REVIEW: "X-Men: Legends" Serves Up Mutant Fighting Action

When someone sends you an e-mail that says, "Hey, come down to our offices, have lunch on us and play some video games," well, it's hard to pass up. That's what happened a couple of weeks back when Activision contacted CBR News about a preview day for the just released "X-Men Legends" video game. CBR News has covered the game a number of times earlier this year, but in the past only certain levels were accessible. This time out the game was near completion and some playing time was in order.

It should be noted, before we get in to the full review here, that I'm not a video game guy. I'm not a hard-core console player. I've not finished "Doom III" nor have I even played it. My fingers don't fly with the speed of Mercury over a game controller. I'm a comics fan who gets a little giddy seeing some of his favorite characters come to life in a video game. This review comes from the perspective of a comics fan and, on that level, "X-Men Legends" succeeds in every way.

The game, written by those comic writing folk at Man of Action and programmed by Raven Software, is immediately playable for all skill levels. While my console experience has been mostly with the PS2, that day I played on an X-Box. The controller was relatively new to me, but the controls quickly became familiar. A couple of the Activision guys sat down with me to show me the ropes. It wasn't long until I had smacked around some baddies, passed my first level and moved on in the game.

It's an action-rpg style game that allows multiple players to play at the same time, with the ability for new players to jump in to an already established campaign easily. As you move through the game, new characters are unlocked allowing you to select from a growing list of up to fifteen different characters. (You can see the full list of characters at the official site). As you move through the game you play as a team of four characters, one you control while the other three are controlled by the computer or fellow players. Say you're tired of playing as Wolverine and would rather teleport in and out of scenes as Nightcrawler. No problem. You can switch amongst the characters on the fly.

As you travel through the game, the action gets more intense, with loads of villains from the X-Men Rogues Gallery to combat. Naturally, as you succeed your skill level increases. In fact, as the character levels up there's a visual reaction by the character to his or her newfound powers. It's an amusing little touch that helps to portray the personality of the characters. Wolverine, as you'd expect, reacts very differently than Gambit does when he levels up. And each character has an extreme power that must be unlocked. For example, Gambit's extreme power is "52 pick up." Trust me when I say no one's picking up much of anything after he uses this.

About 15 minutes into the game I started adding team members to my roster of playable characters and began to go on missions. The transition screens, which appear as new levels load, will be immediately familiar to comic fans - they look very similar to the covers of "Ultimate X-Men."

The levels are huge, but not to worry. You have a number of different mapping options to help guide you, including a "fog of war" type effect which places a translucent map on top of your playing field, showing you where you've been, while new portions of the map reveal itself as you explore your surroundings. The main mission has you rescuing Allison Crestmere, AKA Magma, from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and bringing her in to the X-Men fold. You get to follow her development as a rookie to full-fledged member of the X-Men.

Some of the Activision folk noted that skilled gamers should be able to finish the game in 25 to 30 hours. Having spoken to a number of hard-core gamers since, this is considered an excellent amount of playing time. You could spend the weekend without sleep finishing the game, or spread it out over a week. Regardless, whether you're an experienced gamer or a relative novice like myself, once you've finished the game's story mode there's plenty more to explore and do in the world of "X-Men Legends."

As I finished the first couple of tasks in the game, I was whisked away to Xavier's School for Gifted Students. The mansion, as you'd expect, is huge and a tour was in order, with Jean Grey serving as tour guide. As you explore the mansion you can visit the different team members dorm rooms, each one reflecting the individual personality of the character. Moving in to Wolverine's room you'll find a lit cigar on a table. Colossus' room featured a painting of the Ural Mountains. Iceman's room was messy, like you'd expect from any teenager. Beast's room was also a mess, but more that type of mess you'd expect from an eccentric and brilliant mind. On one wall of Beast's room was a chalkboard filled with mathematical computations. As you get closer to it, toward the bottom right you can read the words "Need more chalk." It appears Hank McCoy wasn't quite done with his work yet.

The line between the video game and comic markets is further blurred as you continue your tour. You'll find sprinkled throughout the dorm rooms classic comic art, comic covers and game concept sketches.

As you travel around the dorms, you can choose to take part in trivia quizzes that test your X-Men knowledge. Answer correctly and your character will earn additional experience points. Most comic fans should do pretty well. I'm far from an expert on the X-Men and got most of the answers right.

Once you're done touring the dorms, it's time to go back and visit Professor X in his office. After a brief confag he takes you down to the Danger Room. This is where my inner comics fan boy began to show through. As a kid I remember reading through the comics and always loved the brief mentions in the danger room, where all sorts of crazy stuff could happen as our favorite mutants trained for missions. With "X-Men Legends" the full potential of what the Danger Room has to offer is realized. Practice combo moves and try to master your extreme powers before embarking on a lengthy mission.

One of the real treats as a comic fan in this game has to be the flashback missions where you can play the characters as they were depicted years ago. Full fight scenes pulled directly out of classic X-Men comic books were on hand. One mission saw me fighting Juggernaut in a scene ripped from the comics, while another saw Nightcrawler wearing the costumer from his Excalibur days. Another saw the '70s version of Phoenix pop-up. For fans who've read those classic Claremont stories, you should be very pleased with the on-screen results.

The line-up of voice talent is pretty impressive. Lou Diamond Phillips provides the voice of Forge. Ed Asner handles the Morlock healer. "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's" Armin Shimmerman takes on "Toad." Cree Summer is the voice of Magma. Danica McKellar, "Winnie" from "The Wonder Years," is cast as Jubilee. And of course there's Patrick Stewart providing the voice of Professor X. At no point do the familiar voices distract from game play. Using talented and established voice actors adds to the overall playability of the game, providing each character with a realistic "voice."

After a couple of hours it was time to get back to some real work, but overall the experience of immersing myself in the world of "X-Men Legends" was a very enjoyable one. On a hot Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles, spending a few hours taking down a Sentinel or two is just good times. Is this the X-Men game comic fans have been waiting their whole lives for? Absolutely.

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