Review: If we had Wolverine's mutant ability to sense a bad situation, then this title would reek from miles away.
It's no secret that developers jump on the opportunity to capitalize on the anticipation and the possible success of a movie by creating a game to coincide with its release. It's an easy cash-out for the developer, with each product promoting the other. But the transition from one medium to the next is rarely smooth or successful. With X-Men: The Official Game, yet another title falls victim to this unfortunate trend. It's not that the game is completely unplayable, because the controls are formidable, but aside from that, the positives are few and far between.
The story doesn't follow any particular plotline from the X-Men movie series. Instead, the Official Game details events leading up to the beginning of X-Men: The Last Stand
, according to the synopsis in the instruction booklet. The two initial missions are very short and simple, which is understandable considering they are, more or less, training levels created to introduce players to the multiple control schemes. The problem begins when the training levels are long in the past, and you're continually completing levels thereafter that aren't much different in terms of difficulty or length. Even the boss sequences require little strategy and end rather abruptly, further alluding to a title that was rushed simply to meet the release of the feature film.
It's a shame because the game presents certain qualities and ideas that very well could have worked, but the execution of them was lackluster, to say the least. Throughout the game, you play missions that are character-specific to Wolverine, Iceman, and Nightcrawler, with each hero possessing a unique control scheme. As Iceman, you surf through missions via an ice board, using your frigid powers to put out fires and take down enemies. The Nightcrawler missions make you rely on your teleporting and acrobatic prowess to traverse areas like a flying squirrel, lunging from platform to platform, shimmying up walls, and clinging onto nearly anything in sight. Wolverine's missions are probably the most straightforward of the three--and also the most redundant. These missions consist of being enclosed in a set area with multiple spawning generators. Here, you must endure these gauntlet-like marathons where sets of enemies continually respawn until you literally lose all feeling in your fingers. When you think you finally took care of them all, yet another group of cookie-cutter enemies will somehow appear. It's button-mashing of the most mundane kind.
The gameplay is different for each character, but regardless, the objectives rarely go beyond destroying various control panels or force fields, while having to simultaneously fend off enemies in unbearable numbers. Needless to say, the monotony and the brevity of most missions are disconcerting. With three completely contrasting styles of play, you assume the game would offer a good deal of variety, but that's far from the truth. Granted, the Nightcrawler and Iceman missions aren't nearly as repetitive as Wolverine's, but they too tend to grow stale quicker than you'd like.
On the middle difficulty setting, you'll breeze past most of the game in but a few hours. With no health trinkets, you'll instead rely on your innate healing ability. Your health meter gradually grows regardless of your character, and Wolverine and Nightcrawler have an additional meter that increases as you decimate foes. Once full, you can replenish your health completely. The only catch is that you can't move or get hit in the process, a task easier said than done in the latter stages of the game on the stiffer difficulties-- especially with Wolverine's missions, where sullen moments are almost nonexistent. Depending on which difficulty setting you select, you earn a set number of mutation credits after the completion of each mission, which you can use to augment character attributes.
Wolverine's segments are stricken with problems, which is unfortunate considering he's the real star of any X-Men story. As if fending off an unmanageable number of enemies isn't enough, you must combat horrible predetermined camera angles. Unlike the Nightcrawler missions, which allow you to swivel the camera 360 degrees, Wolverine's settings are restricted to set angles. Since enemies continuously regenerate from every corner, you're often attacked from enemies that are out of view. Granted, there is a map at the corner of the screen with blips indicating enemies, objective locations, and more, but the angles are still a nuisance nonetheless.
As you reach the latter levels the difficulty jumps from too-easy to too-difficult, with little gray area in between. Luckily, you can set the difficulty before each mission, so if you get hung up in a certain place, you can always lower the difficulty. Likewise, you can up the difficulty and replay a mission to receive extra mutation credits, as well as collect any Weapon X and Sentinel Tech icons that you may have missed the first time around. There are five of these strewn throughout each level, and most are out in the open and easy to spot, considering the restricted size of most locations. Collecting them all unlocks additional costumes. But with that said, there's little chance you'll want to play any mission a second time through.
There tends to be some lapses with the artificial intelligence, namely some pursuit issues. For the most part, you're easy prey for the opposition when out in the open. However, you'll encounter instances where simply standing behind a small object either completely erases enemy pursuit or, at the very least, momentarily confuses them. Although not a huge problem, it should also be noted the frequent character switching, coupled with the contrasting control mapping for each character, can make it difficult to become accustomed to the way each one plays. It seems as though each time you get used to one hero's controls, the story branches off to a different character, where the controls are hardly similar. On a positive note, though, you can commend Z-Axis for at least attempting to mix things up.
Unfortunately things don't get much better. Before each mission, you'll view a pre-rendered movie segment that gives cause for your ensuing objectives. These scenes consist of inanimate cut-outs unexcitingly gyrating across the screen. When speaking, the characters' mouths don't move, nor do any other parts of their body. When movement is shown, it's usually characters floating across the screen in one stiff motion. It's like a puppet show gone horribly wrong. But even puppet shows attempt to match the dialogue with the appropriate lip-synching.
The in-game visuals aren't nearly as bad. The framerate stays fluid, and the game does manage to process some impressive particle effects. Nightcrawler's teleportation may be the most impressive visual feat, with his body dissipating into tiny molecules only to reappear somewhere else. As far as scenery, most areas are run-down industrial sites, although the backdrops do show some variation, taking players to different outdoor locales as well. The textures are formidable but, again, most areas are unbelievably small and bare. On the flipside, it's fun to be able to destroy nearly any surrounding object, but if you do so, you're left with a backdrop that's even emptier than before. Since the game ties in with the X-Men movie series, the characters were designed with the cast in mind. Wolverine looks like Hugh Jackman, Storm resembles Halle Berry, and so on.
The inferior cinematic scenes protrude over to the audio side as well. Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and other stars from the movie lend their vocals to the game. But while the voice acting is efficient, the accompanying visuals prevent you from ever appreciating the storyline. And after you complete the tedious mission-based game, there's little else to explore. No online capabilities. No multiplayer modes. Of course, you can always play the additional danger room missions, which are unlocked from story mode. These time-based missions are slightly different from your regular missions, but they still don't save a game that's bare in features and content.