Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...
Back in 2004, when the Playstation 2 and the X-Box were slugging it out for dominance in the console gaming market, Activision put out one of the most epic comic book games of its time. It was an action-RPG, featuring Marvel's X-Men characters, who were enjoying a massive upswing in popularity due to the success of two feature films. It ended up being a milestone, not just for the acclaim brought about by its own performance, but also because it was the start of a legacy, becoming the template for 3 sequel games.
I am, of course, referring to X-Men Legends.
Admittedly, it ended up being a few months before I got around to playing X-Men Legends. The basic plot centers around the emergence of teenager Alison Crestmere as a mutant, one with the power to control and manipulate molten earth. Fittingly, she eventually takes the codename Magma, but before she does, she become the target of an attempted kidnapping by Mystique and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The X-Men arrive on the scene and manage to stop them from taking her, and bring her back to the mansion to offer her a place at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. As the X-Men try to figure out what Magneto wants with her, they engage in a series of adventures against a multitude of some of their most dangerous adversaries.
The action-RPG style of X-Men Legends combines the best of freestyle button-mashing, combos, and basic hack-and-slash fighting with the kind of layered, engaging character advancement you get from the best role-playing games. At the heart of it all, you have a wide-ranging, dynamic story featuring an enormous cast of playable X-Men, their most memorable allies and enemies, and a plot that, while not the most complex in the world, leaves plenty of room for a sequel to follow--which, it totally did. While you experience a lot of story through Magma's eyes and character, there is plenty of development that occurs among the main X-Men characters, including a few very nice flashback scenes that recall old comic book stories and show some of the retro looks the characters sported in earlier years.
There's also a high level of versatility incorporated into the game world and mechanics behind utilizing your characters. Some puzzles can be solved in multiple ways, through use of force, thought, or clever use of mutant abilities. A wide range of powers and abilities, both passive and active, are available to every character as they level up, and they're managed through a clever and intuitive scheme of button combinations that make good use of controller layout. There are also combination moves that grant extra experience and damage, when you manage to combine one mutant ability with another against a foe in battle.
Leveling up your character is also an engaging process, with more than just their raw powers up for improvement. With the utilization of gear and ability points, you can also upgrade their basic combat characteristics as well. That means you can make them more resistant to damage with armor, increase their defense, attack, stamina, and HP stats with ability points, and upgrade their powers and abilities, often all in one go. This is the game that came before you got the option of alternate costume skins for your character, so that element is missing, but gets addressed and taken care of in the sequel, Rise of Apocalypse.
In the area of play control, there's plenty to praise and a little to gripe about. Overall, it's very intuitive, with directional, attack, and other mechanical necessities rendered smoothly. I do have issues with how the camera will occasionally zip to a highly inconvenient angle, but this occurs fairly infrequently, and can usually be corrected with a quick moment on the directional stick. By and large, the game handles extremely well.
The graphics are also awesome, with plenty of faithfully rendered cel shade animation for the characters, and believably destructible environments. It's not the most advanced graphics work, but again, this was the first of its kind, and subsequent titles update based on the classic look of this game. The voice work is stellar, with the most notable bit of casting going to Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, reprising his role from the hit movies.
Overall, this is a great game, and a wonderful beginning to the franchise that spawned X-Men Legends II: The Rise of Apocalypse, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, all good-to-excellent games in and of themselves. It combines an engaging story with good graphics, dynamic action, excellent voice work, and a feel to the X-Men universe that is very genuine and well done. Highly recommended.