Review By: Seth Robison
Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
“Deep in the man sits fast his fate
To mould his fortunes, mean or great…”
- from the poem “Fate” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Diversity is at the heart of the X-Men franchise, not just them being a metaphor for the struggles of persecuted minority groups, but the in the idea that unlike the major solo comic book heroes, each mutant has essentially one power and it takes the team, all from different walks of life, working in concert to be at their most effective. This diversity in personality and power has accounted for not only the comic’s popularity and longevity but also, to varying degrees of success, the reason behind the long history of X-Men video games.
Adding to that legacy is X-Men Destiny, out now for all the current-gen platforms from Silicon Knights (Too Human) and Activision, a single-player 3D brawler that casts the player character as a new mutant, original to the game, whose power awakens in the midst of a new conflict between mutants and the rest of humanity. Taking place in a continuity parallel to 2008’s Manifest Destiny storyline, the X-Men have just moved to San Francisco after Professor Xavier is killed in a battle with Bastion. Mutant/human tensions are at a peak after a series of global disasters, and an attack on a unity rally not only threatens to ignite a war, but also awakens the powers of a young onlooker who quickly finds him or herself in the middle of the struggle.
What X-Men Destiny does first is part and parcel to what X-Men Destiny does best, and that is give the player a choice as to not only how the game’s story will play out, but how the game itself will be played. Right away, you must choose your player character: either a Japanese mutant refugee, an apolitical college football star or a new member of the anti-mutant ‘militia,’ the Purifiers. While each share the same basic ‘path’ through the game, each has his or her own storyline as they come to terms with their new life as a mutant.
Fortunately, that new life includes having a super-power, and right after choosing who you will be you get a choice of how your powers will manifest. X-Men Destiny, being a brawler, each conform to one of three styles of attack: Density Control gives you a rocky coating for melee range power and armor, Energy Projection gives you an array of ranged attacks and Shadow Matter is speed based for close attacks with ‘dark energy’ blades. As you progress though game, each of these powers develop even further, and again you must choose how, as each power set has two branches of their own that can be upgraded with experience earned in combat.
As you progress though the game’s story line, penned by veteran comics scribe Mike Carey (Age of X, X-Men-Legacy) you are given a further choice whether to follow Cyclops and the X-Men or Magneto’s Brotherhood. Dialogue with the franchise’s cast including mainstays like Wolverine and Mystique, but also lesser-known mutants like Pixie and Surge, who will also on occasion ably help you in battle, diversifies the experience even further.Unfortunately, the core of the game’s experience lets down the entire framework. For as many choices you have in play style, there are as few enemy types to use them against. You will fight the same three enemies for hours before anything new is introduced, and those that do, do not vary enough to provide a challenge, save for mini-bosses whose ranged attacks can quickly drain your health before you can tell you are in danger. The brawling is handled with a standard two-button light/heavy attack system, and the combos that come out of it are basic and short. The collision/hit-detection system is weak and blocky, as you will occasionally whiff at a foe that is standing right in front of you, but is just elevated slightly by the terrain. On occasion projectiles that have clearly missed you will still connect, setting you up for a frustrating juggle. The camera is little help either, swinging in too close in tight quarters, ignoring when a ranged attacker has arrived drawn a bead on you and fired from off screen, or getting stuck at a low angle after you have climbed up to a platform.
The flow of the game feels clunky as well, as it consists of primarily ‘fight a bunch of guys, run 20 feet, fight a bunch more’ repeatedly, occasionally broken up by some poorly voice acted interactions with NPCs. Such interactions will offer lead to faction reputation earning ‘challenge rooms’ which consist of a room full of more of the same enemies, but this time on a timer. Even when a mission that sounds like it’ll be different like “help Nightcrawler evacuate civilians” or “help Forge deactivate enemy technology” consist of you just fighting off waves of foes while others do the more interesting work.
Visually the game has the look of an early entry into this console generation with blocky characters, washed out colors, and stock level design. But there are some cool touches, like the how the player character/classic mutant’s powers look and the in-world captions that exist in the game’s 3D space and can be shattered via an attack. The audio sadly don’t seem to know when to start and stop its music cues or sound effects and it’s clear where the edits to the dialog were made to suit each player character’s situation, as vocal emotions shift on a dime as the game rights itself back on to the core track.
Redeeming this game is how it chose to implement its accessory system. Hidden in stages, or as rewards for completing some of the almost too well hidden challenge arenas, are X-Genes, individual aspects of several new and classic X-Men franchise characters that you can equip and develop. Divided into offensive, defensive and utility slots, each X-Gene can be mixed and matched to let you, on a very basic level, simulate the powers of an existing character. For example, the Quicksilver offensive X-Gene lets you attack faster, while the Wolverine defensive X-Gene regenerates your health. These coupled with player character costumes inspired by the looks of other mutants that can be found can complete this transformation.
With all of its choices, X-Men Destiny has the kind of replayability that some of the best brawlers ever made could only hope to have. That being said, a little more polish some multiplayer or an even a radical departure toward a total conversion to a turn based RPG (where the customization and turn based storyline would have excelled) could have helped the experience.
Review by: Lucas Siegel
Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
After a cinematic trailer that made everyone say "Holy crap!" expectations for this game were high. Along with expectations, however, were questions about exactly what this zombie-killing game would be like. As it turns out, it's different than any other before, in some great ways.
First let's talk about what this game isn't: It's not Left 4 Dead or really anything very similar. Yes, there is first person action, yes, you're killing zombies… and the similarities end there. What this game offers is a much deeper experience, actually sharing more with games like Fallout 3. This is a game about a journey, it's about quests and figuring out a greater way to survive beyond just slaughtering the undead.
When you start out, you'll start with minimal weaponry and only a couple of people you can get some of these quests from. Anyone familiar with western style RPGs will pick up on this very quickly and easily. There are a mix of big, story-driven missions and smaller optional side-quests. Both earn you experience, money, and other upgrades. There are people that you'll meet along the way unlocking new weaponry, new skills, and of course, more and more missions to explore this resort island of zombies through.
While the goal to these missions always involves killing some dead men walking, the game actually gets you very involved in living the life of your one-of-four playable characters. While the individual characters don't get very fleshed out, you actually feel more like you played the story. It makes you wonder why Deep Silver decided to not have you simply create your own character; character creation (including an initial roll) is the one thing missing that would have made this a full-featured RPG, and probably would've propelled this into an elite level game instead of just a good one.
The controls are a little touchy at first, and your early weapons will need to be swung several times to get that satisfying crunch that means your enemy is re-dead. Luckily, your weapon creation/finding evolves pretty quickly, and for the majority of your twenty or so hours of gameplay, you'll be wreaking havoc on the basic zombies. New, harder-to-kill classes will start showing up, as well as much larger groups. So much so that at times to complete a mission, you may try ignoring some of the zombies altogether, instead opting to just run through and complete your mission while avoiding getting attacked by an overwhelming horde.
Again, this game is much easier to recommend for Fallout fans than Left 4 Dead, and that's a good thing. It will involve you more, and it builds this world, one that sounds light at first, as something very real and, perhaps ironically, alive. If you're expecting non-stop action, this is not the zombie game you're looking for. If you want an atmospheric RPG that will make you jump out of your skin every once in awhile, book a reservation at Dead Island.