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Reviewed: X-Men Legends II
Producer: Activision
Required System:  Xbox, PS2, Gamecube
Overall Rating:
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: February 16th, 2005


Every video game system has one or two "Last Gasp" titles - the titles that show the programmers have learned just about every trick of the hardware, every optimization to get things to run as quickly and as beautiful as possible. For the Xbox, X-Men Legends II comes pretty darn close.

When I reviewed the first title, I made a lot of comments regarding translations of the d20 gaming system. Since the engine underlying Legends II is the same, readers might as well take a quick look back in time.

Nicely for all the gamers out there, and for fans of the X-Men, the finishing touches on Legends II are great. As good as the first was, it had some noticeable holes - a relatively weak plot, a four-player setup constantly interrupted by single-player interludes, and a roster full of some very minor X-Men characters that most likely never saw play on many systems.

With Legends II, Activision corrected these errors. The result is a much tighter game. Instead of following the story of just one character, Legends II chronicles the X-Men fighting alongside their hated enemies, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, to liberate Magneto's island of Genosha, where he, a small civilization of Mutant refugees, and the Brotherhood were living. The end result is a great mix; one of the more compelling X-Men stories of past years remade into the game, and the roster upgraded to 15 characters including the Brotherhood membership, the X-Men standards, and a few "hidden" characters to round it out. Apparently Activision realized that they had a weak early storyline, or at least Magma didn't turn out to be a crowd favorite, because she's conspicuously absent from this release, taking a back seat to some more minor (but interesting) characters.

Graphically, this is as good as the Xbox can get. Superb numbers of enemies fill the screen, without a hint of slowdown - hunting through Brood tunnels will regularly have you up against 20 or more critters, plus the dead bodies or dropped items. The same solid special effects from powers work wonders, especially when combination attacks go off. Gorgeous pre-rendered environments are available to explore again and again, a step up from the entirely too-linear original in which it was almost impossible to backtrack. Legends II might also be the last big Xbox game  to feature 720p high-definition support, although this isn't a bad thing - the 360 and PS3 will both boast it out of the box on every single game.

Power combination attacks are back, as well as the game's standard combo attack strings. With four players (or three at least), it's a great experience, and the ability to jump right in just by grabbing a controller has been kept. The engine's regrettably suicidal AI starts to kick in when there are less than three humans playing, forcing the player(s) to play as the "tank" characters (Wolverine, Beast, Juggernaut, or similar) to get the best experience and not watch multiple teammates becoming mere cannon fodder. While the AI can be set to defensive modes, when low on healing supplies, this mostly consists of AI-controlled characters sitting back and waiting to be beaten up, so it's a feature best avoided. There's also an online component allowing friends to play cooperatively over the internet, which is usable, but laggy depending on where your friends are. Use it at your own risk.

The key for Legends II is its nonlinearity; there are five "Acts" to the storyline, and within those bounds, players can explore almost their entire section of the island. There's also a home base where members not currently in the party, as well as classic NPC's like Professor X and Forge reside; speaking to NPC's with the right character can elicit different responses or even a change in attitude (try to get something out of Forge while controlling Juggernaut, and see what happens).

Likewise, it's suggested to thoroughly explore the world, as a nonlinear mode allowed the designers to implement a decent number of optional sidequests, which can yield additional items or plot points. Exploring isn't as bad as it could be, though, because character switching is much quicker, allowing players to call up a needed mutant to solve a puzzle rather than engage in a large amount of backtracking. Exploring is also useful to get items, because just about everything is now a random drop; running around and beating things up became mandatory, but it's also good practice in using power combinations, which isn't a bad thing.

Overall, it's a solid 4-star title; well worth picking up.

Added:  Friday, February 17, 2006
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf


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