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Reviewed: X-Men: Next Dimension
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: November 8th, 2002
Page: 2

For a fighting game to be well-received, you need three things. The first is characters -- without characters that a player will latch onto and enjoy playing, there's much less of a chance someone will play the game for any length of time. The second is graphics: while we hate to admit it, a good-looking game (or at least decent-looking) will draw many more buyers. This was part of what hurt the Mutant Academy series. The last is a good fighting engine, one that the players will have fun with. This is the reason Street Fighter has been so popular for so long: it's got a simplified, easy-to-learn, hard-to-master fighting system.

Character-wise, X-Men: Next Dimension gets an obvious boost from its subject material. Utilizing the X-Men and their enemies, the system pulls in classic favorites like Wolverine and Beast, lesser-knowns like Betsy Braddock and Nightcrawler, as well as a slew of enemies including Juggernaut, The Blob, and everyone's favorite, Magneto. These are bolstered by a "story" mode in which players must use multiple characters to fight through the game's background storyline involving an old enemy named Bastion, who's once again using Sentinels in a bid to destroy all mutants.

Graphically, the game's beautiful, with a few caveats. The Gamecube and X-box versions look almost identical, with stunning use of anti-aliasing, well-defined character models, and the benefits of all their wonderful graphical hardware. The Playstation2 almost holds its own... almost. While most of the graphical niceties are there, the lack of anti-aliasing can get a bit grating, as the camera almost never lets a straight line sit perfectly up-down or left-right. It's especially noticeable in the Danger Room, which starts out as nothing but gridwork on a blue background. 

Oddly enough, the exact opposite problem is found in the game's control scheme. Activision appears to have spent a lot of time fixing the problems and annoyances from the Mutant Academy engine. Where the old system used six buttons (light, medium, and hard punches and kicks) the new one uses only four, removing the "medium" strikes as unnecessary. A single button now maps to the throws, and the countering system (formerly a single-button catch-all) now has three options. Hit forward with the button to counter an expected punch, back for a kick, and down for a crouching move. While it doesn't sound like much, I can honestly say that countering was a frequently-abused move in the old games because it would stop almost anything save for a throw. There's also heavy use of the analog sticks (for 3-d movement), taps up and down for quick sidesteps, and a revamp of the super meter. Instead of the "normal", "link", and "X" supers (the second of these requiring a button sequence after the move was started, and the last a mashing of the "x" button of the PSX to fully charge the meter) there's three "level" bars, which can each be used individually, or all together for a level-4 attack. One button is assigned to energy transfer, so it is still possible to trade energy up or down from each discrete bar. With these buttons, it's obvious that the game was designed with the PS2's controller in mind. On the X-box, things aren't too bad, except for the odd mapping of the throw and counter to white and black buttons, nominally out of reach while executing combos. The Gamecube's buttons are fine, but that tiny D-pad starts to hurt fingers when executing quarter-circle roll moves (think Street Fighter's fireball).

The engine also now includes environmental goodies: wide, expansive arenas, with somewhat interactive terrain (things can be broken, and occasionally throws executed at the right spot do something abnormal, such as Wolverine ramming his opponent's head into a nearby tree or hot dog stand). The fun part is the mobility, as well-timed hard strikes can actually send someone flying into the next connected arena, with an animation thereby. Such changes include dropping an enemy off of a rooftop to street level, or sending someone flying out the upper window of the Mansion to land in the courtyard. It's a great idea, well-executed, but does suffer the one noticeable drawback of increasing load times quite a bit.

The A.I. in the game is also pretty intense... at least on the Xbox and PS2 side. Playing through story mode, I found one ugly flaw in the Gamecube's A.I., in that it can't seem to handle a flying character. The PS2 and Xbox, on the other hand, just jumped up and kicked them out of the air.

Final verdict? Great game on the PS2, only passable on the Xbox and Gamecube due to the controllers, which just aren't cut out for fighting games.

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Added:  Friday, November 08, 2002
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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