Thursday, August 19, 2010

Game: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Back when I reviewed the Prince of Persia movie, I commented on how normally, movies based on video games are not very good. The reverse is also usually true - a video game based on a movie (and let's face it, these days there seems to always be one) is usually terrible. Most of the time it seems like a quick cash-in attempt, with little polish. By and large, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the exception to this rule, to the extent that it's a more enjoyable experience than the movie itself. Sure, the movie was lame, so maybe that's not glowing praise; nonetheless, the game delivers a visceral action experience that builds on the genre God of War mostly invented and adds a few of its own ideas along the way. The end result is astonishingly fun.

If you saw the movie (my sympathy), you pretty much know how the game plays out in terms of narrative. For those unfamiliar with the tale, X-MO:Wolverine tells the tale of Logan's early days as part of a secret mutant team tasked with special missions, his coercion into the Weapon X program, and eventual amnesia, which more or less leaves him at the point where the first X-Men movie started. In the game, the player jumps back and forth between present day and Operation Firestorm, set 3 years ago in Africa. Cut-scenes show some of Logan's memories, but not enough detail to understand the context until later as the player progresses. Eventually we see what happened in Africa, and how it led to Logan's involvement with the Weapon X program that gave him the adamantium skeleton. Most of the game revolves around his escape from that facility and his quest to destroy those he feels have wronged him - notably his brother Victor Creed (Sabertooth) and Col. William Stryker.

Wolverine is a pretty standard brawler that takes the lessons learned from God of War and adds a few mutant seasonings to the mix in an effort to stand out from the crowd. Those tweaks, and the graphic violence contained in the game, are what really help it accomplish that goal. Remember how the movie was PG-13, and pretty tame considering the main characters are both animalistic in nature and pretty savage? The game forgoes that nonsense and gets down to the point - if you were Wolverine, and you were steaming mad, you'd probably do a hell of a lot of damage. The game is full of decapitations, limb severing, and full on dismemberment, along with lots and lots of blood. Enemies roll around on the ground before dying, grasping at their missing legs. When and where the really violent kills happen are mostly random, but common.

The God of War influences extend past the third-person perspective and minor platforming into the abilities section. Wolverine has a light attack and a heavy attack, can jump, dodge, grab, dash, and counter. Combining the moves into a spinning blender of death is part of the fun. One of Logan's best moves is the Lunge, wherein the player targets an enemy far away and simply jumps to them, with an accompanying attack or throw. Beyond the basic combos are the Fury moves, unlockable maneuvers such as the Claw Spin that, properly upgraded, make for a veritable tornado of shiny doom that can move around.

The game adds its own flavor to the mayhem, in addition to the standard fare. Logan actually gains experience from killing enemies and finding various collectibles, enabling him to level up and upgrade his powers. These range from a longer duration on the Fury moves to simple health upgrades. At game's end, I was at level 33 and had one upgrade left to complete the set. Beyond the upgrades, Logan can enable various Mutagens, which act as perk-like extras which grant various bonuses. Being able to equip 3 at a time (though not right away), these allow the player to gain experience faster, steal health with every attack, and so forth. One enables the accelerated leveling of Combat Masteries, of which there are 5 for various enemy types Logan encounters. As these level up, Logan does more damage to the enemy types with each attack. The depth of the character development was a pleasant surprise.

The collectibles mentioned above are one of the pleasures of this game. Abandoning a lot of mindless roaming, the game has a very linear A to B path which helps avoid looking under every rock only to be continually disappointed. When the path diverges, it's pretty obvious. Four types of collectibles exist - dog tags (experience bonuses), health upgrades, Mutagens, and Action Figures. The Action Figures are required to unlock a few challenges in which the player fights different versions of Wolverine to unlock more costumes. They are short, and easy. Finding 2 of the same action figure unlocks the challenge, but they are easy to find and over the course of the game I am sure I found twice as many as I needed. Dog tags are found on dead soldiers who give off a green glow, making them also pretty easy to find. Without consulting a walkthrough, I found 90 out of 95 during my initial playthrough. There are also various Worklogs scattered around in a couple facilities on laptop computers, but they are simply used to add some back story.

The last game play enhancement is Feral Sense, which has a couple uses - locating invisible enemies and identifying anything in the environment that can be collected or used as a weapon. Certain enemies called Ghosts have the ability to cloak, and only in Feral Sense are they visible. The environment always has useful things like spikes and forklifts upon which the player can impale enemies with a simple grab maneuver in the vicinity. One can also more easily spot collectibles while in this mode. It's sort of an interesting side-note that this game came out 3 months before Batman: Arkham Asylum, which has a Detective Mode largely similar.

The pacing of the game is pretty good, though towards the end one encounters basically a string of boss fights with little exposition in between. Fighting the giant Sentinel was neat, but the way in which the player attacks and eventually defeats the robot was a little...uninspired. The camera is quite good, but will fight the player when they wish to swing it around in certain instances. Hugh Jackman provides the voice for Wolverine, and to be honest, he sounds somewhat disinterested. I ran into a couple glitches that forced me to start over from the last checkpoint; one in which Wolverine froze mid-animation and would not move, and another at the very last boss fight where I somehow knocked Deadpool into/off of the cooling tower, and he never came back. They weren't controller-throwing moments, and the only other technical problem I encountered was an occasional frame-rate drop. It warrants mentioning because it was significant, but not game-breaking.

For a short period, the fun factor eased up as it seemed I was just fighting wave after wave of enemies, but by and large hacking guys to death while being nearly unkillable was a total blast from beginning to end. Because of Wolverine's mutant regeneration ability, he constantly gains health. Dying is hard to do, but it can happen. The game can be had on the cheap at this point, and I highly recommend giving it a shot if the genre, or the character, interests you at all.