I wish that the Watcher had announced this game, asking in his usual droll fashion, "What if Magma had been rescued by the X-Men just as her powers first started to emerge?" I guess I'm little old fashioned when it comes to Marvel comics and the games based on them. Probably because this is the first one in a long time that I've really enjoyed.
The story is an alternate history of the X-Men where Alison Crestmere is rescued by Wolverine after being kidnapped by Mystique and the rest of the Brotherhood. If you're getting flashbacks to the X-Men movie, you're not alone. In fact, the majority of the plot elements are retreads drawn from the long history of the comic, but to a fan of the series this is in no way a bad thing. If seeing the Sentinels for the first time doesn't make you smile, then you're grumpier than Wolverine.
The visuals are a mixed bag. The environments are nicely detailed, from the trash in the wastebaskets to the crackling campfires, while the pre-rendered FMVs inject an extra level of action and drama not possible in the game engine. The reason for this is they opted to cell-shade the characters to give them that authentic comic book feel. This looks fine in the middle of combat, but any other time the loss of detail is apparent, making most of the cut-scenes seem like a group of mouthless and nearly faceless puppets all wearing oven mitts over their oversized hands.
They certainly didn't skimp on the voice talent. Patrick Stewart reprises his role as Professor Xavier, and puts just as much style, humor, and emotion into his speeches here as he did on the big screen, while all the other voice actors work to match his level of performance. The music and sound effects that fill in the rest of the game's ambient noise feel just right, from the bamf of Nightcrawler's teleport to the blast of Cyke's eye beam.
The heart of this game is a team-based brawler, where you chose four from up to fifteen playable X-Men, to punch, grab, kick, and blast the opposition in a series of levels, ranging from the streets of Manhattan to the interior of a space station. All of their mutant powers have been authentically recreated here, from Wolverine's healing factor to Rogue's ability stealing, and you won't get very far in the game without making use of them. Two X-Men using their powers together will result in a combo for additional damage and experience, especially if one of the team members has the Leadership ability.
There are occasional puzzle elements to block your path, normally requiring the special powers of your mutant allies, which are sprinkled throughout the levels enough to keep things a little different without becoming tedious. Smashing everything in sight also helps, since the majority of the objects and occasionally the very walls of stages can be destroyed, sometimes revealing items. It's also just plain fun.
While X-Men Legends can be played with four people all taking control of the X-Men, the game's AI is good enough that you almost feel that way when you're playing alone, and you don't even have to fight for screen space either. Though occasionally they'll forget to heal themselves, get stuck, or not bother to attack. Calling them with the teammate function normally rushes them to action, but switching to them on the fly is also quick and easy.
Easy is another word I'd use to describe the game's overall difficulty, which hands you more healing and energy restoring capsules than you can ever use, along with cannon fodder enemies that often won't have the chance to attack before you pummel them. It's a side effect of not having selectable difficulty levels, and having to accommodate players of lesser abilities. The boss fights, however, bring that needed level of challenge into play, though never reach the level of controller snapping frustration. That's provided by the instant deaths caused by falling into certain areas, which aren't marked in any clear way, and may seem perfectly safe until you find yourself short one character. Thankfully, reviving X-Men is simply a matter of paying a small fee at a save point or completing the current mission, so it's at best a minor annoyance.
On the RPG side of things, you gain experience from every enemy defeated and every goal accomplished, providing you with points to spend on the stats of your X-Men, and to acquire and improve their mutant abilities, including the screen-filling extreme power. There's also three slots for equipment that can be found on the various levels or purchased from Forge's shop. How you choose to buff your mutant up will have a direct effect on how they will play. With different selections, someone like Iceman can be either a powerful support ally or a deadly close quarters fighter.
Bonus collecting had become a fad among comic-based games, and X-Men is no different. During the levels, you'll be able to collect danger room discs, design sketches, and comic book covers. The discs are mini-adventures in themselves with set goals that can earn you experience, money, and rare items. This is not to be confused with the danger room from the main menu that allows you to play as the X-Men, and any of the villains you've managed to unlock, in four on four brawls, either alone or with friends. If that's not enough, during the game can play special flashback missions that recount some of the classic moments in X-Men history. Completing the game will allow you to use those classic outfits and extreme variants in any game mode, though sadly not every X-Man or woman gets a change of clothes.
I've been playing X-Men games since the earliest PC titles, which had all the gameplay of running into the enemy really hard. While some were immensely fun, like Capcom's arcade contributions, they never gave me the feeling that I was actually reliving a true comic book adventure. Raven has finally given me that feeling, and I can't wait to see what they have in store for X-Men Legends 2.