Finding a PC game based on one of the most popular comic-book titles of all time that not only plays well, but that also captures the essence of the book might seem to be a daunting task. Fans of the famous X-Men series from Marvel Comics do not have to worry about it, however. With the release of X-Men Legends II: The Rise of Apocalypse for the PC, gamers get the both of both worlds: an intense action based RPG title that showcases the best of the X-Men comics.
OK. I have to admit that I'm a comic book geek. For over half of my life, I've been addicted to the illustrated adventures of Professor Charles Xavier's X-Men like a kid to candy. So, when the Activision announced the release of X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse for the PC gaming platform, I had to wipe at least a small amount of drool from my lips. I was even able to get past the lingering anger that had festered within my heart and soul after the before mentioned gaming company had made the unfortunate mistake of releasing the previous Legends title last year for all of the video game platforms except the PC. So after hearing all of the excellent stories and gameplay tidbits from my console gaming brothers and sisters, I finally had a chance to experience the latest installment in the X-Men Legends series. To say that I was blown away is an understatement.
I doubt that many video game players out there are unfamiliar with the X-Men. Being one of the most prolific comics books to date, these Marvel Comics superheroes have not only been going strong on the printed page for over 30 years, they've also made their way onto the silver screen with two blockbuster films. Crossing over to the video game medium isn't all that of a surprise, since we've seen other Marvel character head down the same path (Spiderman, The Hulk, etc.). And thankfully, the game producers at Raven Software did it right with X-Men Legends II. Not only did they make a great PC title, they also gave the game the right 'feel' of what the X-Men are all about.
Legends II's gameplay takes on the familiar elements of arcade styled action fighter, taking full advantage of the standard 'gamepad' controller used with console systems. Utilizing combo moves made up of punches, kicks, and 'super-powers', players get to beat the tar out of the bad guys to their hearts desire. What makes this type of game stand out is the use of the X-Men characters and themes. Players can choose from over 16 characters found with the Marvel comic book, including members of the X-Men (Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, etc.) and even a few from their arch-rivals, the Brotherhood of Mutants (including Magneto, Sabertooth, and Toad, among others). Each character comes with their own set of fighting skills, defensive abilities, and superpowers. Some character's have better melee skills, others have excellent ranged attacks, while a few characters can fly (which can come in handy in certain tricky portions of the game). Each X-Man or Brotherhood member comes to the table with their own special abilities, allowing players to tailor their fighting force (made up of 4 team members) to their hearts desire.
The 'tailoring' aspect of the game brings us directly to the RPG elements of X-Men Legends II. As the game progresses, each character gains experience, which in turn allows them to 'level-up'. Players then get the chance to fine tune any character they see fit. You can build up such stats as defensive/attack, mutant/superhero abilities, and even abilities such as leadership skills. To be honest, the amount of tweaking players can do to their characters is immense, allowing players to really mold their favorite superheroes into the exact sort of character they're looking for. It can also be a little time consuming and daunting. With that in mind, there is a nifty auto-level option, which throws XP into predetermined areas of specific characters. This system takes advantage of a characters best traits and gives players the ability to drop the whole XP management system all together and just play the game, if they so desire.
While in the in-game maps and scenarios can help advance the characters, players also have the option of using Professor Xavier's Danger Room to help his or her team gain experience. By finding or buying various Programs throughout the regular gameplay, players can take a jaunt through a Danger Room simulation and build up much needed skills, including combo training, combat assessment, and other various in-game skill advancements. Unfortunately for me, I didn't find this little treasure until much later in the game. Still, I found it a very useful system, allowing me to test out characters that I had not played with in-game at the time. Through roughly 6 main acts, players get the chance to experience a variety of landscapes and battlefields in order to test their meddle. These range from the streets of New York City, the Mutant stronghold of Genosha, Egypt, and even the legendary pre-historic island known as the Savage Land. Various characters from the X-Men lore also make an appearance during the game (both good guys and bad) to help flesh out the story through both in-game cut-scenes and actual combat scenarios. Topped off with an excellent back story surrounding the 'return' of the first Mutant, Apocalypse and the 'Illustrated' form that the graphics take, this latest X-Men game really gives the player an authentic comic-book feel.
Seriously…X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is one of the best games I've had the chance to play all year. The thorough mix of arcade styled action and intricate RPG elements would make any game in the genre stand out amongst the crowd. By throwing in the comic book aspects of the rich X-Men lore, Legends II goes that much further, giving players' full control of their favorite heroes and villains alike. Action/RPG gamers and comic book fans alike will no doubt be sucked into to this game in a heartbeat, providing hours of enjoyment overall.