Taking a Look at "X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse" at E3

The first "X-Men Legends" video game was a huge hit and most fans of the characters agreed that it was the most faithful adaptation of the X-Men to video games ever. The characters acted like you'd expect them to and their powers were accurately reflected in the game. As became readily apparent to anyone who finished the game, a sequel was already in the works, this time seeing the X-Men villain Apocalypse wreaking havoc with the team.

The sequel to the game will see release this Fall in the form of "X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse" from Activision. The game will see simultaneous release for the Xbox, PS2, Game Cube, the PSP and PC desktop systems. This week during the Electronic Entertainment Expo, CBR News was given a 20 minute demonstration of the game and we've got the details for you below.

First off, the set-up and style of the game is very similar to "X-Men Legends," but pretty much everything's been improved upon with loads of new features and a much darker storyline than was found in the first game. As good as the game looked the first time around, the sequel looks even better with improved art direction and greater detail in both the character and level design.

While the details given of the new story were somewhat limited, we were told that as you begin the game you find that Apocalypse has been waiting patiently to launch his quest for world domination following the events that transpired in "X-Men Legends." In "X-Men Legends II," Apocalypse waits for the right moment and launches a devastating attack against both the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. This attack brings the two groups together to fight against their now common enemy. This is the first game in which you can play characters like Wolverine, Juggernaut, Cyclops and Magneto together and use their powers in combination to defeat their enemies. In total there are 16 different characters you can play. The game takes place in an Ultimate style universe, but this isn't "Ultimate X-men Legends" by a long-shot. They've pulled elements from many different storylines to build a new, massive storyline.

One of the big pushes in the design is more level interactivity. The developers, Raven Software, wanted to make sure there are power puzzles or events to keep players on their toes constantly. For instance, in one scene we see our heroes (or are they villains?) walk over a stone carving of a scarab in the floor, only to find a real one pop up once you walk over it to attack the X-Men. The environments are even more active than they were in the first game, with a lot of destructibility possible, which means there'll be a lot more debris and action in each level.

Traditionally the X-Men have used Xavier Mansion as their headquarters, but with the war with Apocalypse, the X-Mansion is no longer a safe place to call home. There are a total of five different headquarter levels. We were shown one, which was a converted Weapon X facility. Each headquarter has a different group of non-playable characters (NPC) and missions, pulling in NPCs from both the X-Men and the entire Marvel Universe.

They've also more than doubled the number of active powers for characters, helping to capture the true essence of who these characters are. For instance, Bishop not only has powerful energy beams and shockwaves, but he now has a whole set of gun attacks as well.

Each level has been littered with various collectibles and items that will increase your status in the game that can be turned in later to complete various objectives.

Those sometimes annoying and long objective meetings with various characters can work much faster in "X-Men Legends II." For the action gamers, they've improved the way these meetings work so that you can go through the objectives faster and avoid much of the dialogue. RPG fans shouldn't worry, though, as there's plenty of dialogue and story you can get by taking your time going through the objective meetings.

The co-op menus, where you make changes to your various characters, have also been improved upon greatly. The menus themselves are more streamlined, giving you just the information you need on the main screen, with detail buttons if you want to get into the nitty, gritty of each character. Within the co-op menus you also have a choice of alternate skins, giving you the ability to change the appearance of your character. For instance, you could easily play an "Astonishing X-Men" styled Wolverine alongside an "Ultimate X-Men" version of Cyclops. They ran through the skins pretty quickly, but I counted four or five different skins for each character we were shown. The game defaults to Ultimate style skins. The co-op menus also support online play, a new feature introduced in "X-Men Legends II," something fans of the first game were clamoring for. You can play from 2-4 players in online mode.

With "X-Men Legends II" players are no longer restricted to being less than four characters ever. You can be four players on every level, but you're also no longer required to take on artificial intelligence (AI) characters if you don't want. If you'd prefer to play completely solo, that's an option. If you're playing online with a friend and only want one additional AI character instead of two, that's an option as well.

There are two new features that make game play a bit more exciting when playing with friends, whether it's in person or online. First, there's auto-leveling up. You can set it to happen real time within the game and will intelligently distribute all stats and skill points. This helps a lot in co-op and online modes so you don't have to wait for your buddy to go through the menus making changes to their characters. There's also in-game power switching, which allows you to simply go through your characters powers faster than you could in the first game. What this all means is that game play never has to stop, allowing uninterrupted mutant fighting action!

In terms of the "bosses" or baddies you'll be running into, Apocalypse has assembled a crazy collection of characters to fight. The developers have even gone outside the traditional X-Men universe to ensure there are plenty of bad guys to go up against. We witnessed a battle with Archangel that was quite impressive. The boss battles are multi-layered so that as the battle goes on, the boss, in this case Archangel, begins to use his environment to his advantage, which means you have to adapt to each battle as they progress.

They've also made it much harder to find the same item regularly throughout the game. Items are now randomly generated, instead of the fixed positions they had previously, so you'll no longer find the same 10 or 12 items over and over again.

Our demonstration finished with a look at an impressive cinematic designed by the Academy Award winning Blur Studios. It showed an attack by Magneto and members of the Brotherhood on a facility, showing Magneto ripping doors off their hinges with style and easily brushing off military forces. At one point Magento, Mystique and Sabertooth walk down a corridor towards two guys with machine guns blaring. Magneto simply erects a force field, which stops the bullets in their tracks Matrix style (but better!). It's an impressive little sequence, at the end of which finds Magneto and gang meeting up with Cyclops and Wolverine, who walk together to their next destinantion. Naturally, Wolverine and Sabertooth share a "moment" before moving on. They get in each others face, grin madly, then Wolverine walks away, showing his back to Sabertooth and raises his left arm with only one of his adamantium claws extended. Yeah, your guess as to which one he extends is correct.

Fans will be pleased to know that returning from the first game are voice actors Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Lou Diamond Phillips as Forge. More names will be announced shortly. One element that has been dropped for "X-Men Legends II" are the flashback levels, as the developers wanted to make sure they had enough room for optional quests and side-missions.

Overall it appears that Raven and Activision have taken the first game and really stepped things up big time for the follow-up. If you enjoyed the fighting action and style of the first game, this second game has a lot of improvements. The online play is something gamers will find very exciting, enabling them to play with multiple partners even when your buddy can't make it over for a night of game playing and pizza.

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