Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Video games have always borrowed elements from past successes, but few are quite as blatant as X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It's basically a licensed, full-scale tribute to the gameplay mechanics and visceral violence of God of War. At the beginning of the game's development, I imagined an Activision executive rounding up all of the developers in a room, showing them a video of God of War, and saying "Do that. But with Wolverine". Despite its lack of originality, X:Men Origins proves itself to be a decent (yet flawed) action romp in its own right.
The best decision they made in development was making the game raw, violent, and a definite M rating. Too often, naturally violent movie franchises like Terminator, Die Hard, and now Wolverine get neutered down to PG-13 so they can maximize box office results. Thankfully, the game version of Wolverine seems to know its audience well enough to deliver the gory, bloody violence its protagonist is fully capable of. You'll be constantly dismembering foes, chopping heads off, impaling bodies on spikes, and performing countless bloody finishers. As you take damage, you'll actually see Logan's flesh rip and scar. If you go long enough without getting hit, the skin will heal itself thanks to his regeneration ability.
Controlling Wolverine is virtually identical to controlling Kratos, with one big addition - the lunge attack. By using the bumper buttons, you can target enemies and leap at them with amazing speed. Depending on what button you hit as you connect, you can slash them, maul them on the ground, or toss them (preferably into a spike or off a cliff). It's not only useful during combat, it can actually help you leap to otherwise inaccessible areas. It's a mechanic that really makes sense given the character, and it makes the action fast-paced and satisfying.
Of course, no God of War clone would be complete without quicktime events, and Wolverine has them in spades. You'll use them to down helicopters, use an enemy's own shotgun to blow their head off, rip the heads off of boss characters, and plenty more. They actually map the buttons close to their intended function, so they make more sense than an arbitrary "X" button on the screen. If you're hanging on a helicopter, you'll press the left stick up to launch onto the front, and then use the attack buttons to smash through the windshield and kill the pilot.
While the combat is a lot of fun when it works, there are enough glitches and oversights in the game to make it a frustrating experience. During the more frenetic action scenes, slowdown becomes unbearably bad at times. No matter what alternate costume you're wearing, it'll awkwardly make an instant shift to the "Hugh Jackman in a wife beater" costume for cutscenes. These cutscenes aren't immune to the game's bugs either...when Sabretooth picked me up during our brawl, the scene showed my body floating in the air about five feet away from him.
Compared to God of War and other AAA action games, Wolverine falls short thanks to its glitches and lack of originality. However, compared to virtually any other licensed movie-based game, it's fantastic. It's far better than it has any right to be, and is worth checking out for fans of the X-Men or action games.
First Play: 8.0
Replay Value: 6.0