter than you'd expect. Once that's sorted, you can get out of the line of fire by heading to the X-Jet, which whisks Alison to the school grounds and to Professor X.
The Xavier Mansion is a change of pace that, up until recently, hadn't been touched on much. The mansion ends up serving as a fully interactive hub that lets you explore the grounds with certain exceptions. In addition to the top two floors of the mansion, you'll find that the subbasement, which houses the team's "danger room," is a vast space with some nice surprises. The danger room will offer an interactive tutorial on the game that will show you how to play and how to reward yourself with some extra bonus points that will come in handy when leveling up your character.
As with any RPG, you'll be earning experience as you defeat enemies. Once you have enough experience, you'll be able to level up your character by assigning the points you've earned or saved to their stats. The game features an excellent tip of the hat to Knights of the Old Republic by offering you an option to distribute points automatically if you don't want to obsess over the best choices to make. The game also allows party members who are not in combat to earn a portion of the experience that you earn while you play, which lets them level along with you. Finally, X-Men Legends features a very simple equipment system that lets you put on one of three pieces of armor that will improve your stats. As you go through the game, you'll be able to collect tech bits that you can use to buy items and equipment from Forge or to revive characters that have fallen in battle at the extraction point locations. The items you buy from Forge will offer a variety of different enhancements when equipped. Along with the standard gear, you'll find some rare pieces that have the added comic credibility of being named after characters, such as "Sunfire's Mask."
In terms of the game's controls, Raven has been hard at work polishing the experience. You'll be able to move your characters and jump as needed. Combat will obviously be divided into time you spend beating up baddies and the time you spend using your mutant powers. The powers will all slowly unlock as your level increases and you assign points. Melee and mutant power attacks can be used in combination if performed properly, which should make for some fun combat. As your party earns experience, more powers will be unlocked that you can upgrade the farther you progress. The ultimate manifestation of each character's mutant powers, the ultimate attack, is a massive screen-filling onslaught that's akin to an old-school smart bomb.
Speaking of fun, Raven has thrown in a ton of extra content for you to find in the form of art, music, and other unmentionable things. The missions even reflect a sense of whimsy, thanks to the presence of "flashback" missions that will let you play through classic moments in X-Men history, complete with old-school costumes. You'll end up having plenty of X-Men to use before and during battle if need be.
The graphics in the game are looking very sharp, with the character models offering stylized representations of their 2D visages. A slightly exaggerated use of black lines on the models gives them an understated cel-shaded quality that looks cool and actually helps you keep track of them in the game. The characters animate smoothly and are complemented by the interesting effects used to reflect their powers. The environments are equally impressive, and a bit flashier, thanks to the assortment of foes you'll fight as well as the game's geographic locations.
The audio is sounding appropriately authoritative, thanks to Patrick Stewart and a few other notable names in the voice cast. The sound effects are well done, although a bit understated in places. The music is shaping up to fit the action nicely, with a mix of mellow tracks contrasted by more intense pieces during combat.
Based on what we've played so far, X-Men Legends is turning out to be a smart and unique new way to bring the X-Men to video game form. While the concept and premise aren't original, the way they've been married with the X-Men franchise works well. Best of all, the four-player multiplayer support is an excellent addition to the package that should appeal to X-Men fans and folks who are looking for more than just an average single-player game. Stay tuned for more on X-Men Legends in the near future.