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Reviewed: X-Men Origins:Wolverine
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: May 18th, 2009
Page: 2

Raven Software have had an interesting history over the years. From the start, they've been a company associated with "building on what others did." Their first "big" title, Heretic, was based off the Doom engine. Since that humble beginning, they've gone on to code up a series of "somebody else's property" style titles - Star Wars, Star Trek, Hexen, Quake 4, and of course Marvel Legends and Marvel:Ultimate Alliance.

Thus we get to Wolverine. The last time Activision gave us a Wolverine title, the emphasis for 90% of the game was on stealth play. Sneak, Wallgrab, pounce. It worked well enough, and Wolverine's definitely scary in that mode, but it wasn't quite what Marvel was going for in the new movie, so the gameplay has changed. The new movie did its best to skirt the edges of a PG-13 rating, and it's obvious that the cue for the "Uncaged" editions - in other words, the Xbox360/PS3 release - was to throw even that out the window and try to go as gory as possible. And gore they did; enemies can be dispatched of in pretty much any conceivable way. As the game progresses and Logan "levels up", more and more options present themselves to the player, but the underlying scope of the game is the feeling of being "nearly invincible."

For basic controls, XOW is surprisingly simple. There's a grab button, jump button, and two attacks: "light" and "heavy." Enemy lock-on is available with the right trigger, and "block" or "pounce" - basically, flying across the screen to start a combo and knock an enemy to the ground - on the left trigger and button. Camera/targeting on the right stick, motion on the left, and that's that. Alternate attacks between light and heavy, toss enemies around with grab (or impale them on objects in the level, assuming you're standing close enough), and generally try to make blood spatter everywhere.

In actual gameplay, the "gift to gamers" is the lunge maneuver. Rather than simply running around blocking, Wolverine's at his finest bouncing around the screen. Jump on one enemy, pound him down, then jump to another. Aiding in this is the fact that Lunge is both unblockable and tends to "confuse" enemy AI for a moment or two. The danger in the combat system is that it's pretty easy to get repetitive. Most of the enemies have a "hole" in their AI towards a specific maneuver, and some of the more advanced maneuvers (such as the "counterattack" by blocking at just the right moment) tend to be superfluous in the face of Wolverine's basic attacks, like the lunge and the spinning-claws combo. The average gamer picking this game up simply isn't going to spend the time to master the block-counter timing, or many of the other extended attacks, when the basic combos are more than enough to get through the entire game.

For bosses and "special scenes", alas, Raven's gone back to one of the most annoying phenomena in gaming today: the Quicktime Event. Every so often (who am I kidding, the helicopter attack 10 minutes into the game qualifies) almost all semblance of control is removed from the player, in exchange for watching a pre-rendered "cutscene" setup along with prompts to press the correct button at the correct time. The more developers drop these into their games, the more I get annoyed by them, and it's especially grating in a title where "free rein", at least in the combat sense, has been a basic premise. Not all bosses or sub-bosses get caught in this trap, but it's enough to be annoying and break the game's feel of "free range" blood-and-guts combat. Bigger enemies (Wendigo, Leviathan) will quickly be an excercise in "dodge, mash buttons", and of course the game's end-boss falls into the "cheap, cheesy, frustrating" nuisance level that may very well destroy any urge to replay the game once finished.

Despite the levels being (mostly) linear, no Wolverine game would be complete without "hyper senses", and this is no exception. Pressing up on the D-pad will alter the game's visual mode, a fairly colorful change; normal terrain goes to blurry grey shades, "interactable" objects (dead soldiers to collect dog tags from, terrain usable for object-related kills, and enemies) go green, and a blue trail indicates the next place to go. The mode only lasts for a short while, but it's definitely something intended to be used fairly often. Pressing down on the D-pad will also retract Wolvie's claws, but really, are you going to do that very often a game like this?

In order to pad the level count and gameplay hours, and squeeze in extra Marvel villains/enemies not found in the movie (which, regrettably, was already overpacked), Raven have alternated levels based on the movie with "flashback" levels going to Wolverine's days in Stryker's task force. It's an interesting idea and has some merit, though it definitely will get confusing trying to remember which timeline you're in the first two switches.

The gorefest isn't limited to enemies. The biggest alteration to get used to is the sheer amount of damage which Wolverine can absorb thanks to the "healing factor" health bar; basically, Wolverine has a health bar that constantly regenerates. The more damage he takes, the more damaged he looks, to the point where flesh is removed and his adamantium skeleton is visible (how this squares with the "flashback" missions, where his skeleton is plain old bone, is not addressed). Take enough damage and his "vitals" - presumably, internal organs - are exposed and vulnerable to damage, though again, given the fact that the opening cutscene has pretty much his entire midsection blown away and healing, the description is necessarily vague as to which "vitals" those are.

Overall, it's a playable title - which is a bit more than I would have given the last Wolverine outing. For gamers who just want a button-mashing gorefest, or of course the fans who actually liked the latest Wolverine movie (all 12 of you, according to Rotten Tomatoes), it's worth a purchase. For most others, a weekend rental is probably about all you'll need of it.

Added:  Monday, May 18, 2009
Reviewer:  Mike Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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