E3 2011: X-Men Destiny First Look Preview

E3 2011: Activision gives us an exclusive look at its Silicon Knights developed action role-playing game starring the X-Men.

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X-Men Destiny is the upcoming Silicon Knights-developed game from Activision featuring Marvel's famous mutants. Whereas the previous X-Men games let you play as some of the notable members of the iconic team, X-Men Destiny casts you as a freshly minted mutant whose future is shaped by some quality time spent with the gang. We had the chance to get a hands-off look at the upcoming game, guided by Activision reps that demoed a few sections of the unique title.

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X-Men Destiny's story is being penned by Mike Carey, writer of the X-Men Legacy book, and it revolves around three new mutants--Aimi Yoshida, Grant Alexander, and a third as-yet-unrevealed character. The tale begins at a San Francisco peace rally in memory of Professor X who, in the game's timeline, is dead. The rally goes poorly, which is pretty much the norm for any mutant-related gathering, and the character you've chosen to play as becomes involved in a conflict between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The events at the rally cause a chain of events that send your character on a journey of self-discovery and evolution that will tip the balance in the conflict between the two factions. How that all plays out is entirely up to you and the choices that you make throughout the course of the game.

We got a taste of how this is going to work in our demo, which showcased combat, exploration, power customization, choice, and a boss fight. The demo featured Aimi--the pigtail-sporting 15-year-old girl wielding energy attacks that are one of the three core powers you'll choose when starting the game--fighting her way through Chinatown in search of Gambit. This portion of the demo focused on showcasing the power mechanics as Aimi dealt with waves of thugs on her trip through Chinatown. Each character will have several options in battle. The combat fundamentals are light and heavy attacks that can be chained together into different combos to dole out damage that the game tracks.

These attacks come in two flavors: Those enhanced by your character's X-gene, which adds some mutant power kick, or (if you exhaust yourself) standard physical melee attacks that don't do nearly as much damage. The key to successful combat appears to be managing your character's powers. If you perform too many attacks using your power, you'll drain your m-meter and have to make do with normal attacks until it regenerates. In addition, you'll have access to special attacks fueled by your m-meter. The powerful attacks are tiered and based on how full the meter is, with the attack you perform when it's fully charged being the most devastating.

The big component of the power system in X-Men Destiny is the way you'll be able to customize your powers by mixing and matching X-genes in offensive, defensive, and utility slots. You'll earn different genes throughout the game by exploring and completing missions. The genes will be based on characters from the X-universe. In addition, you'll be able to find and wear costumes that are an homage to those familiar characters, which will yield special bonuses when combined with the proper X-genes, creating a "set."

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Toward the end of the Chinatown demo, Aimi came across a package containing an X-gene compound that could give non-mutants powers. Unfortunately, this applied to the reps from each of the factions: Gambit for the Brotherhood and Colossus and Surge from the X-Men, which led to an example of the game's choices. After the reps made their case for why Aimi should hand it over to them, gameplay froze and prompted a choice. Reps on hand stated that the choices made in these "destiny" moments will impact what X-genes you earn and which characters will help you out during the course of the adventure. Aimi chose to hand the package off to Gambit, which affected her status with the Brotherhood faction.

The final part of the demo had a boss fight against John Sublime in a secret complex run by the Purifiers and U-Men--two forces that aren't fans of the X-Men. Sublime's goal was to use the X-gene compound discussed earlier to empower his forces. Sublime injected himself with a compound based on Colossus' gene and morphed into an armored behemoth, which set off a boss encounter. For the fight, our demoer outfitted Aimi with Quicksilver's X-genes in all her slots and the Quicksilver costume, which yielded a speed bonus that came in handy for dealing with Sublime's attacks. The battle was a traditional multipart beatfest that had Sublime switching attack patterns. Obviously, Aimi triumphed, which led to a spectacular finish that saw her making use of Surge's X-gene.

Overall, the demo was interesting and showcased some intriguing ideas and gameplay. There were cameos either in person or via an X-gene. Colossus, Wolverine, Surge, Northstar, Quicksilver, Beast, Emma Frost, and Toad were all represented in a quick glimpse of the X-gene menu, which looked sizable. We reckon the game will wind up featuring just about most of the heavy hitters fans will be after and, hopefully, some surprises.

The visuals in X-Men Destiny have an interesting art direction and offer a unique interpretation of the comic's look. The environments we saw offered a solid amount of detail and interactivity, which was highlighted during the boss fight. The character models were along the same lines and generally looked fine. The various special effects used for powers offered a solid complement to the action. The only element that caught our eye was the game's color palette, which was a little more muted than we expected. The demo also featured some of the work-in-progress quirks you'd expect from a game in development, such as a tricky camera and fluctuating frame rate.

The audio was still coming together as well. Some of the effects sounded a little muted, especially during the boss battle. But the beginnings of character voice were on tap. Colossus sounded the most striking, given his Russian accent, which fit, although Sublime sounded suitably menacing too.

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X-Men Destiny has a lot of interesting ideas at play from what we've seen. We're curious to see more on how your choices will affect the story and just how many characters from the X- universe will appear in one form or another. We're also curious as to how the game is going to be polished up for its release later this year. As we noted, there are some rough edges to the package that we'd like to see smoothed out. As it stands, X-Men Destiny has some intriguing ideas that could make the game fun to play if they're properly developed, despite the demo's rough edges. Look for more on the game on our E3 stage show and in the months leading up to its launch later this year.

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