Sunday, June 7, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Uncaged Edition

X-Men Origins: Wolverine CoverX-Men Origins: Wolverine
Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: Activision
Platform: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Released: May 1, 2009
In the Xbox 360 version of X-Men Origins: Wolverine you earn an achievement for killing 2000 enemies. And I do mean killing. With his foot-long adamantium claws, Wolverine dismembers, decapitates, and disembowels his way through some of the best standalone superhero gaming since 2004’s Spider-Man 2.

The “video game of the movie” is typically a tired, obligatory exercise. Based on Wolverine’s last movie tie-in, X-Men 2: Wolverine's Revenge (TestFreaks’ FreakScore 3.2/10), gamers would be right to be skeptical of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is more than the typical summer blockbuster throwaway title. Taking cues from God of War, Wolverine is an epic brawler set comfortably between the X-Men movie franchise and the Marvel Universe.

Following the movie's lead, Origins starts with a pre-admantium Logan engaged in a black ops mission in Africa. Logan is part of a mutant team which includes his brother Victor Creed whose mutation parallels Logan's. Even without unbreakable bones, Logan is still a killing machine. By alternating weak and strong claw attacks, players can chain combos unleashing savage attacks against machete and machine gun wielding mercenaries.

While it seems like button mashing at first, Origins has a robust combat system which allows Logan to throw enemies to their death, impale them on spikes, and — most satisfying — lunge at them from a distance. As the game progresses, Wolverine levels up increasing his health and opening up rage-powered area of effect attacks. Speaking of health, Wolverine's healing factor is in place, but it's more of a nice bonus instead of a game changer — think of it as a replacement for the ubiquitous health kits which litter most games.

Origins bounces between a present day adamantium-laced Wolverine, who's dealing with severe fraternal issues by killing everyone standing between him and Creed, and the Africa mission where everything went south. The game resembles the movie's storyline, but has interesting deviations and many welcome additions. In addition to an expanded Weapon X facility, Wolverine also tears through a secret robotics lab in the Southwest and the duel with Gambit has been stretched into a multistage battle.

The game pulls from the movie's dialogue, with some original voice work from major cast members including Hugh Jackman (Logan) and Liev Schrieber (Creed). I imagine the audio sessions which captured the various grunts must have been hilarious. Aside from solid voice work (including audio logs ala BioShock), sound is largely unmemorable save for some nice ambient effects.

In addition to the expected boss battles and waves of mercenaries, including specially engineered foot soldiers and jungle mutants, Origins throws a few minibosses against Wolverine and it's here that repetition sets in. The first time you figure out how to take down a giant lava monster, it's satisfying. But by lava monster number three, the satisfaction is gone. Later Origins introduces another oversized baddie and you'll realize that you have to use the same strategy. And then another oversized baddie is introduced.

Games based on movies have a narrow launch window, often giving them an unfinished feeling. Origins is more solid than most, but there are a few nagging issues with the graphics including some slowdowns during larger battles and some aggravating clipping issues. Mostly the levels are well designed — and props to Raven for throwing in some hilarious and timely easter eggs — but there's definitely pressure to stay on the path. And it's a little head scratching that so many environmental puzzles are based on Wolverine trying to open doors, since his claws could easily slice through most of them.

However, these issues pale to the experience of forcing a commando to blow off his head with a shotgun or launching an aerial assault against a fleet of helicopters. The visceral design of X-Men Origins: Wolverine makes gameplay a compelling (and M for Mature) experience.