|| X-Men Legends Detailed Impressions
X-Men Legends Detailed Impressions
When X-Men Legends was first announced, we didn't know too much other than that it would be the first X-Men RPG ever made. Then we saw it in action, a four-character brawler featuring more than a dozen of our favorite X-Men (plus Magma, whatever). Still, I was skeptical before first playing Legends at Comic-Con 2004. See, the X-Men have a history of totally ass games. Sure, there are a few rare gems, like the original Genesis offering, but most (particularly recent releases) have been mediocre at best. Then I played me some Legends and dug it. It was a short -- but positive -- experience. Certainly Raven's new X-Men game showed incredible promise. So when Activision invited me to LA to spend several hours with Legends, I jumped at the chance.
A World that Fears and Hates You
Legends begins with the government abduction of Allison Crestmere, better known as Magma. The young mutant's powers have just begun to emerge. She's scared, confused, and in need of assistance -- you know, the norm for muties that attract the attention of the X-Men. Not only does the government want to get their hands on the out-of-control mutant, so does the Brotherhood, a group of mutants who take the opposite approach to Xavier, one of violence and aggression. Why the Brotherhood is so interested in Magma is a mystery, one you'll discover when you play the game yourself when it ships later this month.
The first level takes place on the streets of New York. To help get players accustomed to controls, a single character is available at first, Wolverine. The world's most famous Canuck (sorry Gretzky) gets about 15-20 minutes of solo time, tackling humans and tussling with the blue-skinned minx, Mystique. Eventually you begin collecting a team and by the end of the level have four full-fledge X-Members. This means that the awesome four-player co-op doesn't really function at its fullest in the first level, but don't worry, beyond the initial introduction (which is an immense level) you'll be able to select any unlocked X-Man to form your four-person team.
The story, written by Man of Action -- a group consisting of a few comic book writers who know their X-history -- doesn't take place in regular X-Men continuity. Instead, it's an amalgam of different X-Men backgrounds, taking bits from different storylines to create its own universe, somewhat in the same way that the X-Men movie universe was created. The character designs are generally modeled after the Ultimate X-Men comics, but there are also numerous unlockable classic outfits, including at least five alternates for Wolverine. In this universe, the mutant crisis has been in affect for a while and the X-Men are not some new group. Cyclops, Storm, Beast, Jean Grey, Wolverine -- they're all old school guard at this point, with some new blood, such as the effervescent Jubilee, added in for spice.
In all, fifteen X-Men will be available to play. The list is pretty impressive. Along with the above-mentioned characters, I've played as Iceman, Psylocke (the Betty Braddock/Lady Mandarin mix), Gambit, Colossus, Magma, Nightcrawler, Emma Frost and Rogue, leaving one mystery X-Man to discover later on. It's a good roster and while it appears fan favorites like Angel and Kitty Pride, there's still a great enough mix of Xers that anyone who complains should be slapped. So, if your buddy is reading this over your shoulder and looks like he's about to gripe because Cypher is nowhere to be found, smack him upside his head.
Call to Action
X-Men Legends is a four-player real-time action RPG, somewhat like Champions of Norrath, but with X-Men instead of D&D characters. That's what makes it rock. There are actually a lot of other cool differences that set Legends apart from other Baldur's Gate clones, enough that the somewhat familiar gameplay doesn't feel stale in any way.
Each X-Man has the same control scheme and you can switch freely between the X-Men on-screen with the D-Pad. You have two hand-to-hand attack buttons -- one light, one heavy -- a jump button (double jump to use flight or other movement powers), and a grab button. Character's can grab numerous items in the environment so long as they're strong enough to heft them. Chuck barrels, tanks of compressed air, crates, or enemies. Throwing is a bit wonky at this point, only because you seem to always toss the object as far as possible, making it difficult to target enemies. Hopefully that will be fixed for the final build of the game. If it's not, well, it's only a minor issue that's easy to compensate on your own.
