There's a new Wolverine movie in theaters, which means it's time for another developer to take a stab at Marvel's stabbiest super-hero with X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Developer Raven Software isn't altogether unfamiliar with Wolverine, having played about with him in both the X-Men Legends series and Marvel Ultimate Alliance; but this is the first time the developer has flown solo with the most fearsome Canadian on the face of the planet. Just like the film, the video game adaptation of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is all about Logan, his claws, and people being punctured by said claws. Raven has stated over and over again during the development process that they are trying to capture the essence of the character - trying to deliver the ultimate Wolverine experience.
Has Raven successfully translated the raw brutality of the world's most popular savage to the video game stage, or is X-Men Origins: Wolverine as forgettable as so much of Logan's mysterious past?
The Best At What He Does: Raven set out to create the ultimate Wolverine experience, and they've pretty much nailed it. This version of Logan far surpasses the movie version in terms of sheer brutality, literally tearing into enemies with everything he's got. The lunging mechanic is pure Wolverine, though one has to wonder why he can only jump extremely far when there's an enemy nearby. Feral senses are an interesting way to convey Wolverine's more bestial nature, using colors to indicate the way that Logan smells the world. If you're a fan of the scrappy, relentless, savage Wolverine, then this is your game.
It's Not All Slice And Dice: While slashing enemies to shreds with your claws can get you out of most situations, there are certainly situations where the block button is essential. More skilled players will get a kick out of the counter-attacking system, which has Wolverine retaliating in various entertaining ways if an enemy's strike is blocked with just the right timing. The quick kill system is basically a timed button press that results in some of the game's goriest deaths. And as implausible as it might sound, deflecting an incoming missile back at the shooter with your claws is extremely satisfying. All in all the combat system is deep and entertaining enough to keep you smiling throughout the entire length of the 8-10 hour game.
Build Your Own Logan: There are multiple ways to customize how your version of Wolverine plays. As you level, you gain skill points that can be used to beef up the powers and skills you accrue as you play. You also unlock up to three mutagen slots, which you can assign any number of powers to, from converting damaged caused to health to increasing the experience gained with each kill. It gives the player a little bit of control over how the game plays. It might not be much, but I appreciate having the options available.
Double-Sized Boss Fights: While some of the boss fights are nothing more than glorified brawls, there are a couple scattered throughout the game that are simply amazing. I don't want to spoil anything here, but one boss fight in particular had the X-Men fan in me wanting to stand up and applaud. The big Gambit fight is another one that had me grinning ear-to-ear. I couldn't have imagined a better place for these two characters to battle it out.
The Inevitable Fan Service: The developers at Raven further prove their comic book pedigree by including little nods to characters and events taking place in the past and distant future of the Marvel Universe. Audio logs scattered about various levels give us insight into the motivations of the characters working behind the scenes, while cameos from other Marvel characters give us some interesting information as to the origins of others. Between the little nods and the unlockable costumes from Wolverines come and gone, there's plenty in the game to please the hardcore fans.
Achievement Tracking: A small feature more than likely thrown in as an afterthought, the screen that keeps track of your kill counts for specific achievements is an excellent addition to the game. Developers need to pay attention here. If I have to kill 2,000 enemies to gain an achievement or trophy, being able to see how many I've got left to kill is not only convenient, it's an excellent motivation to go back and replay through the game after you've completed it.
Haven't I Stabbed You Before?: X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a beat-em up. I understand this, and I can forgive fighting the same peons over and over again. In fact, there's actually a nice variety to the smaller enemies you encounter, so that part really doesn't get stale. It's the big enemies that get repetitive. The giant magma elemental is impressive as hell when you first encounter it, but after the third or fourth time the encounters start to lose their punch. Simply varying the enemies in a slight way would have served to keep things fresh (oooh, it's a blue magma elemental!). Instead, Raven just throws the same giant creatures at you, sometimes in pairs just to keep you on your toes.
Attack Of The Technovirus: As with any movie tie-in, X-Men Origins: Wolverine had to make the movie release date, and in doing so obviously missed out on a little bit of quality assurance testing. Bodies have an odd tendency to hang in the open air rather than settling to the ground, for instance. The Gambit level is particularly buggy. At several points during the drawn-out chase after the ragin' cajun I found myself slicing and dicing at him only to discover that the Gambit I was fighting was simply a glitch that wouldn't die, and that my quarry had already run along further down the level. There are also a few horrible camera glitches in the same level that left me shifting my perspective dizzyingly for several minutes as I tried to navigate a narrow ledge. Top that off with some frustratingly buggy enemy behavior (can you say infinite impalement loop?) and you've got a game that didn't get nearly the polish it deserved.
Making It Look Too Easy: Wolverine is one of the toughest characters in the Marvel universe; I get that. Certain allowances have to be taken with a character like that in order to make an enjoyable video game out of their adventures. Raven has done an admirable job of making Wolverine a walking, talking, spinning engine of brutal destruction - perhaps too good of a job. There wasn't one point during the game that I was worried that I might die, save for a portion towards the beginning where your powers aren't quite working up to speed.
Tomb Wolverine: A game this focused on brutal action completely loses momentum when you suddenly find yourself pushing statues about on platforms in order to unlock doors. This is not something Wolverine does. If Wolverine wants a door, Wolverine MAKES a door.
Raven Software has done a lot of things right with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. They've captured the look and feel of Marvel's claw-wielding sociopath better than any other game before it. They even attempted to do something new, introducing real-time healing that more often than not saw my version of Wolverine running around with strips of cloth pasted randomly about his chest and blood pooling around his ass in a rather disgusting fashion, but they certainly did try to do something different. I've the distinct feeling that if they hadn't been tied down to the movie's release date, this could have been one of the best comic book video games of all time.
Flaws aside, X-Men Origins: Wolverine still manages to be the best it is at what it does, delivering many hours of satisfyingly brutal action the merry Marvel way.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine was developed by Raven Software and published by Activision, released May 1st for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP, and PC. Retails for $30 - $60. Played Xbox 360 version. Completed game on standard difficulty, unlocked three extra costumes, earned 40 out of 50 achievements.
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