The X-Men have triumphed over just about every evil imaginable in their long-running comic series. There really hasn't been anything capable of stopping the diverse team of mutants in their 20-plus years of fighting evil. This hasn't been the case for the video games that have been made over the years starring the team. Game developers have been struggling to capture the mutant appeal in game form ever since the first crude sprites puttered their way across the television screen in LJN's X-Men game for the NES. Unfortunately, several generations of consoles and a wide range of games later, developers are still trying to build the perfect game using the franchise. The latest attempt, X2: Wolverine's Revenge, is being developed by UK-based Gene Pool. The game takes a more focused approach to bringing virtual life to the comic franchise by keeping the spotlight on Wolverine, arguably the most popular member of the team. We had the chance to check out a previewable version of the multiplatform adventure to see if the game is on its way toward doing the clawed one and his teammates some justice.
The game's story, written by Marvel scribe Larry Hama, who penned the Wolverine comic for several years, draws on the mutant's past for material and focuses on the government program, called Weapon X, that helped make him the deadly killing machine he is. For those unfamiliar with Wolverine's history, the Canadian hero has one of the more convoluted backgrounds in the hero profession. Born with the mutant abilities of enhanced senses and reflexes, superhuman recuperative powers, and retractable claws, the mutant known as Logan came to be involved in a military program called Weapon X, which trained him to be a lethal soldier. To enhance his already formidable natural abilities, scientists in the program bonded an unbreakable metal alloy, called adamantium, to his skeleton. While the program left him with a handy set of skills and an unbreakable skeleton, the military training didn't do Logan's head very right. The end result was a slightly unstable and feral, and undeniably deadly, killing machine who parted ways with the program and set out to get his head in order. Eventually he came to find a home with the X-Men and has found some measure of peace as a member of the team. Unfortunately, as often happens in the comics, Logan's past comes back to haunt him as an annoying legacy of the Weapon X program rears its nasty head. Apparently a dormant virus, called Shiva, created to destroy Weapon X subjects who went rogue, has fired up in Logan's body. Despite the healing powers of his recuperative abilities and the brilliant mind of fellow teammate Beast, Logan is still 48 hours away from pushing up the daisies. With the clock ticking, Logan heads out to the original Weapon X facility where he was trained, in the hopes of finding an antidote before it's too late. As you'd expect, this is just the tip of the iceberg, because once Logan starts snooping around, a lot more trouble comes to light.
The game is broken up into several acts set around the world, each consisting of several levels. The action in the game sticks close to your standard 3D action game: You'll explore areas, collect items that will let you use different classic costumes and view different pieces of art in a gallery, solve puzzles, and brawl with low-level grunts as well as an assortment of bosses. The game also throws in a healthy dose of stealth-oriented gameplay that nicely complements the mechanics of Logan's enhanced senses. While the collection and exploration aspects are fairly standard, the game's combat system features some unique touches, thanks to the implementation of stealth elements and Logan's mutant abilities. You'll be able to perform punches and kicks that can be chained together in a variety of simple combos, and your attacks can be greatly enhanced by popping Logan's claws, which will offer a different combo to use in battles. However, one of the greatest assets in Logan's arsenal is his "strike" attacks, which you'll be able to use at specific points during a battle. The attacks are automatic combos that do a hefty amount of damage to your foes. You'll be able to trigger strikes during a fight when your foes are properly positioned around you. Once you've maneuvered your enemies into the right positions, green arrows will appear to let you know which ones you'll hit with the attack. While you'll start out with a very small number of potential strikes, by collecting dog tags you'll be able to earn more strikes that will hit more enemies. You'll earn the tags by performing stealth kills, which are a variant of standard strikes that quietly take out an enemy without attracting unwanted and deadly attention from reinforcements.
