X-Men Destiny Review
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on Sony PlayStation 3
The superhero genre is a tricky beast, more often than not publishers will attempt to knock out a title (usually to tie in with a movie) on the cheap. It is often the case that a random small development house is tasked with creating ‘something’ by a certain date on a relatively small budget. Sadly this frequently results in poor quality games which do a little bit of business before finding themselves jostling for position at the bottom of the bargain bin. Now and again a publisher takes everything very seriously and pours resources in to doing things ‘right’, the last two Batman games being the main success stories of recent years.
When all is said and done, the X-Men are absolutely ripe for a top notch game treatment. The characters are iconic, well known, varied and quite simply could easily be adapted in to an awful lot of game genres - it’s a potential gold mine. It is perhaps slightly upsetting then that X-Men Destiny is best described as an epic fail. There is simply nothing good to report about the title, from the poorly conceived game premise to the woeful inadequacies of the game engine, it is just a complete failure.
X-Men Destiny falls quite brutally face first in to the first category.
The X-Men are brought to us on this occasion by the team at Silicon Knights, infamously known for the development of Too Human which is arguably one of the flops of the last ten years. Coming off the back of a successful relationship with Nintendo, leaping into bed with Microsoft for what was to be the Too Human trilogy, Silicon Knights were it seemed, destined for big things. Sadly Too Human was a very poor game and the idea of a trilogy drifted away. Since Too Human we haven’t seen a great deal from Silicon Knights, well nothing to be more precise but the X-Men franchise has within it the ability to do well for any development house worth its salt.
Introducing a new mutant to the X-Men universe, X-Men Destiny allows you to choose from a small selection of teenage mutants developing them throughout the game and ultimately guiding their morale compass. A novel idea indeed but sadly one that falls completely flat. The character choice at the beginning of the game is an exercise in choosing which one annoys you the least during the initial screens and whilst they may have some nice individual combat charms, they are all extremely shallow, dull and annoying.
Once you’ve managed to figure out which character annoys you the least you are thrust in to an epic struggle between mutants, U-Men (random bad guys) and the Purifiers (other random bad guys). It is standard comic book storytelling at a basic level and whilst it consistently aspires to be epic it is let down throughout by awful scripting, baffling design choices and a game engine that simply will not allow you to be immersed in the world at all, not even a peep. It doesn’t matter in the slightest if you know who your enemy are, their history, why they are doing bad things or anything of this nature, if you are never given the opportunity to become engaged then ultimately you just won’t care. The story as a whole is frankly a bit of a dud, a non-starter some would say - poorly voiced, pitifully rendered and just dull.
Throughout the multilevel trek through a city under siege you encounter a series of poorly designed (and animated) familiar faces; Wolverine stops by, as does Magneto and Nightcrawler to name but a few. It is nice to see these guys along the way only if to remind you that this is an X-Men game, playing this game could be really cool and those guys are really cool. Sadly though you don’t get to play them you just chat now and again through badly scripted cut scenes to progress the story or to receive a side challenge. It’s all very linear, pushing you from cut scene to challenge area and back again.
The idea of building your character and ultimately shaping your destiny is appealing at first. Upgrades are available to you through multiple different avenues; accuring XP throughout the game can be spent on passive skills as well as being used to unlock combat moves whilst other more potent skills can be obtained by searching around each level and some are dished out to you at key moments throughout the plot. The later skills are based on a choice but there is nothing ground breaking to be seen here, you simply choose between two extremely powerful skills at key moments in the game. In fairness some choices can mean the difference between breezing later levels and not but it’s not game breaking if you choose the wrong option.
Choice are big part of the main campaign and it is littered with them. Side missions or challenge rooms require you to choose whether to help the X-Men or the Brotherhood and dotted along the rather brief campaign are similar choices which must be made. These decisions allegedly shape forthcoming missions and change the way in which the game unravels before your very eyes. What they actually boil down to is which humdrum challenge room you wish to conquer and with whom. The main quest choices make very little difference to the game, in fact in several places it’s not even possible to tell the difference at all.
Combat is limited to the use of a mixture of light and heavy attacks along with the unlockable skills touched upon earlier. You do have the ability to dodge and counter but you will really only call upon these skills in the last few levels. Whilst it is fun initially to power up your character, unlock some new killer moves and clear areas of enemies you soon realise that the game is simply a hell of a lot of challenge rooms strung together. This feeling isn’t helped by the large cartoonish display when you enter an area showing you exactly how many enemies you have to defeat to clear the area. What feels like a nice retro touch initially it really only serves to highlight the lack of actual gameplay within X-Men Destiny, getting old very quickly. Button bashing will get you most of the way through the entire campaign along with the odd special move. Performing each special move does have an element of joy to it however short lived it is, as with most things in X-Men Destiny the initial appeal just drifts away when you realise that there isn’t much more on offer.
Button bashers do have their place and can be very fun experiences, sadly as you are probably already all too aware, this one isn’t particularly fun. What let’s it down in a fairly unbelievable fashion is the game engine. Graphically poor with few textures, blocky environments and poor facial animations you’d expect it to at least be smooth during the free flowing combat areas...it really isn’t. Flowing combat this is not, it is both sluggish and clumsy. The game engine also astonishes in places slowing down to a crawl when there are too many enemies on the screen and the introduction of any smoke effect almost cripples it. At times it’s very difficult to believe that this game was released in 2011 and was developed by what was once touted as a AAA studio.
Any joy associated with playing a button basher is diminished with every challenge arena and after a while you start to feel a bit sorry for the game as a whole.
The less said about the ‘puzzles’ and jumping mechanics the better, enough has been said already about what is wrong with this title, there is little need to discuss how poorly executed these elements are.
Best to save this until the end but the title does have one single solitary plus point and this believe or not will be great news for some...the achievements/trophies are easy and can be achieved with 1.5 playthroughs. As a full playthrough is only about 5hrs this is a big plus point for the many people out there who love a bit of cheev whoring. The game is easy and even if you cannot stomach the extra mop up after your initial first run, you will still net a significant portion of the points on offer here.
So...what we have here is a poorly conceived mess built in what appears to be a bad PS2 engine slapping a beloved comic/cartoon/movie franchise across the face. It is not a recommended purchase even if you did have store credit and it was in the bargain bin. At best it’s a rental if there is nothing else available and you love adding to your gamerscore.