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Reviewed: X-Men Legends
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: December 21st, 2004
Page: 2
The first thing to say about X-Men Legends is that the graphics designers got it right. 100% right. Beautiful character models, well-executed area maps, brilliant visuals. The destructible terrain feature is nice, though it's not quite as destructible as one might think; destroy most walls, and you'll not find yourself in another room, but facing an underlying, non-destructible wall. Plus, actually managing to hit some things that ought to be destructible can be painful.

The game's storyline is two parts. The first is the usual "X-men, go save the world" blather. Fun and good for mission setups, as well as the arrival of boss characters (mostly, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants), but not enough to stand on its own. That's where the character development comes in. The "fifteenth" character of the game - supplementing X-men regulars Gambit, Storm, Emma Frost, Beast, and Wolverine to name a few - is Magma from the New Mutants series, a teenage girl brought into the X-men fold when her newly discovered powers result in some major property damage to her hometown. The storyline revolves around her working to control her powers, which are on the same level as that of the Phoenix, and the Brotherhood trying to get their dirty mitts on her to further their own plans. There's also plenty of between-missions downtime and exploration of the X-men mansion and characters therein, including replays of famous old battles such as Juggernaut's assault on the X-Mansion.

Some of the concessions to gameplay are, to put it mildly, hilarious. To discourage the constant use of superpowers, all X-men have a power meter; each power usage eats some of it. They've also got a health meter. Thankfully, every enemy in sight drops health packs and energy packs which can be swilled instantly to heal these. While it worked well in Baldur's Gate (health potions anyways, mana potions being a concession to the "I need to cast spells all the time" reality of a hack-and-slash video game), in an X-men environment that's a lot of disbelief to suspend.

Powers are acquired in the d20 "feat" mode; certain levels of power and abilities are restricted until higher levels, with the "Xtreme" powers being unlockable at level 15 and then having incredibly long recharge times. They are impressive, however. The designers also added in quite a few nods to the old Capcom fighting games with X-men characters, especially in the combo system. Rather than simply executing one attack, a series of button pushes can execute a knockback, trip, pop-up, or dizzy combo on enemies for increased damage or strategic potential. It's a good idea, one that I would like to see extended to other games.

As in all d20 RPG's, experience is granted for moving the plot forward (doing missions) and beating up enemies. Lots of enemies. Since pretty much every non-Magma mission is nothing but "go here, beat up this enemy", the mission gameplay is rather thin. Also adding to the discontent is the fact that the game encourages taking only one team of X-men through every mission, rather than trying them all out. Why? Because in-party members get full experience, while idle ones only get half. By later missions, there's enough of a power gap that substituting a previously unused character can be foolhardy.

In terms of voice acting, it's safe to say that Patrick Stewart must really love doing the voice of Professor X, or else he wouldn't keep doing it. It's also safe to say that Activision could do to find some better voice actors, as the rest of the crew are a mixed bag at best. Likewise for the music, which is completely forgettable.

Character death is annoying. In the KOTOR series, unconscious characters revive at battle's end provided you win. The purpose isn't so much to make the game easier as to eliminate downtime running back and forth to save points. Legends, regrettably, requires players to trudge back to the nearest save point and either swap in another character, or spend their cash to revive the fallen one. It's a bad game mechanic, and I'm not sure why they did it except to increase the time spent playing. It's also a reckless thing to do with melee characters like Wolverine who tend to take the brunt of the damage, rush in before the ranged characters like Cyclops can do their thing, and spend more time down than up.

The multiplayer aspect of the game is the final good point. Being able to assemble a team of four humans tends to eliminate the game's mediocre character AI (replacing it, possibly, with substandard human AI but at least you know who to blame). It also makes for more intriguing strategic possibilities, since only humans are allowed to execute the special attack trip, knockback, and other maneuvers.

The verdict? Get it, and play it with friends. If you're going to be stuck playing it alone most of the time, rent before buying.

Added:  Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Reviewer:  Mike Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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