X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not a movie game.
Raven Software senior producer Jeff Poffenbarger wants to be crystal clear on that before we get started. The game was well under development before talk of tying it to the movie kicked off.
"We finished up work on Marvel Ultimate Alliance and wanted to get away from group games, we wanted to concentrate on a single player experience," he said last week during a presentation in a hotel suite. "A Wolverine game was a no-brainer because in a lot of other video games he has been watered down."
So two-and-a-half years ago the developers sat down and started talking about what would make a Wolverine game stand out, what elements needed to be included in the title for it to feel real.
"His combat, we wanted Wolverine to have razor sharp claws that actually cut through people," he said. "We wanted to show his mutant regeneration healing."
So they made sure their Wolverine model had four layers of graphics: clothing, skin, muscle and skeleton. And that weapons would eventually chew through all of them.
"We didn't just want to nail him as a character. Wanted to nail him as a bad ass."
And after spending perhaps too much time with the game, it seems that Raven has succeeded.
It succeeds on two levels:
Visually, the game is surprisingly raw.
When Wolverine attacks his claws slip through flesh, muscle and bone leaving severed limbs, heads and punctured bodies. When attacked, bullets tear off chunks of Wolverine's clothing, punch holes in his flesh, eventually expose muscle or vertebrae. Slowly those injuries rewind, becoming flesh wounds and then disappearing. His shirt only reappears when he levels up.
The settings are thick with detail and the battles often crowd the screen.
Controls are also raw, allowing gamers to tear through enemies quickly, like an animal. Wolverine leaps from target to target before enemies can get off shots or, at least in my mind, register in their AI programming the oncoming blur of blades and muscle.
Punching a button or two allows for a string of bloody attacks, and a lock-on option gets Wolverine to leap across the screen, smacking into attackers with his claws.
While I didn't get a chance to play through any of the game's cinematics, Poffenbarger shows me a few. In the interactive cut scenes, Wolverine has to fight his way along an exploding bridge or up the falling body of a Sentinel.
I didn't have enough time to fully preview the title, but what I played of X-Men:Origins: Wolverine gave me quite high expectations.
The game is due out on May 1 for the DS, PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii and Xbox 360.