previews\ Apr 9, 2006 at 8:00 pm

X-Men: The Official Game - 360 - Preview

It was one of the definitive single-player RPG experiences in which players took control of a group of four characters. It also featured a dynamic cel-shaded effect, and an immersive, evolving storyline. Ok, as for the latter, that’s still there, but everything else you knew about Activision’s X-Men franchise is about to change.

Z-Axis and Activision, in concert with Marvel Comics, has changed up most of what you knew about the two previous X-Men titles in that the vision of controlling a team of four is gone.

Bye-bye … so long … cya … Ok, before you get your spandex (or latex) in a twist, there are still other X-Men that appear to help the central character in this set of branching quests, but players will not be able to control them, merely direct powers.

Activision showed off the title at an event recently held in San Francisco, and while the game will be released on the GameCube, PS2, Xbox, PC, GBA  and NDS (same story but different plot points and other playable characters, such as Colossus and Magneto, respectively), and the 360. For the home consoles and PC, the story and plot points are the same. The consoles feature the same general functions and the only true difference (Ok, the PS2 controls felt a little crisper at the event) is that the 360 graphically outshines its rivals by just a touch (the PC version was not available for comparison).

Co-written by Zak Penn and Chris Claremont (the former is the screenwriter for the first two X-Men movies while the latter is a legend when it comes to penning comic books), the Official Game serves as a precursor to the pending X-Men III film. How so? Well, the three central characters in the game are Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Iceman. But Nightcrawler does not appear in the movie. The game will explain why.

This is very much a third-person game, with approximately 31 levels in the game and a branching quest system. The game experience changes depending on which character you are playing. For Wolverine, the game is very much a hack ‘n slash whereas Iceman presents speed combat in a full-on three-dimensional aerial environment and Nightcrawler is about stealth, acrobatic combat and using his famous teleportation skills to close or pop in where least expected.

Oh, and if you are looking for much stronger ties to the motion picture franchise, just take a gander at the characters in the game. Shawn Ashmore’s likeness is Bobby Drake (aka Iceman), while Hugh Jackman’s face graces Wolverine’s visage and Alan Cumming’s image is used for Nightcrawler. Other X-Men also appear, taken from their movie-actor counterparts.

The game’s co-producer, Chris Palmisano, said that when creating the third game, the “primary goal in development was to over-deliver what it meant to be an X-Men.”

The game starts where the second film left off, in Alkali Lake after Jean Grey’s ‘death.’ (No spoilers here; if you watched the cartoon series, paid attention to the end of the second movie, or merely have followed the lore of the X-Men, you know what really happened.)

The game steers away from the remarkable cutscenes that have graced other titles, and instead uses graphics panels almost in comic book style. The stills are highly detailed and amazing, to say the least. And yes, in true RPG fashion, once you complete a mission (depending on the difficulty level) you can skill up your avatar by “mutating” their genes. You can, for example, invest in creating a Wolverine that is very defensive-combat oriented. But should you do so, for shame!

The initial missions act like tutorials for the combat styles and skills. Wolverine begins with the battle against Sabretooth at the Statue of Liberty (no Magneto trying to mutate New York) and Bobby’s first mission will teach players how to fly on the ice slides and fight while in the air. Nightcrawler must use his acrobatic and teleportation skills to pop around the underground areas in the stronghold of William Stryker at Alkali Lake. The warm-up is fast paced and a lot of fun, but then it gets serious and tough.

The sound is solid and the graphics are first rate, right down the line of console systems.

When one thinks of a franchise, one can only hope that it grows and gets better and better. X-Men: The Official Game does just that. It is wonderfully exciting, a visual treat and immensely entertaining … and this was just from seeing it on selected levels at a preview event.

The game releases May 18 and should be on the list of every comic-book fan/gamer, movie fans/gamers and anyone who wants an action-rich RPG.

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