The lights are on
Fact: Wolverine is awesome. And his new game defines what it is to be him, making you feel awesome every time you tear through an enemy’s flesh. As it just so happens, X-Men Origins: Wolverine may actually be one of the best licensed games out there this generation, mostly because it doesn’t do what so many license-based titles do: play it safe. Bub, this is as visceral and bloody an adventure that you can get this side of God of War – no T-rating censorship here. Wolverine may be lacking in quite a few areas, and where Kratos’ adventures are massively epic Wolverine’s is a little anticlimactic and frustratingly short. Worse yet, the game is forced to live under the shadow of 'Batman: Arkham Asylum' as 'the' comic game of the year. But Wolverine's game is still a thrill ride worth experiencing, for sure. [note – I have seen the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine as well, so any comparisons I make are appropriate]
AT A GLANCE:
WHAT IT IS:A visceral action slasher that captures the spirit of the man who is Wolverine, and serves as an example of a movie tie-in done well.
WHAT YOU’LL LIKE: Satisfying, layered combat. Possibly a better Wolverine experience than the film. WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE: The short length, and the repetitive fights against groups of foes.
STORY: Just like with the film, this game tells the origin story of Wolverine. Well, sort of. Instead of starting with the young James Howlett (Wolverine) and his brother Victor Creed (aka Sabertooth) as children in the 1800s, it begins with the titular hero as a part of William Stryker’s Team X, who are on a mission in Africa. The game than fast-forwards to after Wolverine left the team, and now Sabertooth is on a rampage killing members of the team, and apparently Wolverine’s girlfriend, who is the reason Howlett takes on the name Wolverine. Now, Wolverine is on a mission to kill Victor Creed as well as Stryker, who has had some maniacal plans all along, which included replacing Wolverine’s bones with the unbreakable Adamantium before trying to erasing his memory. The game’s story constantly flashes back and forth between Africa and the present, which ends up being a little disorienting at times, partly because the Africa levels are terribly repetitive, but also because it convolutes the otherwise simplistic story. In the film, events occur in chronological order, but the game makes everything a bit more confusing, and leaves some questions frustratingly unanswered. It isn’t impossible to follow, it’s just unnecessarily difficult. The redeeming factor story-wise is that the game goes beyond just the movie’s storyline. The Gambit encounter is expanded significantly, and an entire side-story tied to the main quest is added, featuring the first Sentinel - because really, can you make a Wolverine game without at least one of those giant robots? Oh, and as a side note, the game’s story will probably be easier to follow for the most part if you’ve seen the movie as well, since many story points are glossed over in an attempt to get the player to the action as quickly as possible.
ESSENCE OF WOLVERINE: The team behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine obviously had a very clear goal in mind while creating this bloody, quick, and empowering action game. Their goal was to create an experience which took all of the elements that makes Wolverine the loveably beastly dude that he is, and make players feel like they truly wield his mutant/metalloid powers. It’s important to note that Raven didn’t just want the X-Men experience based on the movies. They wanted the true Wolverine – The Wolverine without PG-13 rating restraints. The Wolverine where cutting through an enemy’s body doesn’t just make them fall down dead with a few scratches. This is what it would be like if a wild mutant with steal claws were released upon the bad men of the world. And it is sweet. So, what is it that exactly makes Wolverine who he is? What is core to the Wolverine experience? Raven nails the true spirit of Wolverine, which is emphasized by two things in particular: Blood and Adamantium. When the game first boots up, you can see that these two things are synonymous with comic book Wolverine. Blood splatters the menu, and the menu text is made to look like the same unbreakable alloy that runs through Wolvie’s entire body. It’s a testament to Raven’s goal of making their Wolverine game as completely ‘HIM’ as possible when the menus perfectly encapsulate what the guy is all about. Showing Wolverine asleep in Stryker’s Adamantium tank is the perfect visual for the main menu. But that’s all just the tip of the iceberg. This game is in-your-face bloody the whole way through. Despite the fact that X-Men Origins: Wolverine has been made into a movie tie-in, the gory action has little in common with the mostly bloodless brawls in the film. When Wolverine swings his claws through an enemy, real world consequences occur – limbs are detached, blood flows, and general awesome ensues. The blood is what headlines the presentation in the game, and while it may shock few who have never seen Wolverine like this before, Raven got him right. Fans will probably be really happy by the path the developers took. The game does have a noticeably dark tone to it, just as the movie did for the most part. The gore adds to this, with the added effect of the deaths sometimes being so outrageous it becomes funny instead of just gruesome. But what’s bloodshed and Wolverine without a little humor, right?
