This is where X-Men Legends delights: the gameplay is unparalleled by previous comic book games or by hack-and-slash creations. While it has a few downsides, the overwhelming majority of the game exceeds expectations in more ways than one.
Plot and X-Men Background
I wrote this section particularly for Marvel fans or at least X-Men enthusiasts. It seems that whenever the wonderful artwork is converted into a video game it falls on its face. Thankfully, this is not the fate of Legends. Activision should be commended for putting people extremely familiar with the world and history of X-Men in charge of the story line and the characters woven into it. Hence, a respectable plot that seems to be taken right out of an X-Men comic book is what lies at the heart of this game. Avid fans will recognize certain references to events and characters that closely resemble the Uncanny X-Men series and the newer Ultimate X-Men line of comics, but the game's creators have wisely left themselves unfettered by a strict context into which they must fit. Therefore, any character they wish to use is available and they aren't bound by previous events: the game goes in the direction it wants to. What is even more surprising is that most X-Men fans are not distraught over usual misrepresentations and falsehoods worked into video games. On the contrary, most dedicated fans are proud of the work done with the characters and the plot in this game as they don't contradict the X-Men Universe created by Marvel but compliment it pleasantly.
The plot is set into motion when you (playing as Wolverine) must rescue a young girl from some sinister villains in New York. Before I go any further, let me point out this girl as the prime example of the authors' handiwork. The girl, Magma, is a character specifically created for the game, but comes complete with a civilian background, emotions, and lots of great combat techniques. Despite the fact that she has never appeared in an X-Men comic, she fits her role in the game as if she was always a part of the group. She will be your face around the X-Men mansion as you learn and explore.
Moving on, Cyclops joins Wolverine during this mission, and more characters become available as the game progresses. The game uses each character to advance the plot and provide humor throughout the game. Everyone has their role in the plot and the authors judiciously emphasize the talents and personality of the X-Men as you get to know them. The mansion, your base and home between missions where you can discover a cornucopia of knowledge on all things X-Men, is littered with trivia and their history. After resting and exploring the mansion, you return to the War Room and prepare for your next battle. Naturally, the stakes are high by the end of the game, involving both popular and lesser-known super-villains in a battle of cataclysmic proportions controlling the fate of the free world.
Activision should be lauded for the fine job they have done to bring the magical world of the X-Men to the video game arena. The characters, plot, and trademarks of the series are all present in a way that would make Stan Lee proud.
Make no mistake: X-Men Legends is centered on combat. The relentless horde of baddies that you pummel approaches an almost absurd total by the end of the game. Indeed, there were times when I would look at the screen and simply laugh at the chaos unfolding in front of my eyes. Lights flashing, people grunting, limbs flying this way and that, along with the occasional elemental blaze, fill the screen constantly. Don't let the appearance fool you though, it is truly a crazy battle once you pick up that controller.
The most beautiful aspect of the battle system is how complete it is. Nothing is left untouched or inadequate except the camera, which sometimes doesn't accomplish its job as well as could be hoped. Gamers can rotate and zoom in or out as they please, but this usually is something easily forgotten as the forces of evil take precedence over a slightly awkward view of the action. It isn't a glaring problem, just a minor one that might get the attention of an annoyed gamer. Besides this, the combat system is masterfully complete.
The environment really shows how nothing was left unfinished. Almost anything can be broken or thrown. Thin walls can be smashed... either by your attacks or by fiercely tossing an opponent into them. Certain objects can be used to your advantage and others can hurt your X-Man. Also, certain points in the levels require the use of a certain X-Man's talent. Fires can be extinguished by Iceman, making it safe to cross areas in a level that normally wouldn't be accessible.
The characters in combat are another prime example of the efforts put in by the game designers. Every character included has unique powers that distinguish them from the other mutants and have different effects on enemies. Not only do all the characters have their own special attacks, they have a multitude of different types. Attacks range from a wide sweeping attack to an assault on a single enemy. Iceman, for example, can freeze most of or all of the enemies on the screen with his "Freeze Frame" move. On the other hand, Storm's Lightning Attack results in a more energy-efficient but less damage-effective attack on a single person. These special abilities are kept in check by the fact that they cost energy, which is too often depleted. Your X-treme Power offers an enormous potential for damage and can clear the screen, but such effective attacks cost more energy than a small one that can easily dispense of a lesser foe.
Besides the special powers each character has, every character has similar basic attacks, consisting of a few combos and the simple moves used before skill or special moves are acquired. These are down-to-earth moves that you will use more than you think, and they are efficient. However, your enemies will quickly get tougher and your energy will become more plentiful, allowing for more use of the special abilities as the game progresses.
The characters function as if they were straight from a serious RPG, possessing both stats and skills that are either improved or learned by gaining experience. When a character strikes an opponent (or vice versa), a number pops up showing the damage taken. When your character defeats a foe, another number flashes showing the experience you receive from this victory. When a character levels up, you are encouraged to press Select and distribute stat and skill points. The game has an automatic distributor that does it for you should you choose to let it mold your character. The characters are quite customizable to some extent, but on the other hand are interchangeable most of the time. Take Storm and Cyclops: each can boost the leadership statistic, resulting in attack bonuses. However, each one has ranged attacks and neither is truly required for many missions. I think that making characters a little more unique in their use would have benefited Legends, but the game as it is offers enough customization of characters to give it a true RPG feeling.
Equipment can be found in breakable objects (there are many of these) and by killing enemies. These can be equipped on X-Men through the level-up menu. Also, when you reach an X-traction Point (a place where you can save your game) you will be able to use this interface to change X-Men and revive fallen ones, for a price of course. The game successfully combines elements of the best RPGs and hack-and-slash games: it offers combos and the opportunity to develop warriors for an experienced player as opposed to mindless button-mashing or static characters that simply throw punches.
The controls are set up well, offering both functionability and flexibility. The attacks are simple enough. Pressing X, for example, results in the most basic attack. Pressing it three times in a row will yield a forward charge combined with a simple punch-kick combo. Finally, holding R2 while pressing X will unleash a special attack that corresponds to the X button. The attacks you acquire will fill the other buttons and pressing R2 will bring up a little square in the bottom corner showing you which buttons govern each ability. The L1 and R1 buttons control the use of health and energy boosts. The control stick functions well also. The D-Pad is used to select which X-Man you control, each direction changing whom you fight as.
This brings up yet another awesome aspect of Legends. At almost all times, you are fighting alongside 3 fellow X-Men. Additionally, you can switch to controlling any of them at any time. Of course, problems arise from this as well. The AI can be a little irrational, and I found myself having to constantly check the health of my teammates. It would be helpful to have a bar displaying each of their health simultaneously, but this would be logistically difficult on the already crowded screen. Granted, the characters do say when they need health, but it is often too late to do anything by then. Your allies are not the brightest, but this problem is not an atrocious one. It is similar to the camera difficulty: it will be annoying for a little while, but eventually you will get used to it and focus on the better qualities of this game.
One flaw that does seriously mar this game, however, does exist. When loading screens first came up, I was impressed by the artwork shown to assuage an eager gamer. Then I waited... and waited... and finally the level had loaded. The screens are really quite lovely, but I was turned off by the ridiculous amount of time it took for the game to load the next sequence or level. Not only were they long, but they were frequent as well: every time you wish to access a menu or change areas a loading screen comes up. This can be especially frustrating if you go to the wrong place and must wait once more through a loading screen to return to where you should be. Also, it disrupts the flow of the game, as I seldom chose to level up while in combat simply because of the time required to get to the menu. This is something that Activision must improve if it wishes to make a successful sequel.
Multiplayer and Other Modes
Most of these glitches are outweighed by the massive multiplayer aspect incorporated into Legends. At any time, a friend can pick up a controller and instantly join in the action in true arcade fashion. A simple depression of the Start Button on Controller 2 results in a human ally. Up to 4 people can fight alongside each other in a truly overdue component of the hack-and-slash genre. While this brings up the occasional difficulty or awkward problem (such as a fellow human player being stuck off screen or people trying to adjust camera angles at the same time, resulting in chaos), the entertainment value is simply astounding. It has been a long time since I played a game that was so rewarding to play with others. The only other drawback is that there are no online capabilities, but this method of co-op play is both easy and fun, so there will not be many complaints about the lack of online capabilities.
The Danger Room is the X-Men's combat simulator, and Activision incorporates it seamlessly into the game, using it as the place for tutorials and battles outside the storyline. Gamers can unlock scenarios that pit certain characters against others or simply select teams and do battle. In an act of genius, Activision has allowed players to fight as villains as well, with their full range of superpowers available. Gamers can fight to accomplish certain goals or merely slug it out until only one player is left standing.
All in all, the game is very accessible to both the single player and a small group of people. The plot is well done, the characters true to their comic identities, and the combat glorious. The game offers enough to appeal to both X-Men fans and those who know little about them, along with interesting fans of the genre as well as people unfamiliar with RPGs and the hack-and-slash concept. A few different modes, customizable characters, and large levels with massive interaction potential result in a well-balanced game that will entertain for hours on end.