Mutants, of course, also have powers they can use to up the advantage over their foes. Holding down the Right Trigger brings up four power icons, each corresponding to a different face button. Some mutants, such as Storm or Jean Grey, will use their powers a lot more often than someone like Wolverine. Not ever power needs to be toggled on, like Wolvie's healing factor or Colossus' amazing strength, which are constant.
As you battle, using your attacks and powers in conjunction with other X-Men will earn your some nifty combos. These combo names flash on the screen and really do encourage you to experiment more with your powers. Thanks to the assist button (Left Trigger) you can call an AI teammate to aid you with one of their powers. So you can use Jean Grey's TK power to grab an enemy, then call on Storm for a lightning strike to see what combo that might bring up. I love the combo system, not only for adding some extra punch to a battle, but also for acting almost like the gap list in Tony Hawk -- you kinda want to find everything out there. And since there are fifteen playable characters and some character-specific combos along with general combos, you'll have plenty of stuff to seek out.
Battles are pretty constant and really fierce. This is not an easy game. I died and many of the people I played with were dying too. It's not that it's an impossible game by any means, but it's definitely more of a challenge than one might expect. I love that.
The levels are very long. I mean, they are massive. I scoffed when Raven suggested this was a 25 hour game, but after spending four hours with Legends, I believe it. The levels will take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour to beat, sometimes more than that. Though you select your crew at the start of a mission, you can swap out X-Men at any extraction point. These also act as save points and you'll find a couple spread throughout each level. So if you start with Iceman on your team and realize halfway through that he's nowhere near as cool as Jubilee, you can swap out and continue your campaign. With so many X-Men to choose from, it's nice that you don't have to be stuck with any four throughout a level. And since multiple X-Men can solve the same puzzles in a level, you can pick your own favorite team, instead of being forced by game mechanics to choose specific characters.
Build a Better Mutant
Each of your X-Men is fully upgradeable, as you'd expect in any RPG, with four attributes (Strike, Agility, Body, and Focus aka mutant power) defining their abilities, along with a plethora of powers suitable for the individual X-Man. Each level earns you one point to add to an attribute and one point for a power. Powers can be upgraded multiple times and there are tiers to each power, so that as the game progresses, your X-Men go from throwing snowballs and casting tiny lightning bolts to full-screen displays of their awesome mutant might.
The powers fit the characters so that none eem out of place (except for Jubilee's ability to fly... wha?!). Some are obvious, like Wolverine's Healing Factor, and some are simply different variations on attacks. Jean Grey has telekinesis and can toss enemies left and right (though apparently can't toss bosses), Gambit throws kinetically charged playing cards, and Jubilee makes things sparkly. Jean's TK is really one of my favorites. It's pretty fun to throw enemies off bridges or slam them into their buddies. It's not as detailed a control as seen in Psi-Ops, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. Speaking of tossing, both Rogue and Colossus can increase their strength over time, allowing them to eventually heft trucks and toss them about. More importantly, you can pick up Wolverine and throw him at enemies -- even if another player is controlling the Canuck! I just couldn't get enough of launching Logan into boxes, at grunt soldiers, or at Pyro.
Tough you can only have four characters on screen at one time, all of your unlocked characters earn some experience as you play. Yes, the characters seeing action will earn more XP, but you won't have to worry about playing everyone just to keep them at a decent power level. That's a nice little feature, as is the ability to auto-assign points in case you want the AI to choose how to level up your X-Men. Of course, any player worth his stuff will want to choose the path of his Xers. There are numerous power offerings, so be sure to focus on specific abilities rather than spreading things out and having a variety of weak powers.
Along with powers, you'll find equipment through your adventures that will improve certain abilities for each mutant. If you want you can sell these pieces to Forge for some extra tech bits. Those tech bits can then be spent to buy better stuff from Forge or can be used to revive fallen teammates at any extraction point.
Four-player co-op was recently added to Legends, and now that I've tried it, I can't believe they almost left this out. Playing with four people (all on one system, there is no online or LAN support), does change the game a little bit. For one thing, you can't quickly hop to another character, because they're all taken. Now, if you play with two or three players instead of four, there will always be an open character anyone can jump to -- you won't be stuck with one X-Man throughout a level.
