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X-Men Legends II
Score: 86%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
The world of comics has always been the source for video games, both good and bad. Something that was very rarely, if ever, done though was to make a comic book property into an RPG, but that was done, and with great success, with the original X-Men Legends. Now its successor has arrived and X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is even better than its predecessor.

The visual style of X-Men Legends II is spot on. While the environments are an interesting blend of pseudo-realism and almost cel-shading, the beloved Marvel characters are all shown in full cel-shaded glory with a decidedly appropriate comic-book art look to them. The animations are kept relatively low-key and mostly relegated to the various battle moves. Since this stuff comes from the realm of still pictures, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. There are some CG sequences, and while they’re good, something about the way the characters look and move in them just seems decidedly off.

While there’s not much to say in terms of music or sound effects, its mostly appropriately atmospheric and battle explosion type of stuff, there’s certainly a lot to be said for the voice-acting in the game. Patrick Stewart reprises his role as Charles Xavier and the rest of the cast, both new and old (from the original), do a wonderful job capturing the personality of the now familiar characters. Each character also has a large list of short things to say in battle. While these get stale after a while, like any game, it takes decidedly longer than usual; especially since many of the dialogue lines are depending on which characters are in your current four man team. For example Wolverine loves to say, “I’m the best at what I do.” Well, there was at least one occasion where I heard Magneto retort, “You certainly are not the best at what you do”. Those moments are extremely entertaining. Though, I had small issues with Magneto. I don’t know, but I think he’ll always sound like Ian McKellen in my head now.

The story is very typical X-Men stuff. Surprise, surprise, the X-Men and The Brotherhood of Mutants are teaming up, again. This time it is to take on the nearly omnipotent Apocalypse, the 5000 year old original mutant. Sure, this is a pretty common plot for any new X-Men franchise to explore, but Apocalypse and his Horsemen are just so cool I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. The actual presentation of the story in the game could have been a little better. It started off too fast with not enough explanation of what’s going on, and the storytelling itself was frequently disjointed, spotty, and jumped to the next area too suddenly.

When you strip away all the Marvel references, X-Men Legends II is a fairly typical action-RPG in the vein of Diablo II. I mean, it is REALLY like Diablo II. Special equipment has blue names, while unique rares are gold; a similar naming convention exists with the named opponents. It is divided into 5 distinct acts and each has waypoints that you can warp between spread through. Each also has a “home base” of sorts that you can warp to from your current location. While the combat system is most assuredly deeper and more interesting, in terms of stage and item layout, it is nearly identical.

This is far from a clone though. With 16 playable characters each with a veritable laundry list of skills and abilities, your version of Gambit is very likely to be quite different from the next guy’s (or girl's). Unless of course you opt to let the game auto-allocate new stats and skills at leach level, which you are going to be tempted to do eventually for at least some of the characters.

In most regards, X-Men Legends II plays very much like its predecessor. You control a four man team and can switch between them on the fly with the directional pad. Your comrades help you during battles, and have very customizable AIs. You can swap members in and out of your team from your larger roster at any save points. Unlike many games, where you may just pick four and stick with them, the incredible diversity of abilities will require you to explore the powers of many different characters to get past certain obstacles. You might need Magneto to flip a switch behind a force field, or Storm to blast some guns from afar. Perhaps you’ll need Iceman to put out a fire blocking your path, or use Nightcrawler to teleport through a wall. Of course, if you just want to rip through a group of baddies as fast as possible, people like Wolverine get that job done too.

X-Men Legends II offers three difficulty settings so you’ll have no problem finding a difficulty you’re comfortable with. On the whole, the game is really quite easy. Except for a few of the tough boss battles, the game will rarely really test your team’s limits. If all of the RPG stuff really isn’t your thing, that’s not a problem either. You can let the game automate all of your equipment and leveling choices, and ultimately you can really play X-Men Legends II as a straight action game if you want too.

If there’s one thing a game that has both deep character customization and fast-paced action in it needs, it is a good learning curve. Thankfully, the game has handy “game tips” you can read in just the right areas that will get you acquainted with most of the game’s functions, so I wouldn’t worry about having a hard time figuring the game out either. When you get right down to it, an action fan could just sit down in front of the TV, start playing, and have very few problems.

Game Mechanics:
Combat is pretty simple. Each character can use a weak or a strong attack and string them together in various combos. Using a combination of R2 and the four symbol buttons, you can perform your mutant attacks. These can vary from group combat buffs, to healing powers, defensive shields, and full on mutant attacks. If certain moves hit enemies together, they result in a chain and will do extra damage. There’s more to it, of course, and with things to throw, environmental destructibles (some of which make big booms) and people who can fly, etc… the combat system can get reasonably deep.

If you don’t want to play alone, that’s not a problem. The game features support for 2 players offline or up to 4 players online.

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is a great game for fans and non-fans alike. The game's RPG aspects will appease those types of fans, while others who just want a typical action experience can have that too. Unless you’re a person who just really hates the X-Men, you’ll have a good time with this one.

-Alucard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Stephen Triche

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