What good are mutant superpowers without exciting reasons to use them? As X-Men: Destiny proves, they're no good at all. In this busted beat-'em-up, clobbering swarms of stupid bad guys with your newfound abilities is tedious, and although a constant supply of choices tries to convince you that your actions have real impact on this tumultuous world, they don't have much impact at all. Destiny does the incredible: it makes being a genetic marvel a generic bore.
It's a grim new era for the mutants. Professor X is dead, and anti-mutant sentiment is running high. You choose one of three characters, each with his or her own backstory. Whomever you choose, your mutant powers awaken when a mutant-human peace rally in San Francisco is attacked by anti-mutant thugs called purifiers. As you come to terms with your powers, you're given many choices that let you align yourself more with Cyclops and the X-Men or with Magneto and the Brotherhood. But these choices have almost no impact on the course of the game. For instance, you can make Brotherhood choices straight down the line and still end up fighting Magneto in a boss battle. Regardless of your decisions, you go through the same levels and find yourself in the same final conflict. Some games give you real choice; some create a convincing illusion of choice. X-Men: Destiny just drops a bunch of meaningless choices in your path.
And in the Wii version, sometimes those choices aren't clear. You might finish a boss battle only to be abruptly presented with an image of Cyclops and an image of Magneto and be told to "Choose Your Destiny." In the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game, a preceding cutscene makes it clear exactly what this choice means, but not here. During some conversations, you see goofy comic book portraits; during others, fuzzy character models just stand in place without moving their mouths as they chat. There's some fine voice acting and the occasional decent motion comic sequence, but everything else about the way the story is presented is embarrassing.
You choose what type of power you want from three options: energy projection, shadow matter, and density control. But like the story choices you make, this decision has little real impact. You spend most of your time fighting swarms of mindless purifier thugs, and mashing the attack button is all it takes to clobber these buffoons regardless of which power you choose. As you tap the attack button to pummel bad guys with the same attacks over and over, text often appears indicating that your combo is "uncanny" or "ultimate," which is hilarious because you're doing so little. This is combat at its shallowest. Boss fights are just as bad. Most bosses can be defeated with brute force; just walk up to them and pound the attack button. A few bosses have attacks you actually need to avoid, but these bosses follow simple patterns, and once you have those patterns figured out, there's no excitement in fighting them or sense of triumph in defeating them.
As you progress, you're presented with the occasional choice of new powers to unlock. But the combat is so simple that you never feel the need to use these secondary powers, and the game performs so poorly that using them is often more trouble than it's worth. For instance, density control heroes can unlock the boulder dash power, which turns you into a large obsidian rock so that you can crush enemies. But the frame rate becomes so awful when you use this power that steering yourself into enemies on purpose is all but impossible. All you can do is roll around and hope for the best.
In addition to the powers you acquire as you progress, you find X-Genes scattered around the environments. These operate much like potions in a fantasy role-playing game: Spending a Wolverine X-Gene regenerates your health for a short time, while spending a Pyro X-Gene temporarily gives some of your attacks fire damage. This is so far removed from the way mutant powers work in the X-Men comics that it feels contrived and silly. If you collect enough of a certain character's X-Genes, you unlock his or her suit, and equipping that suit gives you unlimited use of his or her X-Gene. Acquiring Wolverine's suit lets you use his healing power as many times as you want, letting you go into battles with even less thought or regard for your safety than you might have had previously.
When you're not fighting, you make your way through the ruins of San Francisco. Traversing this environment as a superhero should be fun, but there's no joy in movement in X-Men: Destiny. The levels are restrictive areas that direct you from one location to the next, with piles of rubble and other unconvincing obstacles blocking your attempts at exploration. Shiny railings indicate things you need to climb on to progress, and the complete lack of freedom makes you feel less like a powerful mutant and more like a rat in a maze, being shuffled from one dull battle to another.
On top of it all, Destiny is an ugly game. The simple character models and muddy textures make it look like it was made several years ago. Enemies sometimes disappear into the geometry, and objects you smash vanish completely in the midst of terrible explosion effects. As if that weren't bad enough, frame rate drops frequently turn the game into a slideshow. And although it follows the same story as the 360 and PS3 versions, it doesn't even live up to the low standards they established. Combat is even shallower; certain events, like a fight against Wolverine, have been cut; and some boss fights have been simplified. You can breeze through this adventure in about five hours, but the gameplay is so shallow that you won't be left wanting more, and because your choices have so little impact, there's no compelling reason to revisit the game once you're done. In fact, it's not even absorbing the first time through. If mindless combat is all super mutants have to look forward to, you're better off letting your mutant powers remain dormant.