You can easily hop into a game, just plug in the controller and hit start to take control of one of the on-screen X-Men, but currently you can't seem to exit the level early. Once you're in, you gotta finish what you started. That may change for the final build, but what I played didn't allow one player to drop from the game unless they managed to die.
The major change is that the camera is limited a la Gauntlet. Where you can go at your own place in single-player and leave the AI characters off-screen, everyone must stay on the screen in multiplayer. This can sometimes leave people stuck in rooms and the myriad of other difficulties associated with this stuff. But really, unless the game supports online, there's no way to counteract this. Certainly I wouldn't want split-screen. That would just suck. So, multiplayer has its limitations, but also its benefits.
With luck, your players will be smarter than the AI scripts. I played primarily with Ray Padilla of sister site GameSpy, so I was at a clear disadvantage for multiplayer. Still, you can communicate, strategize, argue, and have a lot of fun with your friends. Like any similar four-player action game, it's as fun as you allow it to be. I love it, can't wait to play with my buddies, but it's also nice that the game plays great when you are solo. A lot of that is due to the relatively smart AI, which currently commits suicide from time to time by walking off ledges off-screen, but that should (cross fingers) be fixed before release.
Danger, Will Robinson!
X-Men Legends isn't just about running through levels and beating the crap out of people (though that is a lot of fun), there's also a pretty good story being told and some true RPG elements. Between levels, you'll have the chance to run around the virtual Xavier Mansion that's been accurately recreated. From the disarray of Bobby Drake's room to the Olympic-sized pool, everything and just about everyone is in its proper place.
Talk to Forge, Beast, Professor X or any other X-Men you tumble across. Each conversation offers your standard RPG dialogue tree. You can learn a lot more info on the X-Men, in case you aren't in the know, and some small subplots emerge throughout play. It's not a major game element, but everything is fully voiced with the likes of Cree Summers and Lou Diamond Phillips.
The mansion just wouldn't be X-worthy without the inclusion of a Danger Room, and Legends comes through with the first fully-functional Danger Room in an X-Men game. By finding different discs throughout the mansion and other levels, you'll unlock training exercises in the Danger Room (all of which earn you XP) as well as at least three classic missions. I was fortunate enough to play one of these missions and it was most certainly a classic.
Playing as four of the five original X-Men (Iceman, Marvel Girl, Cyclops, and Beast) in their original costumes (yes, Iceman looks more like the "Snowman"), you've got to defend the mansion from Charles Xavier's half-brother, Juggernaut. The nigh-indestructible Juggs crashes through the mansion door and then the fun begins. Your goal is to beat him down before he reaches Professor X. Juggs enters a room, battles for a bit, then goes invulnerable and crashes into the next part of the house.
Fighting in the old costumes is a blast -- and these become unlockable for use in the regular missions as well. Beating on Juggs isn't so hard and it is kind of nifty, particularly if you're a fan of the comics. I really didn't have a difficult time passing this level, but it was fun to play nonetheless. I'm kind of curious what the other classic moments hold. Perhaps Days of Future Past or Fatal Attraction will make the cut.
Danger Room discs aren't the only collectibles to find as you'll also want to be on the lookout for different comic books. Once collected, you can view these classics in the library at the mansion. The first I found was the classic (if you wanna call it that) Ultimate X-Men #33, featuring Wolverine going berserk. Not only do you get to see the nifty cover, these comic books give attribute boosts to specific characters providing a little extra collection incentive.
X Marks the Spot
Now that I've had the chance to play a significant amount of Legends, I think fans are gonna be very pleased. It's not a perfect game, but unless something catastrophic happens in the next two weeks, it's definitely gonna be a good game. I can't wait to have a build in the office so I can play through the entire game and see what kind of twists the story offers, what little surprises I'll encounter, and which enemies I'll end up battling. I'm hoping Sinister makes an appearance, as having Magneto as the primary villain is a bit played out. As an X-Men fan since grade school, I've had many years of video game disappointments. Finally there's an X-Men game to get excited about.