PRESENTATION/GRAPHICS: Wolverine features some nice looking visuals. Over the course of the game you’ll visit environments such as an African jungle, multiple factories, a snow-covered hill side, Vegas, and a short bout in an Idaho grocery store. Each and every location you visit looks pretty nice in general (despite some repetitive tile patterns, but the real attraction is Wolverine himself. His animations are fluid, acrobatic, and quick, just like they should be. The multiple ways Wolverine finishes off his enemies are a sight to behold (at least for a while), but above all other things, the real time regeneration effects are the main attraction. As Wolverine gets shot up, his skin opens up, eventually revealing bones and tissue, among other bloody details. Get to cover or clear the area and you’ll immediately begin to notice the wounds start to close up in real time. Blood vanishes, skin grows back, and soon enough his body will be as good as new in no time, all before your eyes. Wolverine may not be the last game to employ this technique (the new Splatterhouse reboot will feature very similar technology), but as the first to use this effect, Wolverine gets the accolades. Some moments stand out in particular and truly look great. A brawl with Sabertooth early in the game features some sweet rain and lightning effects, while the battle stays as fast and furious as any of the other fights in the game. While things like barrels and boxes are always destructible throughout the game, the destructible environments in the grocery store fight are also quite impressive, as is the scale of the fight with the Sentinel. There are also subtle effects, like the scratch marks that appear on most surfaces when Wolverine slashes into them. The few pre-rendered cutscenes that are sporadically placed throughout are without a doubt the best-looking part of the game, the blood-colored icing on the graphics cake. However, it isn’t all praise for the game’s visuals. The biggest problem I noticed with the visuals is that there are many graphical oddities to be found throughout the adventure. I would commonly find Wolverine and enemies standing in mid-air. Voices will occasionally not sync up with the lips, and the texture work isn’t the greatest. Clearly, Wolverine isn’t the most polished game graphics-wise, but it never effects the gameplay negatively, so it’s nothing much to worry over. Also, some of the environments, especially Africa and the assorted factories keep repeating and often last too long, so the initial shine of the good-looking levels began to wear off on me, but everything is generally nice and crisp-looking overall.
And let's not forget about the audio aspect of the game. Hugh Jackman voices his character in the game. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll notice a large amount of the exact same lines that were in the movie used in the game. I can’t prove it, but I even have a feeling they might have transferred the movie lines straight into the cutscenes. Either way, Jackman does a great job, and most of the others do a good job as well (though Gambit says ‘Mah Fren’ a hilariously numerous amount of times). I was mostly impressed by the performances, which aren’t always so great in comic book games or licensed games in general. However, whatever little girl plays the voice of the little mutant girl Wolverine rescues early in the game comes off as unintentionally freaky, and clashes badly with the reasonable performances of everyone else. She’s only in one level though, so it’s only a small blemish. Meanwhile, Wolverine ripping through bad guys and objects sounds great, and the enemies scream are just wonderfully horrifying. The score that plays in the background is intense enough to be fitting, but it’s nothing memorable.
GAMEPLAY: The gameplay is one of X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s crowning achievements. Despite the fact that games like God of War have pretty much captured the sweet spot of the balls-to-the-wall pure action experience, Wolverine still manages to put its own mark on the genre, albeit not quite as polished or varied. Just like Raven captures the Wolverine character through the presentation and his fluid visual animations, the gameplay also goes the distance, making the player feel like they wield ridiculously agile and violent moves. And this isn’t just generic button mashing action, as different layers like grabs and use of the environment are added to the combat to prevent mindless reliance on one button over and over. The ability to pull together combos makes for some great moments. Charged slashes send enemies into the air, while light slashes are standard damage-causers. Grabs allow you to use awesome, gruesome finishing moves, throw your foe, or allow you to pull off environmental kills if you can. My bet is most players will rely heavily on the lunge move, which takes the place of long-range weapons (rightfully so, because when would Wolverine ever use guns?). The lunge move features a simple lock-on feature, and with one more click, Wolverine leaps all the way onto distant enemies. Once on top, if the enemy isn’t weak enough to die right away, you can combine it with another brutal blow. Lunging is so easy and powerful enough to be a constant reliance. Luckily, the game rewards you for using all of your moves, via achievements and the fact that lunging doesn’t look as cool as the finishing moves and environmental kills. Anyone who cares enough will experiment with all of their moves, and realize that they are all just as satisfying as lunges. Mixing all of your skills together makes for a much more satisfying experience. Add in the decent variety of environmental kills, and you’ve got plenty of killing methods to test out, mix, and match. As you progress, an RPG-lite system awards you with experience for your killing skills. You can then upgrade your different attacks, while new attack powers are doled out throughout the storyline. Mutagens are like gene tonics is Bioshock. They boost Wolverine’s stats and can be upgraded just like your attacks can. You must find these scattered around the environments. As expected, mutagens and attack upgrades add layers to your character. Light puzzle elements and platforming is added for varieties sake. The puzzles are an awkward fit for the claws-first attitude of Wolverine, but I’d rather the change-up than the same monotony of battles from beginning to end. On the other side of the coin, unlike my suspicious, platforming isn’t just carelessly tacked on. When you climb, the