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X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Score: 78%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Amaze Entertainment
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Fighting/ Action/ Themed

Graphics & Sound:
Movie tie-in games are evolving nicely. In the past, we were satisfied with something that "felt" like the movie, even if it just jammed characters and movie-licensed content into an established game style. This was how we ended up with Star Wars combat racing games, or innumerable bland FPS games based on summer blockbusters. We cycled through a period where games could and would literally recreate the movie on which they were based, and now we've arrived at what I'll refer to as the Post Imitation period. Games are big enough ventures to attract their own major writing and directing talent, so why live in the shadow of Hollywood? X-Men Origins: Wolverine takes the movie as a starting point, but weaves in lots of new and interesting content that adds a layer beyond what film can provide.

The serious efforts put into this game's appearance strike you immediately. Cut-scenes are tack sharp and presented with both big-budget computer animation and the in-game assets. Watching computer animation these days is almost as good as seeing the action in a theater, albeit on a much smaller screen. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a great vehicle for explosive (literally) action, all of which comes through in the video snippets placed between playable content. You will also have access to a list of unlockables like special movies that fill in new pieces of the game's story. Other unlockables, such as audio logs from characters talking about events in the game, go even further to extend the narrative beyond the movie. During the playable segments, you'll see nice touches that showcase Wolverine and his unique move set. Sure, the "bullet time" thing has been overused, but we dare you to deny you get a slight case of chills the first, second, and third time you watch Logan launch himself at an enemy in slo-mo after you trigger a special attack or enter "Rage Mode."

Judging this "book by its cover" will lead you to assume that the contents are as golden as the shiny surface. The reality is in more of a gray area... Much like those games mentioned earlier that jammed a license into a convenient prebuilt framework (i.e. Twisted Metal with vehicles from Star Wars), X-Men Origins: Wolverine for PSP is at heart just a 3D Brawler. You'll fight your way through wave after wave of enemies with lots of button-mashing fervor, but there's little to capture your imagination or provide real challenge. Sure, the actual battles are heated and will have you hopping around. Sure, there are plenty of unlockables to keep you going through the game and returning to specific levels for content. The devoted fans will find plenty in X-Men Origins: Wolverine to keep them occupied, and in that sense, the game scores well. Where it falls short is in the omission of several gameplay elements that would have extended the game's appeal beyond the core audience, and made for more a well-rounded experience.

The first obvious omission is lack of multiplayer. Any fighting game, brawler or otherwise, should have some kind of co-op or competitive fighting mode. The style of play in X-Men Origins: Wolverine for PSP lends itself so naturally to this, but nothing of the sort is included. Gamers will have to content themselves with what's here, rather than experience the fun of replaying some or all of the campaign alongside a friend. The other item missing is any real attempt to bridge the Wolverine legend with Logan as a man. Always playing as Wolverine flattens the impact of the game; the design philosophy seems to be around taking away Logan's powers or driving him into a fever pitch. More time spent playing as Logan, perhaps on true stealth missions, would have made the game more compelling. What passes for stealth gameplay here isn't plausible, since you quickly learn that there isn't any significant penalty for exposure, other than losing the unlockable earnings by completing a stealth objective.

These objectives are, beyond the basic difficulty setting that controls the game's A.I., a measure of dynamic difficulty. Seasoned players will want to complete all objectives, many of which are devilishly difficult. Timed runs or completing a section of some level without taking any damage are examples of objectives you can skip, and still see the credits roll on X-Men Origins: Wolverine. There are also primary objectives you'll need to knock down in order to actually complete the level. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is too linear to provide you with the means to actually fail a level, but it's very easy to fail your secondary objectives. Savvy players will recognize that mastering objectives is about more than earning special items and unlockables, since you'll also see a boost in your base stats when completing all the secondary (read "Hard") objectives. Logan actually has an extensive move set, which expands as you play through the game. Learning to use unblockable attacks or sequencing attacks and combining them with evasive maneuvers makes Logan a seriously powerful killing machine. The more complicated moves and the supercharged attacks you can access as your powers increase are what really turns the game in your favor. The bottom line is that you can work smart in X-Men Origins: Wolverine or just work hard, and get about the same result. Later levels are much less accessible unless you use special attacks to your full advantage, but a motivated button-masher can easily get through 80% of the game. On some level, the folks in Hollywood must know that a franchise game doesn't work as well if a majority of the population can't get their satisfaction.

Game Mechanics:
The formula for stacking moves in X-Men Origins: Wolverine is more Final Fight than Street Fighter; you'll use the same basic two-button combos to work through the game, with some variation introduced by jumping and evading attacks. The shoulder buttons provide the evasive moves, and attacking from mid-air produces a different effect than ground attacks. The most profound attacks are triggered by building up Logan's "rage meter." As you wage war on your enemies, you'll see a gauge climbing right below the health bar. As you progress, this gauge can be traded for more powerful attacks that work like Bullet Time, as mentioned above. Raging will also increase Logan's regenerative powers and allow him to chain attacks through a one-button combo. This also looks a bit like Bullet Time, and is all the more impressive because of how it launches you across large expanses of the battle area. Each area is fairly linear, so it's strange that an addition was made for a feature called Feral Sense, that Wolverine uses like "Spidey Sense" to discover passages between areas. This is a nice way to prevent players from getting lost, but it's mostly an empty gesture since there is usually only one way out of an area. The other convenience that misses the mark is the autosave feature that forces you to replay entire levels. It's not that you'll be frustrated over the battles themselves, but the volume of enemies you'll have to wade through again tests your patience.

Players with plenty of patience will enjoy X-Men Origins: Wolverine for PSP at least as much as the movie. There's good entertainment to be had here, and it would be a decent fighting game even without the license. Adding Wolverine and his abilities helps to make the game more than just a generic Brawler, but at heart, this is a button-mashing paradise and not much more. All the extras are fun to unlock, but only if you're a big fan of both the movie and this style of game. Limitations abound, not least the lack of multiplayer. At least with the ability to play online or wirelessly with some friends, X-Men Origins: Wolverine would have made a place for itself on the shelf for a few months. Instead we have a solid rental that you'll knock off in a weekend or a 'Dew-fueled all-night binge. Much like the summer blockbuster it is based on, this is a guilty pleasure for even the hardcore fans.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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