The lousy movie-licensed game genre claims another victim in X-Men: The Official Game. Based loosely in-between the stories of the second and third films in the X-Men franchise, X-Men is a completely unremarkable beat-'em-up (with a few boilerplate shooter elements tossed into the mix) that feels just haphazard enough to likely have been rushed through development to get it onto store shelves ahead of the film. It's not that it's entirely broken, mind you, but X-Men's missions are entirely generic and devoid of captivating content, and there are enough annoying little glitches and other obnoxious things prevalent throughout to give the game that thrown-together feel.
X-Men seems to follow the basic plot concepts of the X-Men movies, but it centers its focus around three of the heroes: Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Iceman. Whether this was a deliberate choice, or a direct response to which of the film's actors Activision could actually get to reprise their roles for the game (Hugh Jackman, Alan Cumming, and Shawn Ashmore are indeed in the game), we'll likely never know, but Nightcrawler's inclusion is specifcally to explain why he's not in the new movie. For what it's worth, Jackman, Cumming, and Ashmore all do serviceable jobs voicing the characters, as does Patrick Stewart, who returns to voice act Professor X. Unfortunately, the remaining cast is mostly made up of soundalikes, and none of them are particularly good.
By centering on these three characters and setting up the mission structure as the game does, you're left with a fairly disjointed sense of where the story is going. For instance, early on in the game, all three characters go through quick training sequences to get you familiar with how they work. The next mission is a return to Alkali Lake (the site of Jean Grey's tragic demise at the end of the second film) to recapture parts of the Cerebro machine taken by General Stryker. You start off as Nightcrawler, and are given the option later on to play either as Wolverine or Nightcrawler for another section. Once you've made your pick, you're stuck with that character for the duration of his missions during this chapter (which can go up to around three or four in a row, at times). Only after you've completed it can you switch over to the other available character. Not to mention that Iceman just disappears during this whole section and we don't join up with him until significantly later, in a completely new scenario that's given next to no plot exposition. It's not that a game of this type has to be some kind of brilliant work of fiction to succeed, but X-Men tells its story in such a perplexing and disconcerting way that it's difficult to care much about what's going on.
Each of the three playable characters fights a little differently from the other. Wolverine obviously has his Adamantium claws, as well as a rage ability that gives him some particularly brutal moves; Nightcrawler can teleport to any area within his visual range, as well as use his teleporting abilities in combat to pull off more acrobatic moves and transport himself to a "shadow realm" to regenerate his health (an ability we're not sure he ever had before this game); and finally, Iceman perpetually rides on an icy surfboard, flying through the air while shooting his ice beam and ice projectiles, and inexplicably regenerating his health (an ability we're positive he didn't have before this game). The Iceman missions are almost more like rail shooters, since you're near-constantly in motion, floating about various areas and sometimes navigating perilous traps and pitfalls--and for that matter, the Iceman missions are probably the most interesting part of the game, if only in comparison to the utterly dull Nightcrawler and Wolverine segments.
When you're playing as Wolverine or Nightcrawler, you're beating up a lot of enemies in relatively closed-off environments. Sometimes you need to find a control panel to open a door, and there are some platforming elements with the Nightcrawler sections (which can usually be circumvented altogether using his teleport ability), but for the most part you're just constantly fighting enemies with guns, electric sticks, electric spears, bazookas, or the occasional mutant power. Plenty of beat-'em-up games have managed to suffice with a similar formula, but X-Men's combat is just boring. There's next to no combo variety to speak of, and it's awfully easy to just use Wolverine's power attacks or Nightcrawler's teleport attacks over and over again to break past an enemy's block to simply roll right over them over and over again. It's not that the fights are easy, exactly. Sometimes they can actually be a bit frustrating, especially when you're playing as Wolverine and getting pelted with bullets, and the only thing you can really do is run right at the guys with the guns. But frustration aside, there's nothing interesting about the fight sequences to make you want to keep playing. It's just button-mashing of the most banal variety.
Additionally, there are a number of moments in the game that make you wonder just how much time this game really spent in development. There are no major show-stopping bugs, but rather a lot of little glitches that just keep popping up over and over again. Enemies will sometimes teleport from one side of a level to another instantaneously for no discernible reason; sometimes you can knock enemies into walls or doorways from which they cannot escape; scripted appearances of characters will sometimes get stuck and remain there even when they're clearly supposed to disappear moments later--there are a lot of little things like this. Boss fights also seem very poorly cobbled together. Most boss fights in the game simply revolve around you and the boss character running around an enclosed area, hitting each other for a bit, then running off, hitting each other again, and then running off, and so on. The bosses just aren't very smart, since you can basically pelt them with attacks, run to the far side of the environment to recharge a bit, and go back without them ever really running after you, or at least not very quickly.
X-Men manages to deliver a pretty good visual experience, although there's nothing too special about it. The basic character models and animations are nicely detailed, as are a few of the environments. There are a couple of cool levels in particular, such as the power-plant-at-sundown scenario Iceman takes on at one point, as well as the sequence inside the Dark Cerebro machine from the 2nd movie. There's also a fair share of rather mundane looking areas in the game, but generally speaking, it's a pleasant enough game to look at. The most obnoxious visual aspect of X-Men, however, is its cutscenes, or practical lack thereof. All the game's story sequences are presented with still-frame shots of comic-book versions of the movie characters. You'll see these static characters awkwardly move across the screen to do various actions, and speak to one another with no mouth movement whatsoever. It doesn't even look so much like a comic book as it does the kind of purposely bad animation you'd find on something like Sealab 2021, but without the purpose. Every once in a while the game does go whole hog into the comic book style of transition, but it skips by each panel so fast that you can't read a single line of what's being said. As if the story weren't confusing enough already...
There are five home system versions of X-Men currently available, with iterations on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC, and Xbox 360. The first four versions all look comparable to one another, with the Xbox version perhaps looking the best of the bunch. All four really do look practically the same, but the PC, GC and PS2 versions suffer from an erratic frame rate. The Xbox 360 version is actually also comparable to the other four versions--perhaps a little too comparable. To say that on a standard-definition TV, the 360 version looks pretty close to the Xbox version would be an understatement. They're practically identical, with only a slightly more noticeable bit of color depth apparent on the 360 version. Upping to HD resolution does improve matters, especially in terms of environmental detail, but it's not such a huge difference as to warrant the $60 price tag (as opposed to $40 for the other console versions, and $30 for the PC version). Suffice it to say, the 360 version is pretty much a rip-off.
X-Men: The Official Game is ultimately an easily dismissible movie game to toss on the smoldering pile of other cash-in movie games released over the years. Its existence is solely based on the need to have an X-Men game to coincide with the hype surrounding the film, and it brings no interesting gameplay, story, visual, or feature components to the table to make it worth your time. It's all the more disappointing, considering that as of late, Activision has done well with the X-Men license with games like the X-Men Legends series. You'd have to go all the way back to 2002 for something like X-Men: Next Dimension to find a comparably lame use of the X-Men license to X-Men: The Official Game, and trust us when we say that this is not something you ever want to go back to.