A new Wolverine game? From Insomniac, careful and conscientious crafters of recent PlayStation blockbusters Spider-Man and Miles Morales? Sign me up, bub, even after that briefest of cinematic trailers where all you really see of Marvel's prickly brawler is a scruffy lumberjack shirt, a battered cowboy hat and the familiar "snikt" of adamantium blades popping out of bloodied knuckles. This unexpected comeback for the hirsute, hair-trigger mutant - in a proper PlayStation 5 game, not just as a Fortnite skin - harks back to the period where Wolverine was a permanent fixture. (Or to put it another way: when it came to gaming, Logan had a pretty good run.)
As well as rounding out the mutant cast of dozens of X-Men games, Wolverine's wild popularity as a solo comic character meant he also headlined his own titles. While hardly all-time classics, some had their enjoyable quirks (it's worth seeking out the raucous SNES soundtrack to 1994's Wolverine: Adamantium Rage, which sounds like the dawn of drill.) It is unlikely that Insomniac - a studio that could reasonably claim to be the best there is at what they do, which is making triple-A games about Marvel superheroes - will be poring over Logan's back catalogue of Game Boy Colour titles in search of inspiration. But maybe reexamining the last proper high-profile Wolverine game could throw up some useful pointers.
That was the 2009 movie tie-in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was official enough that it featured Hugh Jackman's ripped likeness and gravelly voice honed by almost a decade in the role. ("I was just starting to have fun," he growls at one point, after eviscerating several unfortunate henchman.) But there was a distinct sense that developers Raven Software - steeped in comics lore while creating the X-Men: Legends and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance action-RPG franchises in the 2000s - wanted to strike out on their own. (This was just before the release of Raven's Call of Duty: Black Ops, which saw the studio become enmeshed in the demanding, rotational grind of Activision's CoD war machine.)
The late 2000s was a time when the success of God of War had turned savagery into the status quo, preparing the ground for a Wolverine game that could lean into the character's more animalistic side. Thus the "Uncaged Edition" of X-Men Origins: Wolverine for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC featured lashings of blood, guts and the rather grisly sight of his mutant healing power functioning in real time. After being vividly flensed by machete swings and shotgun blasts, the lacerations, gouges and exit wounds on Logan's scourged torso would, during a pause in combat, miraculously begin to close up again like the ultimate rechargeable health bar. (Players who picked up the standard version for PS2, PSP and Wii were spared this level of injury detail.)
If this was a Wolverine avatar optimised to take a lot of punishment, he could also dish it out. Marvel Vs Capcom-style claw slashes and cyclone spins were just the start of it. There were bullying grab attacks and truly merciless ground-pounds plus a lethal suite of shredding special moves intensified by button-mashing. All the unfortunate tier one operators, jungle scouts and Weapon X facility guards you scythed down spilled red rage globules ready to charge up your next berserker attack. If Batman: Arkham Asylum, released the same year, nudged the player toward stringing together perfectly precise combos of strikes, reversals and dodges, this was something similarly brutal but a lot looser and wilder.
What really stood out was the lunge mechanic, allowing you to target specific enemies and immediately catapult towards them in a manner comparable to a frenzied, frizzy guided missile. This ability to instantly close distance on armed foes made combat surprisingly tactical and borderline cerebral even when soundtracked by Jackman's enraged battle cries and atavistic grunts. The result was the fizzy feeling of seeing Wolverine with the safeties off, particularly since canonically this was all going down long before he joined the (notably less bloodthirsty) X-Men. It even became part of the marketing spiel, pitched as the "authentic, relentless, uncompromised Wolverine experience".
Viewed over a decade later, it does seem perhaps a little too angsty and teeth-gritted, especially since we know Jackman is really just a big teddybear at heart. The presumably contractual requirement to reflect some of the movie's half-baked story beats and character clashes also did not help. There are dutiful duels with your evil big brother Sabretooth, man-mountain Fred "The Blob" Dukes and acrobatic New Orleans tea leaf Gambit. But Raven seemed more interested in growing the story in their own directions.
A brief black ops sojourn to Angola from the movie is expanded into a jungle adventure, with multi-armed hunter statues and gigantic stone leviathans thrown in alongside tooled-up mercs and the odd helicopter. After a lengthy exfiltration from the Weapon X facility where Wolverine gets his adamantium glow-up, Raven sends him off on another side-mission, infiltrating a secret mountain facility where a virulently anti-mutant blowhard is manufacturing mutant-hunting droids. The eventual multi-stage throwdown with a skyscraper-sized flying Sentinel robot - an amped-up sequence that includes a spot of skydiving without a parachute - feels like an example of what Raven could have done if they did not have to steer things toward a final confrontation with the film's truly woeful version of Deadpool.
Insomniac, of course, will have the freedom to draw from almost 50 years of Wolverine storytelling in comics and other media. This is a character who is canonically over 150 years old, who has lived many lives under different codenames all over the globe. Any new Wolverine game should take full advantage of that blank canvas before deciding whether to splatter the entire thing with blood and viscera. Perhaps that's the lesson to be learned from the Uncaged Edition. While there is undoubtedly some base feral pleasure playing as a Wolverine who is permanently stripped to the waist with berserker rage unchecked, it will be unlikely to sustain a whole game. Insomniac's inclusion of that fetching cowboy hat feels like a promising start.
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