Activision appears to be on a real winner with the Marvel License. After creating a quality Spiderman 2 game based on the movie for consoles, they showed that movie games are not necessarily going to be relegated to the bargain bins around the place. However the licence also extends to the comics which marvel produce and this is where their latest title has come from. X-Men Legends is based on the comic and Raven Software has come up with one of the best RPG games for the Playstation 2 console and one of the best games released this year in X-Men Legends.
For those of you who don't know the storyline behind the comics, the X-men are basically mutants living in a human society. There is two types, the good ones and the bad ones as expected but they are not accepted by the humans and have to be careful how and when they show their powers. The storyline behind the game works well within the franchise's backstory. A young girl has recently discovered she has mutant powers and is causing havoc accidentally, in full view of the general public. Both the X-men and their enemies want to get this girl to help her develop the powers and while the storyline initially is more along the comic lines of the X-men versus their enemies, later it focuses on the girl and she becomes a playable character.
X-Men Legends is an RPG game, and it is very much different to the traditional console style role playing title. Instead of being a turn based style Final Fantasy like game, the combat is performed in real time and this is what makes it great because during the game, people can just join in and start playing with you, or leave at will. While the game features a number of different X-Men you initially begin only with Wolverine and others are unlocked as you progress through either discovering them or rescuing them. The gameplay really boils down to beating the daylights out of enemies, defeating a boss and reaching an area. Doesn't sound all that great but the execution of this basic mechanism is what makes the game so good.
At any one time you can control up to four X-Men, and throughout each mission the configuration of the characters can change due to incapacitation. You can also manually change the configuration in each save point. This is a great option because you will at times find yourself faced with puzzles requiring a specific X-man power to progress such as Ice Man to put out a fire. This gives you a challenge but not in a way which impedes progress as most are relatively simple to solve. In all there is fifteen X-men to be found and unlock for use in combat including Wolverine, Cyclops, Rogue, Jean Gray and many others all with their own abilities to help you finish the task.
You can switch to any of the four Xmen you currently control quickly during gameplay via the DPAD. On the screen there is a four way lay out with a head on each and to change the controlled character, you choose the relevant head. Most of the time the characters do not need babysitting but one of the most annoying aspects of the game is that they will not use health items themselves, rather just tell you they need health requiring a quick change to help them.
Although for the current environment you're playing in, the game does not feature much variety, over the course of the game you will encounter a multitude of enemies and boss fights against some of the more famous characters such as Mystique. The enemies are not tough in general, but some are resistant to some attack such as physical which is again gives the game a puzzle feel at times. To help counter these resistance's, two X-men can perform a combination move. As you progress through the game you will find items to use such as armor and also improve the number and power of special moves on offer for each character.
The variety of the environments is fairly good. Beginning in a urban style environment, you will progress through to various places such as an Ice base and underground lair. However perhaps the most impressive level is the Xavier Research Institute, otherwise known as the X-men home. The developers have recreated the entire upper level, as well as the lower levels which control the X-men movements for missions and training. The Danger Room is the X-men training room and can be accessed outside the main game for multiplayer action as well as to help you improve your skills.
To reinforce the notion that the game is based on the comic series, a cel shading style has been used for the graphics and it looks great even on the PS2. The PS2 version is highly comparable to the Xbox due to this style and it has not limited the developer at all with great graphical explosions on offer as well as the effects from each of the X-men's special moves. The cut scenes are played out in engine and the only issue we really have is the amount of loading the game does. Every time you want to level up or change something, you have to go through a load screen and considering you do this quite often it breaks up the gameplay quite a bit.
X-men Legends is a game that has been boosted by the lack of hype surrounding it. The fact that it was not hyped or really talked about much before release has helped it give a lasting impression and Raven have done a fantastic job with this game. X-Men fans must own this game.