camera shakes from side to side along with Wolverines climb movements, adding some subtle, yet visceral immersion to this (usually) bloodless portion of the action. Fun quick-time events and finishing move button presses also punctuate the average combat. Still, while there may have been a lot of effort to mix up the gameplay experience, most of the time you’ll be mindlessly pulling together the same strings of combos. As immensely satisfying as it may be, it does get repetitive after extended play sessions, so it’s best to play in shorter bursts, lest the possibility of growing tired of the mechanics arises. Besides, if you play too much at once the game will probably end too quickly anyways… As far as enemy variety goes, it’s merely alright. Some enemies will charge with melee attacks, MOST will shoot at you with your standard line of weaponry. Some have shields, blocking your lunge attack. One type seems to use some sort of magical aura. Another turns invisible with special armor, making your Feral Sense power a must. Feral Sense is a great extension of Wolverine’s ability. A sixth sense of sorts, your feral abilities can be flipped on and off like night vision goggles. They highlight all enemies, hidden dead bodies with collectible dog tags, what you can pull off environmental kills with, ropes, ladders, and surfaces you can climb up/across. It even shows you exactly where to go next, even though the levels are usually linear enough already. Going back to enemies, the bosses game range from surprisingly fun to incredibly dull. First of all, the game’s mini-bosses are absolutely terrible. There are only two mini-bosses you’ll run into again and again – a rock golem of some sort, and a W.I.N.D.I.G.O. Prototype (whatever that means). Both play out exactly the same: While you can hack away SLOWLY at them, the easiest thing to do is lunge to their backs and hack away until they try to smack you off. Jump off to avoid them, then jump right back on. Problem is, the health bars still go down awfully slow, meaning you’ll be pressing the slash button over and over and lunging onto them over and over in just one fight. The first time it’s pretty fun. After five, it’s a bit annoying. Twenty? It feels like there were that many, don’t blame me for inaccuracies though. Four at the same time? UGG!! I understand they kept throwing in these guys to break up the enemy waves, but its way overkill, especially when they’re so boring to fight in the first place. The ‘real’ bosses usually fair much better. The strange thing is that the boss placement in the game is very unique. You have an early fight with Sabertooth, and then against Nord after a long gap. After those two, the game places the last four bosses in one semi-marathon of boss battles at the end. After beating the Sentinel, you go straight into fighting Blob, and then again to a more drawn-out battle with Gambit, which also features about a levels-worth of normal enemies. Then, it’s directly to the final boss. Believe it or not, I actually liked this strange pacing with all of these bosses coming one after the other. As for how these boss battles actually are? The early brawl with Sabertooth in and then outside a bar was one of my personnel favorites. I would have liked a rematch though, but it never happens. The Blob’s fight in a grocery store is a wonderfully unorthodox setting, and the destructible store shelves are a pretty cool feature. Gambit and the final face-off with Deadpool felt strangely repetitive, like fighting average enemies with huge life bars and some interesting powers. So for a quick recap, the combat is visceral and very satisfying, while it can get tiring since you’ll be doing it so much. The other stuff like puzzles, platforming, and boss battles do their part in mixing up the gameplay, while not always making an impact. Its solid fun through and through, and the regenerating health makes the game just easy enough to make you feel like Wolverine with his badass meter on full, without feeling like you’re cheating. Oh, just be aware that mini-bosses are a complete bore.
REPLAY VALUE: A lot of games really drop the ball when it comes to this category. Raven tried their best, but for the most part Wolverine follows suit. The quest is short – I had beaten the game within three days of buying it. While I liked the variety of environments in the game, a lot of them somehow manage to still feel repetitive, especially since they usually don’t play any different than one another. A hard mode is unlocked after completion, and those who really want more may find playing through a good alternative. You can also replay any section of the game (chosen from the menu) with all of your fully upgraded abilities. There is a good amount of hidden doodads to collect. Mutagens directly relate to gameplay, but the action figures only equate to unlocking alternate costumes. While fighting a Wolverine clone to be able to wear the costume after collecting enough figures is cool, the costumes will only be important to completionists and huge X-Men fans. In addition, there are tons of dead bodies with collectible dog tags to collect. The bodies can be found more easily with Feral Sense, but Raven made one huge flaw here: no tracking mechanic, for knowing how many you’re missing on each level. This effectively makes collecting all of them too grueling to deal with, unless you’re crazy enough to keep a strategy guide of internet walkthrough with you at all times. I would like to think nobody would ever do something like that for the sake of achievements. Speaking of which, three funny easter eggs referencing Lost, World of Warcraft, and Portal are easy achievements, and the secret achievements are pretty creative. Truth is, there are games with way better replay value then random collectibles, achievements, and a hard mode, but I’ve seen games that don’t even have those things. I’m actually not sure what else Raven could have done with this one, so I supposed they didn’t do a terrible job in this area.
So X-Men Origins: Wolverine is missing some polish and a longer experience, but the combat is surprisingly awesome. This is a pretty good rental game, and once the price goes down from the steep $60, it’ll be a lot more attractive of a purchase. X-Men fans will likely love this game, but any fan of gory action looking for something to play without Kratos in it should check this out.
Title: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Developer: Raven Software
Release: May 1, 2009
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