Last year, X-Men and superhero fans alike were treated to something never expected in terms of a videogame inspired by the X-Men universe. Raven Software decided to undertake one of the most difficult tasks in terms of making a game based on the popular superhero team. Utilizing a very intuitive leveling up and battle engine, Raven created a gem when they delivered X-Men Legends to us. Not only was the game given much praise from critics, but fans of the team and RPGs alike spoke highly of it as well. Hearing all this feedback from the public, Raven did something even more shocking almost just as the game hit stores. They’d announced an already upcoming sequel that was in development. X-Men Legends sparked just what may be one of the biggest hit franchises ever birthed for a superhero license, and Raven has a lot to be proud of. It all started with X-Men Legends, but now gamers have two very nice options. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse took everything that was already great in its predecessor and just made it all better.
If you remember X-Men Legends, the story was driven by a young teenage girl by the name Alison Crestmere. Later having taken on the name Magma as a part of the X-Men, she was taken in by Professor Xavier and the X-Men team. Their main goals were to help her understand and better control her powers, as well as discovering why the Brotherhood seemed so eager to kidnap her in broad daylight. Well, unfortunately this has nothing to do with the sequel, as neither Alison nor the XML main plot makes a connection to Rise of Apocalypse (RoA). Really, the only sequence in XML that bears witness to the plot of RoA is the very ending cutscene. But so as to not spoil that in the case that some of you haven’t played that yet, we’ll not worry about that.
So just what is the story that drives RoA? Well, it’s quite simple, as it revolves around the very mutant described at the end of the game’s subtitle. Apocalypse is a near god-like mutant bent on the ideal “survival of the fittest”. He believes only the strong should survive, and the weak should perish to allow the strong to reign over all. After the events of XML, both the X-Men and Brotherhood are worn down and vulnerable. In quite the cowardly maneuver, Apocalypse chooses to unleash devastating attacks on both teams. He basically destroys the main bases for each team, leaving them scattered. So now knowing that if something isn’t done about this, the world and both teams are as good as finished. Impending doom awaits if they don’t work together, so the X-Men and Brotherhood team up to fight this new threat. Somehow the teams will have to set their differences aside and pool their resources together so they can restore peace once again.
In the actual game, the first main mission for the X-Men is to rescue Professor Xavier. Apocalypse somehow kidnapped him too and imprisoned him in some kind of military facility in the middle of a winter stricken environment. This is also when you see the first encounter between the X-Men and Brotherhood, as they are both there to help bring Xavier back. Wolverine is the main man behind taking down the guards, and after a sort of “intimidation” sequence between the teams, Magneto uses his powers to open the doors to Xavier’s room. So Xavier is now rescued and ready to help the teams coordinate their missions in order to achieve what many consider impossible. They must stop Apocalypse and whatever he’s doing.
Now if you’ve played XML, you should have absolutely no problem in knowing how RoA works. The leveling up system and combat engine are virtually the same, simply expanded. Your team can now level up a little bit faster than they may have previously, and each mutant now has far more powers in their repertoire. So if you’re familiar with XML, you’re pretty much already familiar with RoA. However, if that isn’t the case, even then you shouldn’t have too much of a problem. You have two main buttons for melee attacks (A and B), X for picking up items and executing actions, Y for jumping and the R shoulder for your particular mutant’s powers. It can’t really be much simpler than that, which is what Raven wished for at the very beginning with XML. Both games are very easy to pick up and play, as neither will hardly take long to learn.
So let’s get right to it, just how does RoA stack against XML in terms of improvement with all the game’s aspects? We’ll start with the graphical presentation. Now whether you know or not, both XML games are driven by the comic book feel of the X-Men universe. There actually isn’t a whole lot of 3D presentation in either game, as a more isometric view drives what you see on the screen. But nevertheless, the whole anime/manga style of the game has been very intriguing for both games, and especially for RoA. In, RoA, the characters each look a bit more refined and polished, not quite as bland as they may have in XML. Each character looks like they may have been ripped directly from the comic book and given a few extra visual enhancements. The trademark “black outline” that helps you understand the comic book feel of the presentation is made even more evident. Some of the characters were given extra special attention this time around to make them look more like they should’ve. Iceman no longer looks like a textureless white body with no detail to him. He now actually looks like authentic ice and his whole presentation mimics that quite nicely. Others like Cyclops were given physical enhancements so he doesn’t look quite so dorky; Rogue was also given small improvements so she doesn’t look exactly like Jean Grey this time.
But what about the Brotherhood? They are a major part of this game now since they comprise half of your team, so how do they look? Well, the big name members of the team that you may end up playing with are Magneto, Scarlet Witch and Juggernaut. They all look simply superb, especially Magneto, as he dawns his trademark indigo cape and mental protection helmet. Juggernaut looks very intimidating too, as his incredibly large size and massive armor suit make him look like a steroid-induced NFL lineman. Even Toad has his rather gross and unnatural look to him, but supposing he is a human toad that is to be expected. He’s got his webbed feet, his disgustingly long and green tongue, as well as his “bugged-out” eyes. He also moves by hopping around so that too makes his character seem more authentic. So really, when it all comes down, Raven did what they could to give each mutant a more authentic look, and they did their job quite well. But what about your environments and special effects?
