[GAME MASTER]X-Men Legends II: The Rise of ApocalypseWhen I was in third grade, my friends and I collected Marvel trading cards. I never read a single “X-Men” comic book, but I loved poring over the statistics and powers of each hero and villain, as helpfully quantified on the back of every card. My friends and I would assume comic book identities based solely on the statistics and tear around the yard shouting. The only reason I didn’t go for the character with perfect scores was that she was female.
So you might say “X-Men Legends II” was specifically tailored to appeal to my inner child. Like the cards, the game delves beyond the typical X-Men crew into slightly less well-known characters like Sunfire and Scarlet Witch. And again, like the cards, it’s all about the statistics.
The format’s fairly unchanged from the first “X-Men Legends” game ― you command a squadron of mutants on missions, and depending on who you use for what mission, certain characters will get stronger faster, while others get left behind. There are certain problems that crop up along the way that only certain characters can solve, so there’s also an element of strategy in making sure you’re not caught with a bunch of weaklings in the endgame.
Like the classic “Gauntlet,” the platform versions of this game rely on cooperation between up to four players for the best experience. That way, every character is under human control, every character levels up at roughly the same rate, and things look slightly less pathetic for the player’s social life.
But none of this really works on the PC, which is the game’s first weakness on this platform. When the game developers decided to release the sequel for computer, they should have taken into account the PC’s different paradigm of play ― computer gaming is much more of a solitary, immersive experience than the casual, team dynamic typified by consoles ― and made tweaks accordingly. The game’s controls don’t really work on the PC either, and anyone trying to play without a gamepad is in for some major frustration.
The story this time concerns Apocalypse, the granddaddy of all “X-Men” villains, a tyrannical mutant capable of transforming his body into weapons and bent on turning back the clock of civilization to a brutal state of nature where only the strong survive. To fight this threat, the X-Men team up with their usual enemies the Brotherhood of Mutants, led by Professor X’s nemesis Magneto, giving the game its excuse to include a big line-up of new characters.
These new guys are the second problem. Some are so vastly overpowered that they will simply never leave your party (Juggernaut) while others are completely useless (Scarlet Witch). To make matters worse, with the exception of a truly heroic reading of Professor X’s ridiculous lines by Patrick Stewart, the voice acting is bottom of the barrel, and sometimes even borders on offensive (Sunfire’s fake Asian accent and overpoliteness reek of stereotype). It goes without saying that Ian McKellen, who played Magneto in the films, is sorely missed.
But despite these quibbles, “X-Men” will still make a fun game for players hungry for “Gauntlet”-style squad-based action, or for those of us with fond memories of the kitschy, yellow spandex-clad “X-Men” of the old days. Just make sure you avoid the PC version.
by Ben Applegate