X-Men Legends II Hands-On

We get a grip on Activision and Raven's next action game starring the X-Men.

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We've been fiending for the chance to play Raven's upcoming follow-up to X-Men Legends ever since we caught wind of all the good stuff that's going to be packed into the sequel. Given that the original game, a winning blend of action and RPG elements, did so many things right, we've been excited to see how the sequel is going to turn out. It's been a long wait for a game that did the popular character right, and the fledgling franchise's debut was arguably the best video game to star the merry mutants outside of the classic Konami arcade game. We're pleased to say that, after a bit of hands-on time with the work-in-progress versions of the PC, PS2, and Xbox games, X-Men Legends II is shaping up to be the sequel fans are hoping for.

As with the first game, the action in X-Men Legends II will revolve around a story that draws on the rich lore that's been established in the books. For this second outing, the X-Men are forced to team up with Magneto when Apocalypse, having watched both groups exhaust themselves fighting each other, thinks it would be a good time to try to take over the world. The resulting drama makes for a great premise and offers plenty of butt-kicking opportunities.

We tried a sampling of levels in the game with assorted team members, which showed off a number of new elements. The game's roster is still a pretty closely guarded secret, so the characters we could play as were limited. We did manage to play as Bishop, a personal fave from the books, and were pleased to see that one of the many skins you can open up in the game lets him sport his once-trademark dreadlocks. The first level we tried was set in Apocalypse's digs in Egypt and it showed off some of the new puzzles you'll have to deal with, such as booby traps and spawning enemies. To progress through one of the areas, you'll have to take the team to collect various keys that are guarded by mobs of foes.

Besides giving us a chance to try out Bishop's unique abilities, which are a smart game-centric interpretation of his energy-absorption powers, the play time let us check out the new item system, as well as the improved leveling mechanic. Having clocked in many an hour in the original game, we're very pleased with the greater number of unique items that randomly appear here. Better still is the improved leveling mechanic, which used to bring the action to a halt while you or a friend went into the character menu to distribute skill and stat points. This time out, while you'll still have the option to manually shift points, the game features a KOTOR-style auto-level function that will let you automatically assign points to keep the action going.

Expect to see an expanded roster this time around--though Activision is keeping the list quiet for now.
Expect to see an expanded roster this time around--though Activision is keeping the list quiet for now.

Among the new features are the boss battles, which have become much more intricate than those in the last game. A battle against Archangel wound up turning into a complex bit of multitasking that required us to use the environment to both defend ourselves and leave him vulnerable. The fight offered a different kind of challenge than the fights we were used to in the first game, where they were of the plain "fricking hard" variety. XMLII offers the same level of difficulty, but then drags your brain into the mix, as you'll have to figure out the best way to deal with your foes as they pummel you to within an inch of your life.

Mutate This

Now, while XMLII will be hitting several different platforms, the game won't be the same across all of them. The GameCube will contain the core single-player game and will offer a comparable multiplayer experience to the original game. The PlayStation 2 and Xbox games will also feature online co-op play, as well as danger room and skirmish missions. The PC game will feature all of the above, not to mention two unique characters in its roster of playable fighters, as well as unique flashback missions.

Look for a custom, Diablo-style control scheme in the PC version of X-Men Legends II.
Look for a custom, Diablo-style control scheme in the PC version of X-Men Legends II.

The PC game will also feature a unique control scheme that differs from its console cousins. Whereas the console game will use the same basic button layout as the first game, which will make it easy to manage all the extra powers you'll be able to have access to, the PC game heads off into its own unique territory. The control scheme in the PC version we played, while still very much in a work-in-progress state, is aiming for a point-and-click feel that's in the same vein as Blizzard's PC classic, Diablo. Although it took a few minutes to get a feel for the unique system, it felt good even in its rough state.

The visuals have been much improved over those in the original. From a visual standpoint, the game looks great across the board, thanks to enhancements to the game's engine which have resulted in better lighting and improved detail. The PC game is particularly stunning thanks to its higher resolution. The effects for the various mutant powers and special abilities have been amped up and are especially satisfying. Another satisfying aspect of the visuals is the thought that's gone into choosing some of the locales for the hubs you'll use on the adventure. In addition to the expected X-Mansion hub, we were pleased to see the Weapon X facility in the mix as well.

The audio is easily on par with the first game, and it is slated to feature quite a bit more chatter between your party members. One nice touch in particular is how the chatter will reflect the party's makeup. The banter in your group will be based on the relationships between the X-Men and the Brotherhood you're using, which will result in chatter that will please comic fans. There will also be some celebrity talent to bring the characters to life. Patrick Stewart returns to voice Professor Xavier, and Lou Diamond Philips will play Forge. As for the sound effects, you'll hear a good assortment that will represent the various powers on display. The soundtrack is the final piece of the puzzle, and it provides a sweeping accompaniment to the action, which lends it some weight.

Look for the game to mutate its way onto store shelves this fall.
Look for the game to mutate its way onto store shelves this fall.

From the look of things so far, X-Men Legends II appears to be a sequel that surpasses its predecessor on every count. A diverse roster, excellent variety in game modes and accessible gameplay mechanics make for a game that comic fans will want to pick up. If you're one of the few who hasn't checked out the original X-Men Legends, then this game will serve as an even better example of why the new series is going over so well with players. X-Men Legends II is slated to ship this fall. Look for more on the game soon.

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