If you played XML, you may remember how claustrophobic some of the levels may have felt. A lot of the areas you visited were inside buildings that basically followed one set path. Well, that whole aspect is hardly present in RoA. Raven made sure to add more variety to the environments you encounter, and they did yet another fine job. Granted it isn’t all perfect, but it’s actually pretty close. You’ll visit anything from tropical islands, to various manufacturing plants and the even the Pyramids of Giza themselves. Levels are also much more open and expansive. You will have a ton of room to move your team around, which allows for battles to really span the television screen. There is also a healthy balance of levels in which you are outside and inside buildings. That adds a nice touch to the game, as a superhero team like the X-Men would hardly have missions geared more towards the outside than inside and vice versa. To compliment this improvement, you’ll almost never have that “Didn’t we just fight those guys?” kind of feel in doing battle. Each level in each Act (in which there are five) brings about unique and different enemies for you to tussle with. Now granted a lot of them may look the same in the actual level itself, but thankfully there’s just enough variety there so it isn’t quite as noticeable.
Finally we have the special effects, which are basically comprised of the destructive aspects of your environment and the looks of each mutant’s powers. Just like in XML, your environments have a lot of things which can be literally destroyed. However, in RoA, Raven wanted to emphasize that whole ideal that much more by allowing even more destruction. Why did they do this? Well that’s simple, because there is a lot more to be found in the things that you can destroy. Whether it may be tech credits, health/energy packs, equipment or the items that unlock various features of the game, they can be found hidden. Raven actually encourages you and your mutant team to destroy everything that you can, because they want you to feel that rush. Plus if you do want to find all the unlockables in the game, you pretty much have to anyway. Then we have each mutant’s powers. All these have been given a significant upgrade since XML. No longer does each mutant only have four main useable powers in battle. Now each team member has about twelve each to work with. This was done to make battles more interesting and exciting, and boy do they do just that. For instance, Wolverine now has new abilities such as a “spin-o-rama” claw attack and a “scream” that can scare enemies away from you. Storm now has all the types of weather available at her disposal in terms of ability use. This includes lightning, strong winds and winter-like abilities. Pretty much all the mutant powers look extremely cool, and seeing them destroy what you are able to in your environment makes the experience that much sweeter.
Really the only downside to the game in the graphics department is the occasional frame rate issue. In certain missions you will have a ton of enemies around you and that obviously requires even more actions on your part to get rid of them. Well that may bring about a very noticeable slowdown in the sequence of action on the screen, as for some reason the GameCube doesn’t seem to be able to handle it quite that well. This was noticeable the most when fighting the first Horseman of Apocalypse as well as the mission in which you fight a never-ending number of cyborgs. So even though it hardly happens often, it does happen, and that is obviously something that probably could’ve been worked on for the final release. But nevertheless, even with that small flaw, RoA just does another incredible job of presenting the X-Men universe graphically. The cel-shading/anime/manga style works beautifully yet again and is bound to please any loyal fan of the popular Marvel team.
So with an excellent display of graphical expertise, Raven also managed to scrounge up a fantastic group of people to lend their talents for the music and sounds. The music in RoA is both great and not-so-hot at the same time. The game is comprised of five different Acts, each divided into multiple missions for each. So with a lot of missions you would expect a lot of different action-themed music to go along with it right? Well, in some cases it ends up working that way, and in some it just downright sucks. There isn’t a lot of actual “memorable” music than one might think would be in the game, but when it is, it’s pleasing to hear. The best music in the game unfortunately comes towards the end of it, when you encounter environments such as the Madria Temple and the path to Apocalypse’s Tower. At the beginning, some of the music is pretty decent to hear, but most of it isn’t really something you might find yourself whistling to. But in the Madria Temple, the whole musical score sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings and its “battle for middle earth” concept. The same can be said about Apocalypse’s Tower, that music gets intense as you edge closer and closer to your final objective. The way it sounds is enough to make even the most hardened XML player a little nervous.
Thankfully the small shortcomings in terms of consistent exciting music are made up with the authentic voice acting of the game’s characters. Whoever Raven hired to provide the voices to all the characters made a fine choice in judgment. Each member of the X-Men, Brotherhood and the enemies you face and sound just like they should and probably would in the cartoons. Wolverine has his trademark “I want to kick butt and take names” tone of voice, but of course we all know he truly has that caring core to him. Cyclops has his familiar “nerdy and leadership-like” tone of voice, which is what Wolverine tends to make fun of all the time. Then Rogue has her southern accent, Colossus has his Russian voice and Nightcrawler speaks his German dialect. Just every member of each team speaks how they should, and this in turn makes conversations between the two flow like they probably should. Obviously the X-Men and Brotherhood don’t really care much for each other, but since they are forced to work together, there is always tension. You won’t be able to count the number of times a member of the X-Men or Brotherhood threatens to beat the living daylights out of a member of the opposite team. Iceman and Juggernaut tend to have a lot of those conversations, and Toad never seema to know when to keep his mouth shut when it comes to objecting to missions. This same applies to Apocalypse and members of his team. Especially with Apocalypse and his associate Mister Sinister, they are downright evil stricken characters. They are both bent on global conquest and their ideal of “only the strong should survive”, so obviously their dialogue and tone reflect that.
