“The official game” ranks right up there with “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” as a sign that ought to send any sensible person sprinting in the opposite direction. Not only does X-Men: The Official Game fail to overcome the stigma of being a movie adaptation, but playing it feels very much like descending into a 10th circle of hell that Dante Alighieri could not have imagined.
HOT TIP: Play to each character’s strengths – upgrade their mutant powers before other attributes.
This X-Men title fails in two specific ways. First of all, it’s a rush job, I imagine the developers working underneath a gigantic digital readout that’s counting down the seconds until the release date. After all, why release a game based on a movie if the game can’t capitalize on the film’s box office receipts? Sure, you could take your time making a good one, but by then the opening-weekend enthusiasm will have faded and that lucrative 18-35 male demographic will have moved on.
Nowhere is the inadequate development time more apparent than in the level design. You’ll guide one of three X-Men through some of the shortest, most monotonous levels since Pong. This is a game whose idea of variety is to send in more enemies. Mission length averages about five minutes, but that’s actually a positive since they suck. Even given their brevity, though, they are artificially extended by repetition. It’s not enough to destroy one reactor or shield generator – you’ve got to smash four. And when the developers really run out of ideas – about once a level or so – they settle for throwing wave after wave of braindead enemies at you. Thrilling.
Worse, though, is that by declaring fealty to the films instead of to the comics, The Official Game ends up feeling not very much like an X-Men experience at all. Its slavish devotion to the movie mythology results in an abundance of overlong, underproduced cutscenes. Speaking of rush jobs – the cutscenes are all stills, with minimal animation. It looks like someone ran frames from the movie through a couple of Photoshop filters and called it a day.
You can only play as three X-Men – Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Iceman – which is a far cry from Activision’s own X-Men Legends series, which allows you to control four mutants at once, teaming up for crazy combo attacks. The Official Game occasionally pairs you up with computer-controlled X-Men, but mostly they hover on the periphery and lend operational support. It ends up antithetical to the team concept the X-Men are supposed to embody.
Wolverine’s missions make up the bulk of the game, all uninspired beat-’em-ups, with the few moments of tension coming from whether Wolverine can heal himself in time to take on the next several dozen identical shock troopers. Iceman surfs through the air blasting ice at people, which is a little more fun. What little verve the game has comes from the Nightcrawler missions. They didn’t nail the “BAMF!” sound of his teleporting, but they did manage to make an interesting gameplay mechanic out of it. In combat, Nightcrawler can quickly zap behind enemies, and his brand of fisticuffs is a little more nuanced than Wolverine’s.
RUSH JOB: The Official Game ends up feeling not very much like an X-Men experience at all.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to pick which X-Man to play as in a given level. Occasionally you have a choice of which level you want to play, but you can’t go back and try a mission as a different character. It’s a shame, really. Think of the possibilities! You’ll have to, because the developers sure didn’t.