X-Men Origins: Wolverine Review
Written : Tuesday, May 12, 2009
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
It's a hard thing as a comic book and video game fan to see such a degradation of quality from paper to screen. It gets worse when there is another step in between in the form of a game based on a movie based on comic books. I've called it the "Multiplicity Effect" (based on the Michael Keaton movie) where it keeps getting worse as you make a copy of a copy. After dismal showings from my beloved Marvel characters in the Iron Man and Fantastic Four video games, I truly wasn't expecting much from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Lucky for me, developer Raven Software (X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance) was at the helm, and they know what it takes to make a good superhero game.
The game mostly follows the plot of the movie. Though it does take some liberties, the results are for the better, which has never been the case for these translations. It starts off in a flashback of Wolverine's time with his Weapon X squad in the jungles of Africa, looking for the raw material Adamantium, which would later be infused to his skeleton at the AlkalaiLake facility. Throughout the games present day sequence, there are short breaks back into the past as both stories are told in full. Extra characters are included such as Mystique and a teleporting little girl, while some are omitted such as Bolt, Cyclops and Emma Frost.
Gimme a hug!
The general plot of the game is almost irrelevant, as the actual focus is definitely on the gameplay. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is part beat 'em up/hack n' slash, part platforming/puzzle game basically taking the best parts of Raven's other superhero games I mentioned earlier, then adding some excellent Tomb Raider type puzzles to solve. Fortunately, the puzzles are actually pretty good, rather than being tacked on and frustrating. Granted, they might not be needed at all since he could probably climb or slash through just about anything, but they keep the game from being nothing but a mindless button masher. If at any point you get stuck with the puzzles, you can activate Wolverine's "feral sense" ability which will make most of the surroundings go white, while enemies, collectibles and objects that can be interacted with turn green or orange for easy identification.
However, even the button mashing sequences are spiced up and done well. There are quite a few moves available from the start and more can be unlocked throughout the game to keep things fresh. You can take the extremely basic approach and simply use the face buttons to jump and slash at enemies. Using the bumpers, you can target and pounce on most enemies, then proceed to stab them viciously as you pin them to the ground. Enemies with shields and shotguns can counter this move, as can some of the larger mini-bosses unless timed correctly. You then have a few special fury attacks utilizing your deadly claws. The claw spin, drill and cyclone can be unleashed by pulling the right trigger and activating them with a corresponding face button for deadly results. These techniques will use up a portion of your "rage" bar, something that will be refilled with every enemy you kill.
As you progress through the game, killing enemies and collecting dog tags from fallen soldiers (ones who were dead for one reason or another even before you showed up) you will earn experience to level up. Using more complex killing methods will result in a higher experience gain, so simply mashing "light attack" through the entire game is a bit of a detriment to Wolverine's growth. Each level increase will award you with 2 skill points to help max out the attributes of your basic stats like health and regeneration or some of the special claw attacks. You will also level up your combat reflexes, a gauge of how well you know five different categories of enemy (such as machete wielding enemies or jungle mutant enemies) and as this knowledge grows, your effectiveness against each type will increase. In addition, you will earn up to three slots to equip "mutagens" (which are also hidden as collectibles) that can grant you bonuses such as extra experience or rage per kill, or increased regeneration and defence.
Does he know that guy's already dead?
The most impressive thing about the game is probably its Mature rating, to be honest. For a character whose most common phrase is "I'm the best there is at what I do... and what I do isn't very nice," you would expect some bloodshed. The movies with their PG-13 rating have not been able to translate that as well as we'd all like. Sure, he screams in rage and you hear the claws sinking in, but there are no lost limbs or blood sprays. This game puts a Tarantino flick to shame. Heck, even the achievement list rewards you with racking up the dismemberments. The violent nature also helps to pinpoint how strong his healing factor is; losing large chunks of Wolverine's flesh when taking a pasting and letting the ol' mutant healing factor work its magic in front of your eyes is a great sight. Oh, and the environmental kills are a nice touch as well, allowing you to throw or slam enemies down on tree branches and poles, or even sometimes forcing you to use a button-mashing mini-game to pull yourself off such hazards.
Backing the excellent use of violence are some equally excellent renderings utilizing the Unreal Engine. Sadly most of the level designs are fairly generic, especially the indoor sections like the Weapon X facility, but even those are at least done with care. The character models are much more detailed, especially Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Gambit was a bit off, but the rest of the cast and all the various enemies were well done. There isn't much to speak of in the sound department. The voice acting is good if a bit lazy at times and the sound effects are all about what they should be if sometimes vacant altogether. Overall unimpressive but functioning.
There were sadly a few technical bugs I ran into. Once when I was apparently supposed to ride a zip-line, the camera just did one of those swooping motions like "this is where you're going to go" except I was supposed to actually be doing it. When I came back in control of Wolverine, I walked forward and fell through the level, then proceeded to wander around underneath it for a few minutes before reloading a checkpoint. Then during the Gambit boss fight, I had two separate glitches that required a restart. Once he knocked me over a ledge, then when I climbed back up he had simply disappeared. Another attempt had him apparently jump too close to a ledge and get stuck in an infinite loop of jumping straight up and down, invincible to my repeated attacks. Hopefully I'm just unlucky, though I have seen other people complaining about the Gambit fight. Luckily the checkpoints are fairly generous and none of these instances cost me more than a few minutes of time.
I might get dizzy, but you'll get dead.
The achievements for Wolverine were another small low point for the game. Aside from a few bright spots tasking you with finding small Easter eggs that reference other games - a body and sword from World of Warcraft, a cake from Portal and a hatch in the ground from Lost - most of it is quite generic as finding collectibles, completing the main story missions and killing enemies in various ways round out most of the list. Add in a required second play-through for unlocking and beating it on the hard difficulty, as well as required grinding for killing 2,000 enemies and maxing out all of Wolverine's skills and reflexes (impossible to do without replaying missions), and you've got yourself an easily doable if slightly annoying 1,000 gamerscore.
This being a movie tie-in, worse yet a comic book movie tie-in, I can honestly say I wasn't expecting much. Once I heard Raven Software was developing it, I was a little less apprehensive and then I saw the Mature rating and a few gameplay videos and I actually got a little bit hopeful. Thankfully, the stars aligned and I am happy to report a successful, fun game overall. Good action, nice graphics, a decent story and some excellent platforming sequences all add up to a must-play. I'm not sure I could advise a purchase for everyone - what with the low replay value - but hardcore Wolverine fans probably couldn't go wrong with whipping it out for some bloody good action every now and again.
The voice acting and sound effects all do their job, but nothing stands out at all. Functioning but generic to say the least.
The Unreal Engine shines with great character model and smooth levels, though the actual layouts of the levels are a bit stale.
Easy controls, great action and fun puzzles all make this a very pleasant game to play.
The gameplay and graphics are great, but it's a somewhat lazily delivered story, bland audio with some weird technical bugs hindering a great experience.
A fairly generic and slightly tedious list with my ultimate peeve of a required second play-through hardly the best way to go; though the Easter eggs were a nice touch.
Mix together a comic book character with some God of War/Tomb Raider gameplay, then cook it with a high degree of passion and you'll have X-Men Origins: Wolverine. A violent, entertaining affair that looks as good as it plays and doesn't hold back for the squeamish.