X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse

You'd have to be some kind of mutant to not love it.

I had a teacher at school, and he had an extra prehensile finger between the thumb and index finger of each hand. He normally kept it folded out of the way, when writing on blackboards and the like. But, when I had been rude, or naughty, he would unfurl it, and flick me hard on the forehead with it. Apropos nothing, this sort of thing proves that mutant powers are brilliant. I wish I had one.

X-Men legends II is that most welcome of gaming sequels: the game which corrects its predecessor's manifest flaws, and becomes the game it should have been. All of the things you wanted to love about X-Men Legends, you now feel as if you truly can.

Look at all the goodies Raven have kindly dumped, joyously into our eager laps: four-player online co-operative mode. Woo. Tons of playable characters, both goodies and baddies. Yay. Gratuitous abuse of manifest mutant destiny. Houpla.

Okay, so perhaps the game doesn't manage to be more than the game that X-men Legends should have been. It's still a Baldurian dungeon crawler with a comic-book bent. The core game is much as has gone before. But for all that, this game is a solid action RPG with much to commend and little to criticize.

So, what are these commendations? Uncensored mutant depravity as far as the eye can see. Hack, slash, kill, kill. Levelling up to ridiculous awesome ninja powers and totally flipping out on the unsuspecting asses of bad guys everywhere. Yes, it's juvenile, but by biscuits it's fun.

The X-Men Hula Hooping compo was a big success.

There's just so much on offer here for so many different genristas; R-P-Gamers, comic book guys, X-Men merchandise hoarders, stat freaks, action monkeys, and all the freakish chimerae that fill the cracks between will probably bubble up with liquid joy, joy that will carry you through the 15-20 hours you need to explore this game, and its numerous X-Men, Brotherhood and collectibles.

'Rise' is simple but genuine gaming crack following tried-and-true Baldur's Gate dungeon-crawling. But it's crawling dungeons with X-Men, and nary an Orc, Halfling, Shelf, Pixogram or Bagroth in sight. And that, surely, counts for a lot. It certainly does in my book.

The way you play this X-Men slash-a-thon is, again, ultra-familiar. You and three team members, either from the Internets or made of computer, group-hug, enter an area, and then smash the ungodly heathens until they bleed evil. Then you collect stuff, upgrade, beat up some hairier things and the glorious cycle repeats.

There's a pleasantly distended roster of playables including Wolverine, Storm, Bishop, Gambit, Rogue, Iceman, and Sunfire; baddies include Magneto and Toad. There are some other unlockable extra-special characters available for you to find too, which is left as an exercise for the reader. Oh, and lots of other characters make NPC cameos as well, including Prof. Xavier. Whew.

Back in my day, we used to call this sort of thing a "Melee".

The game features some really rather decent and impressive AI. In fact, in order to keep the amount of housekeeping and micromanagement necessary to a minimum, a system is in place where the AI bots can choose their own items and upgrades. The AI does the hard work so you don't have to. Now, I am well aware that RPG connoisseurs will certainly find this abhorrent and want the misery and suffering of doing it the old fashioned way. In which case, turn it off! It's an option. Personally, I found the idea a godsend. I hope to see this facility appearing in lots of RPGs in the future.

X-Men Legends was rather limiting in its choice of environments to play in, but II offers you a much broader range of pastures to gallivant amongst. You won't, due to a convenient plot device, get to go the Xavier's mansion, so your home base flits around between multiple locations, from the desert to Antarctica to Egypt to Canada and more. Each new environment is beautifully and realistically rendered.

Graphically, nothing here has changed from the previous tranche of this saga. The graphic style is much the same as in the first game. The currently-fashionable, quasi-cell-shaded "comic book" look, a more subtle version of the same approach used in Ultimate Spider Man. It works well, creating striking, fluid, well-animated figures with an appreciably high frame-rate, allowing each mutant to move exactly as you expect they should; Toad and Wolverine shine in especial.

The physical manifestation of the graphics is beautiful, however. There is a fine 720p output mode for those versed with the art of persuading PAL Xboxen to output in this elusive mode, and plugged into one of those monster HDTVs the game should shine its pretty little heart out.

Fun was had by all in the X-Men paddling pool.

The voice talent on offer here is A-list bona fide cochlear candy. As expected, the silky, seductive folds of Patrick Stewart's harmonics do a knee-trembling turn as Xavier; additional names lending some Hollywood Magic include John DiMaggio and Lou Diamond Philips. The acting is at times campy, but it's just what the Doctor ordered, and it made me feel happy in a special way.

The music is much as it was, unobtrusive and suitably atmospheric. It won't change your life, but neither will it cause you to develop a psychosis. It's well orchestrated, and changes subtly to suit changes in the game direction.

Whilst the Big New Thang the this game offers over its forgettable progenitor is the quite lovely and finely engineered inclusion of four-player-cooperative online shenanigans, the vast assortment of new powers, characters and all-round evil add so much more as to make this a worthy sequel in all respects. Tried and true it may be, but it works.

Raven know what their fans want, and this time, they've delivered. It's a gaping chasm of Comic Book joy, filled to brimming with great characters, unlockables, collectibles and some top-notch mutant-oriented RPG action. It is, in short, one of the best comic book adaptations in quite some while, and if you are an RPG fan or a Comic Book fan, you'd be remiss not to take this to your heart.

8 /10

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Martin Coxall

Martin Coxall



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