The other key element of gameplay in X2: Wolverine's Revenge is the use of Logan's mutant powers. You'll be able to switch to an enhanced-sense mode that will let you see the world in unique color patterns, which will highlight hazards and show off scent patterns that let you detect when an enemy is nearby. The controller will also vibrate when you're near certain hazards. For example, early on in the game you'll navigate a minefield in this mode. You'll be able to avoid the mines by feeling their vibration, hearing a distinct buzz, and seeing them in the ground. It's a very smart way of implementing mutant powers in the game, and it works well. You'll also be able to make use of Logan's healing factor by sheathing his claws.
Control in the game is passable but a bit problematic in the heat of battle. Logan's basic array of moves and strikes work fine, but when you're faced with several enemies, performing moves can be a bit difficult. Lining up enemies for strikes and attacking can be a dangerous chore when you're facing some of the more aggressive foes in the game. Strikes become a crucial part of combat, since they do significantly more damage than Logan's combos.
Graphically X2: Wolverine's Revenge is an uneven collection of elements that still need some tightening. The game's overall presentation is very well done and features a pleasing array of cinematic touches. The story unfolds via a mix of CG and real-time cutscenes that make use of a visually engaging assortment of camera angles to frame the various scenes. Unfortunately, the game's core graphics are a bit inconsistent. While a great deal of care and attention is obviously being given to Logan's character model, as well as the bosses in the game, such as Sabretooth, Wendigo, and Lady Deathstrike, most of the enemies in the game are pretty bland. Character animation is stiff as well, which keeps the fight sequences from getting too exciting. The environments you'll venture through in the game feature some detail and eye candy, but they come across as fairly sterile overall. You'll find a very small number of breakable objects to interact with as well as a generally low population of characters in the levels. Outside of enemies, little touches such as nonplayer characters, which could add a bit of life to the environments, are presently lacking. The only other misstep in the game's visuals is the camera system, which seems to have an uncanny ability to do the exact opposite of what you need and generally gets stuck in the wrong places at the most inopportune times. On the plus side, there are some nice visual effects, such as the color wash onscreen when you are in enhanced-senses mode, which shows you hazards and enemy scent trails as you're sneaking about, and the haze that comes over the screen when Logan goes into a beserker rage. The frame rate was generally solid throughout the preview build of the game we tried, which helped keep the action moving along at a decent clip. Overall, though, the game's graphics don't appear to be taking much advantage of each console's abilities, which results in a very PlayStation 2-like experience.
On the plus side, there are some nice visual effects, such as the color wash onscreen when you are in enhanced senses mode that shows you hazards and enemy scent trails as you're sneaking about and the haze that comes over the screen when Logan goes into a beserker rage. The framerate was generally solid throughout the preview builds of the game we tried, which helped keep the action moving along at a decent clip. Overall though, the game's graphics don't appear to be taking much advantage of the individual consoles, which results in a very PlayStation 2-like experience.
The audio in the game is good and makes use of a strong soundtrack and solid voice acting. The game's music tracks feature a versatile score that definitely complements the cinematic presentation and is effective at setting a consistent tone in the game. Voice acting is solid overall, with some notable highlights, thanks to the presence of Mark Hamill and Patrick Stewart, who voice Logan and Professor Xavier. Stewart's Xavier is pretty much old hat these days given the number of times the actor has played the character on film and in games, and he comes across as suitably authoritative. Hamill--actor, comic geek, and renowned voice of the Joker in the Batman animated series--does an impressive job of voicing Wolverine. Hamill's growled delivery stays close to the Wolverine of Fox's animated series from a few years back and suits the character nicely.
From what we've seen so far, X2: Wolverine's Revenge is very much a diamond in the rough. The game nails a lot of little details with elements of its gameplay and presentation but still has a way to before it gels into a solid package. The uneven graphics could be bearable if the overall gameplay were solid. As it stands now, the camera and control issues form a sizable obstacle that needs to be overcome. X2: Wolverine's Revenge is currently slated to ship this April for the GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox.