It’s been year since the release of a quality X-Men title. Not since X-Men Legends and its sequel has there really been a game that captured the essence of Marvel’s band of merry mutants, especially with the pitiful movie tie-in titles that have been released.
When X-Men: Destiny was announced by Activision and Silicon Knights, the makers of Too Human, players hoped their prayers would be answered as they would get to experience what it was like for an emerging mutant caught between the turmoil of the X-Men, Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants and the humans who seek to end the “mutant menace”.
Instead, what they got was a half handed execution that feels like a franchise cash-in rushed out in order to hit the holiday game season before the larger releases like Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3.
X-Men: Destiny has all the basic controls someone would expect from a third person brawler. Players navigate through closed off pathways and encounter waves of enemies using basic melee, heavy melee and special powered attacks along with the basic blocking, dodging and jumping mechanics. Each character has the same four basic combinations using X and Y that only change by adding an additional X press at the start of the combo. No air juggles, interspersed special attacks of climactic and challenging finishing maneuvers exist. This quickly makes the game feel dated as almost all other games within the genre have put in these basic features.
As a result, combat quickly gets repetitive. There is little to no variation on beating different foes and those who do require a change in strategy are quickly defeated once a player has learned the specific method of halting that enemies attacks. What results is a game of trial and error that usually results in the players death because of the tedium instead of the difficulty.
Boss battles take the same feel as other combat as a player only needs a few tries to figure out the right combination of blocking, dodging and attacking for each different boss. In most cases this sounds like a traditional boss battle but because of the lack of depth to X-Men: Destiny’s combat, it quickly loses its luster.
X-Men: Destiny takes an alternate reality from the X-Men comics where Professor X has been killed in battle by the mutant hating Cyborg Bastion. The X-Men have been hunted down and move to San Francisco where they try to establish a peace with humans. It is during this peace rally that players see their chosen new mutant’s powers develop as the rally is attacked. The player is then thrust into the heart of the conflict between the X-Men who are trying to defend themselves, innocent mutants and innocent human bystanders alike, the Brotherhood who is only looking to protect mutants and the Purifiers, a militant mutant hate group. During their time, players cross paths with different members of both the X-Men and Brotherhood factions and are given choices that affect their standing with the two groups. Early on for example, players are given the option to help Nightcrawler evacuate innocents or help Pyro destroy a building. What is nice is the dialogue changes depending on the backstory of the character chosen by the player even if the resulting game story stays the same.
The problem with the game’s story lies in the characters the player is forced to compete against. Faceless Purifiers and augmented U-Men and MRD forces compose the majority of the game’s antagonists with occasional faction based mini boss battles. Even the game’s final boss battle is a letdown as the game’s main antagonist never really hits a chord with the player to make them truly hate them. It doesn’t help that what should be the most epic encounter happens right before and doesn’t end up feeling all that epic due to the ease in which that boss is defeated as well.
One of the most interesting aspects of the game comes from the choices made in creating this alternate reality. Much of the X-Men canon has been pushed aside. In this world, the X-Men head to the west coast because they are being systematically wiped out for existing and a large number of them are missing or dead including original X-Men like Jean Grey, Beast or Angel. It is a risky decision to already eliminate characters from the series if they had ever hoped to continue it in a sequel. At the same time, it is a risk to be applauded because the characters who are still around do a good job of conveying the gravity of the situation on top of the limited resources they have left to work with.
The graphics of X-Men: Destiny feel dated. The textures in some cases feel lightly detailed and the edges of objects begin tearing the screen or look jagged, especially with Quicksilver early on in the game. Later on during a big cutscene featuring Cyclops which is all done in-engine, the game’s framerate rapidly drops. Instead of giving a satisfying cinematic moment, it feels more like a slideshow. With a studio with as much experience of Silicon Knights, this makes the game feel rushed and lacks the polish we were hoping we’d see added to it when we first got to look at it during San Diego Comic Con a few months ago.
Though they aren’t the ultimate set of voice actors from the 90’s X-Men animated series, the game is voiced by many of the cast from one of the more recent series. This adds some much needed credibility to the game. The villainous side however can use some help as characters like Cameron Hodge and the main antagonist don’t have the same impact when seen giving their diatribes.
X-Men: Destiny started out as a game with lots of promise and potential. Between the talented team behind it and the amazing franchise of characters available for the title, it seemed like a win win combination. Unfortunately, repetitive gameplay, uninspired opponents and rough graphics all worked against the title. While the concept behind the story starts out interesting, most of it falls flat.
It looks as though it will be some time before X-Men fans get another title they really want and must stick to accomplishments from the past like Wolverine: Origins to find a game that is true to the characters and fun to play. In a game about destiny, it is even more disappointing to play through a title that should have been destined for greatness but was unable to reach it.
XBox 360 (Also available on PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS)
Developer: Silicon Knights