Games based on comics are nineteen to the dozen these days. But I don’t care; I’m a huge comic geek and will always give the new Spider-Man or Batman a go to see how it plays from the perspective of both a gamer and a fan of the source material. So as I sat down to play X-Men: Destiny, I wondered what gems Silicon Knights had in store for me. Sadly, there’s very little to get your teeth into. The game has little substance and falls at nearly every hurdle.
X-Men: Destiny takes place in San Francisco after the death of Charles Xavier – Professor X. His school is gone and the X-Men are struggling to adapt to life without their leader and mentor. The Brotherhood of Mutants, led by Magneto, still thinks humans need to be forced to accept them as their superiors. A rift has developed between humans and mutants, resulting in the city being divided in two, a half for each species. When the game begins, a human anti-mutant extremist group known as the Purifiers rises up to rid mankind of the mutant sickness and attacks a peace rally. As luck would have it, you’re there to save the day.
You start by choosing from one of three characters in the crowd. There’s Aimi, a young Japanese girl smuggled out of her country by her mutant parents; Grant, the college freshman with aspirations of becoming a pro (American) football player; and Adrian, son of a Purifier who was killed in battle. Adrian certainly has the most interesting back-story, having been taught all his life to hate mutants and constantly hearing his dead father talking to him throughout the game. However, ultimately these stories lead to nothing. In fact they never really develop much further than the original biographies at the character selection screen.
Whoever you choose to play as will suddenly find their latent mutant powers manifesting during the initial Purifier attack, much to their surprise. Once this happens, you have another choice, this time from one of three powers which will form the basis of all your primary attacks. Density Control is essentially the game’s version of a “Tank” power. It allows you to withstand more damage than normal and makes you a heavy hitter. Energy Projection does exactly what it says on the tin – you fire energy blasts. Finally, Shadow Matter allows you to create blades out of thin air to perform fluent, swirling, rapid attacks.
Once you are on the ground, you will find out very quickly that most of the gameplay involves little more than the following: Run into an open area, attack groups of mindless enemies. Run into the next area and then attack the groups of enemies there too, and so on. Baddies themselves fall into either melee or shooter categories. Melee enemies run at you and try to batter you while shooters stand way back and attack from afar. Combat requires mashing the light and heavy attack buttons. There are combos and new moves you can unlock with experience points but this doesn’t make the slightest difference. You’re still going to hammer those two attack buttons. In my first run through, I didn’t use the dodge button at all and was halfway through before I even began to consider upgrading my moves. You simply don’t need to. The game difficulty doesn’t really increase much as you progress through the story, meaning this power development is redundant.
Very often, you will find yourself interacting with and fighting alongside quite a few main characters from the X-Men universe. Info on them can be found in dossiers strewn throughout the levels. Although not perfect, Silicon Knights did a good job of bringing these heroes and villains out from the pages, looking just as they should. They also sound good (apart from Gambit!), with their personalities brought faithfully to life by a cast of veteran animation and game voice actors. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the player characters who look generic, show very little charisma and sound bored half the time. This makes it tough to care, especially during conversations. Even worse is when you accidentally pick the same response twice in a conversation and realise you cannot skip dialogues, or any cut-scenes for that matter.
Looks and sounds of your mutant brethren aside, it is mostly these guys who will offer you the choices you make in the story. Pretty much all of these choices revolve around siding with either the X-Men or Brotherhood which, in turn, puts you in favour with your chosen faction. This is what the entire game is supposed to be about – choice. And you can’t miss it, the idea is rammed down your throat in almost every conversation you have. It’s all very black and white; either you do one thing or the other. There are no subtle decisions in X-Men: Destiny. Once again, however, said decisions boil down to more or less squat and there is very little variety in the consequences of your actions. Regardless of who you choose to help, the endgame is ultimately the same. It is simply one main outcome and the only difference is which side your character is shown to be on.
Challenge Arenas crop up here and there in an attempt to add a little flavour to the standard campaign. Anyone with an ounce of sense can probably work out what these involve. Yep, beating up more gangs. Sometimes there really is a challenge, such as pulverising more enemies than your X-Man team-mate, but it makes no odds. It’s still the same combat. These little battles yield awards in the form of costumes or X-Genes, both of which can be found as pick-ups in the main game anyway.
Costumes are based on those of the NPC X-Men and some give you perks based on that mutant’s powers. X-Genes are attack modifiers that give your base powers similar properties and effects to those of their corresponding X-Man. These are divided up into Offensive, Defensive and Utility. You can only equip one costume and one of each type of X-Gene at any one time. If you equip the costume and all three X-Gene types from one mutant then you can go into X-Mode. This gives you a super ability based on that mutant. How long this power lasts depends on how much M-Power is left in the bar at the top of the screen. M-Power can be restored through combat and picking up special orbs. Sadly this mix-and-match approach doesn’t make up for not having more interesting powers in the first place. You will never have exactly the same abilities as the NPC characters, meaning you will always be left fighting alongside guys that will forever have cooler abilities than you. I found this adding to my frustration at the lack of combat variety so much so that I felt cheated. The only reason I actually used X-Mode was for the purpose of this review. Similar to the standard experience upgrades, I never felt the need for it.
X-Men: Destiny tries to stick to its roots by utilising a graphic novel art style. As mentioned earlier, apart from the player characters, everyone else looks the part. The environments, however, are dull and the level designs uninteresting. Drab textures and colour palettes result in making the game look half finished by modern gaming standards. At best, X-Men: Destiny looks like it was made as a release game for the Xbox 360 way back in 2005. The sound effects and soundtrack don’t help. Some of the sounds are so cheap that they appear to have been recorded straight from a 1950’s B-movie. If somebody rips up the Golden Gate Bridge I don’t want to hear a creaking door in Dracula’s castle. This, by the way, is not an exaggeration. I wasn’t even aware of music for most of my time playing; it’s so quiet that it doesn’t seem worth having. That said, volumes can be tweaked but surely the developers should have sorted this instead of leaving it for the player to fix.
Somehow, it feels as though the game is aware of its own failures and attempts to rush you through it with the campaign lasting only six hours or so. Completionists will have to go through twice to try the paths they didn’t originally take and collect anything they may have missed. For a game that prides itself on decision making and character development, X-Men: Destiny fails miserably. I really wanted to love it but weightless choices, lacklustre visuals and sounds and a boring combat system make for my biggest disappointment of 2011.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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