Version tested: PlayStation 3
"Crops dying. Earthquakes. Floods. The economy collapsed because of all those natural disasters," an anchorman states with gravitas at the start of X-Men: Destiny.
I'm going to postulate that "all those natural disasters" also include people vanishing after getting knocked out, invisible walls spawning throughout the city and the fabric of time moving in choppy spurts. On a technical level, X-Men: Destiny - from Too Human developer Silicon Knights - is shockingly dated.
The blocky character models, stiff animations, 2D explosions that wouldn't look out of place on the PS1 and stodgy controls are on par with those in budget titles like Deadly Premonition and Earth Defense Force: 2017. The voice-acting includes a character switching accents from Southern US to French to Jamaican in the span of a sentence. I even encountered a bug where Wolverine's claws were supposed to be drawn during a cut-scene, but weren't - and don't get me started on not being able to skip dialogue. That such abysmal issues are glaringly obvious in a full-price game from 2011 not starring Duke Nukem is astonishing.
Beneath Destiny's incompetent exterior lies a role-playing brawler about mutant youngsters finding their place in the world. After a mutant/human peace rally in San Francisco to commemorate Professor Xavier's death is attacked by unknown forces, you choose to play as one of three characters who suddenly realise they're mutants.
There's the fresh-off-the-boat, Japanese, goth-y schoolgirl Aimi; Hitler-youth anti-mutant Adrian; and Grant the jock, whose character development begins and ends with him liking football. None of them is memorable and the whole thing takes on a Mary Sue vibe (particularly with Aimi), in which you play as a nobody living their fantasy of inexplicably encountering all their favourite characters and saving the day.
It's the kind of game where, upon seeing your 15-year-old avatar fighting some thugs, the X-Men confidently remark that you seem to have everything under control and just keep doing what you're doing. Never mind that you're still an under-age civilian.
Those hoping for a darker turn on some of comics' more progressive heroes will be disappointed. The pun-ridden script is pitiful, but entertaining in a juvenile way. Children will likely get a kick out of it (despite the PEGI 16 rating) and adults like me can't help but smirk at such clumsy lines as "It's time to purify the Purifiers!" or Adrian's pick up line with Surge: "You must be packing some serious voltage."
It's all a bit naff, but provides an excuse for you to fight alongside the series' beloved roster before collecting their faculties. While you start out picking a core power tailored to melee brawling, long range combat or speedy spectral blades, your abilities can be augmented by finding "x-genes" containing the virtues of famous X-Men characters.
These come in three categories: offensive, defensive and utility. For example, equip Pyro's offensive x-gene to set foes ablaze, Ice-Man's defensive x-gene for an icy barrier, and Quicksilver's utility x-gene to sprint swiftly and eventually stun nearby enemies. You can also find well known characters' costumes lying about. Equipping them along with a full set of that mutant's x-genes gives you temporary access to souped-up "x-mode".
I haven't the foggiest why mutants' genetics and clothing are strewn about San Francisco, but it quickly becomes apparent that X-Men: Destiny isn't concerned with immersion or logic. It feels more like a modern successor to arcade beat-'em-ups like Turtles in Time, only with lots more customisation.
On that level, X-Men: Destiny is good fun in spite of itself. It doesn't have the tightest controls, enemy AI is all but non-existent and battles are incredibly repetitive, with most of the game locking you in an area until you kill a set number of foes.
Yet there's a certain charm to accessing new powers and slaughtering bad guys in fresh ways. Abilities are doled out with such regularity that you likely won't stick with the same loadout for long and rearranging various mutant modifiers gives the combat just enough flexibility to remain engaging throughout the game's scant, seven-hour campaign.
Beyond that, X-Men: Destiny does an exceptional job of forcing players to try different arrangements on subsequent play-throughs. At a few key instances, you're given binary choices between new attack powers. You can never have both, since they occupy the same controller inputs, and the options change based on which core power you picked at the beginning.
To further ensure that no two play-throughs are ever alike, the x-genes that you find are entirely randomised: you might discover Toad's defensive x-gene during a boss fight only to get a 'game over' and have it be replaced with Iceman's offensive modifier on the next run. I don't think it's possible to collect every x-gene in a single play-through, and varying the order in which you acquire them encourages repeat players to grow accustomed to new options.
There are other, non-combat choices to be made as well, but these are underwhelming. Each character has their own back-story, though it hardly influences the proceedings. Most decisions come down to whether you'd like to align yourself with the X-Men or the Brotherhood of Mutants. This affects the story somewhat, but has disappointingly little consequence overall. It's also questionable when the first optional Brotherhood mission has you take out a gang of Purifiers to save mutant hostages, which is exactly the type of thing the X-Men just commended you for doing.
X-Men: Destiny is a terrible game in most ways. It's an ugly, stupid title that's shoddily constructed. And yet, it gets the most important thing right: crafting your own mutant works due to finely tuned balancing, and tough choices coupled with haphazard item acquisition ensure that the focus is squarely on that.
Those expecting a well told, immersive X-Men experience will shudder at its chunky character designs, shabby presentation and stilted dialogue, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy myself with it.
Unlike movies, it's rare that games are so bad they're good. The rubbish ones are usually so unplayable that they're not worth plodding through. X-Men: Destiny is the exception that gets just enough right to be fun, while being sloppy enough elsewhere to be good for a laugh. It's the best kind of disaster.
5 / 10