As the old saying goes, nobody sets out to make a bad game. (Though that's hard to believe while playing Golden Balls.) Developers always set out to make a great game, as they'll always tell you, using words like "raise the bar" and "push the envelope" and "heavily influenced by God of War".
During our chat about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Raven Software producer Jeff Poffenbarger says all those things. But the most interesting thing he reveals about Raven's aims refers to the Marvel hero himself. Put bluntly, they wanted to give Wolverine his balls back.
"We wanted to take a character who has always been neutered as far as gameplay's concerned, and really over-deliver," he says. "We wanted to make something true to character. Activision really got on board, saying, 'Okay, whatever 'true to character' means to you guys - let's see that.'"
For Raven it means a Wolverine who's not afraid to show his claws, or to slice someone's face open with them. The level of violence and gore is well above what you'd expect from a typical comic book movie tie-in, as is evident from the moment you start playing.
There's blood everywhere. It spurts out of gaping wounds as Wolverine slashes open his enemies' stomachs. It jets from arteries as he severs heads with a single swipe. It pools on the ground after he chops off arms, which wiggle horribly on the ground next to the twitching bodies. It even pours out of Wolverine himself; he takes damage in real-time, and procedural animations show wounds appearing, supperating then healing.
At one point Wolverine hijacks a helicopter (sounds familiar) by leaping onto the nose and plucking the pilot out of his seat. He then shoves the pilot's head into the whirring helicopter blades. Anyone standing below would think it was raining ketchup. In one cut-scene, Wolverine and a military operative are creeping along different sides of the same wall. Our hero makes his presence known by stabbing his claws right the way through the wall, and right the way through his enemy's head. There's a lot of spurting.
"We didn't set out to make the bloodiest game you've ever seen," protests Poffenbarger. "We wanted to capture who the character actually is. In previous games we've seen him pretty much neutered down. But you don't take the webs away from Spider-Man, so you don't take the claws away from Wolverine."
In fact, if you're Raven, you give him a whole range of super-powerful, hyper-violent moves to play around with. In the brief playtime we get there's not much time to investigate how combos work, but just bashing away on the buttons produces satisfying results. It's easy to pull off uppercuts, flurries, throws and impressive finishing moves. There's also the highly enjoyable lunge manoeuvre - pressing RB locks onto an enemy who is further away, then LB sends Wolverine zooming across the screen for a powerful close-up kill.
"We want the combat to be fluid, to look cool and be easy, in the vein of God of War," says Poffenarger. "So if I just hit a couple of buttons, I'm doing something awesome on-screen."
He goes on to cite Ninja Gaiden as another big influence on the development of Origins. "We wanted to get into the triple-A action-adventure genre and make a splash, and really that comes down to combat," Poffenbarger explains.
"The combat in both God of War and Ninja Gaiden is very polished and they deliver a very visceral experience. With minimal controller inputs you see a lot happen on-screen; you see an awesome display of effects and powers. So when developing this game, we were certainly striving to be in line with those two."
Seems like a sound plan. Better to pick a gaming genre and take your inspiration from the best examples of it than to try emulating other great movie tie-ins, not least because there aren't any. It's also good to know that Raven decided not to worry about levels of gore or age ratings, and that Activision allowed them not to. "They agreed to see the game before making any determinations about how it might net out, ratings-wise," explains Poffenbarger. "Once they saw it and got to play it, they were really on board. It was like, let's use this character we're all big fans of, and not just neuter him for the bottom line."
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