Now just what was explained here only actually happens in the cinematic cutscenes and in-game sequences in which you are briefed on your missions. So what about when you actually take your team through the environments that come with the missions you are currently set on? Well each character has a set of recorded dialogue that they say when different things happen while fighting your adversaries. When a character levels up, when they’re low on health, when they need help fighting something or finally take down an enemy, they have different lines for it. For example, when Storm levels up, she’ll say “I’m as strong as a hurricane!” When Wolverine is low on health, he’ll say “I’m doing so good here!” When Magneto requests aid, he may say “Please help me now!” (yeah, rather simplistic) Now thankfully because there are so many members to choose from when going through these missions, these lines won’t seem too repetitive. However, if you’re like me and only use one team for most of the second half of the game, you will hear the same thing a lot. It doesn’t necessarily annoy you, but you’ll probably find yourself not listening to it much after so long. Some of the characters actually speak to each other depending on your team, so you have that to look forward to as well.
So if you’re a fan of the X-Men and any of their videogames, you should have no problem finding interest in the music and sounds of RoA. The voice each character delivers offers a very authentic atmosphere for the superhero universe, and the special effects displayed with both the destruction of your environment as well as the powers of each mutant is enough to please any adrenaline junkie. Just hearing a nice explosion as Magneto draws a number of metallic objects towards you, causing damage to your enemies upon contact is ever so satisfying. The music may not be the most memorable feature of the game, but it gets much better during the latter half of RoA.
Another feature of RoA that hasn’t changed much since XML is the whole gameplay aspect. Now granted that doesn’t mean it’s not different at all, because it actually is, but it’s different in a more unique and desirable way. Everything from the combat and leveling up engine to how navigation can be done was taken from XML and given total revamps.
Combat is actually done the same exact way in RoA as it was in XML, but it was hugely expanded upon to offer a lot more variety than previously delivered. Yes you still have your powers with each mutant and the combos that you can execute with them. But instead of only having four upgradeable powers for each mutant, they all now have at least twelve. The menus for leveling up, boosting powers and assigning equipment are virtually the same from XML, but they are a little more refined and organized. You still have the option of manually upgrading everyone and everything, or you can choose to let the game do it for you. If you choose to have it set on auto, you can actually customize how the game actually executes what is needed when leveling up occurs.
However, even if you choose to go it manually like I did (and for XML as well), it’s not entirely difficult. You upgrade the stats of body (total HP), energy (for powers), strike (for melee) and agility (defense and speed). It’s simply done by taking all the stat upgrade points you’ve received so far from leveling up and just hitting A to increase the number. The same applies to boosting your powers. You have powers that can be unlocked after reaching certain levels, but have three at the very beginning. Each upgrade takes up one square in which there is a huge line of them per ability. The powers are also accessed in battle using the same face button HUD. When holding R, you see the four different powers available at your disposal. The A and B buttons are generally for offensive abilities, X is for status effect and protective abilities and the Y is specifically for two extreme powers that each mutant eventually has. Another beauty of having more than four powers per mutant this time around is once you actually begin unlocking them, you can change them on the fly. The power HUD is shaped identically to the GameCube controller D-Pad, and that’s all you have to use to change your powers. Each direction on the D-Pad is dedicated to one of the power slots on the HUD. So up on the D-Pad will change your extreme power, right will change your status effect/protective abilities and so on.
In terms of your equipment, the game itself is extremely helpful. The only disadvantage of your equipment inventory is that it’s way too small. You will probably run out of space for new pickups rather quickly, and even using the Hero Stash at each of your bases throughout the game isn’t much more useful. That too will get filled up, so once that happens you probably won’t care much to go after anymore equipment. But the best equipment designed for your particular team will be automatically assigned upon pickup, so you never really have to worry about changing who’s wearing what yourself.
Speaking of your bases, this is a pretty big part of the game that drives the story. Both the X-Men and Brotherhood will take shelter at five different locations depending on which Act you are currently active in. You will be based anywhere from Magneto’s home in Genosha, the old and abandoned Weapon X facility to the Pyramids of Giza. Each location will usually have the following to come along with it: Professor Xavier (mentor), Forge (equipment seller/maker), the mission computer (for briefing), the Danger Room computer (for Danger Room scenarios), the Trivia Computer (for answering questions to get XP), the Review Computer (view things you’ve unlocked so far) and finally the Hero Stash (your secondary equipment inventory). It is actually pretty cool to move from one base to another because the environment changes so drastically, and the supporting cast from other X-Men, Brotherhood and other mutants is very intriguing.
So these bases are actually connected to five separate Acts in the game. The first four Acts take you through missions that will having you fight each of Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen, as well as completing objectives to stop Apocalypse’s ultimate plan. That happens to be simple. Apocalypse is going to eventually kidnap four different mutants, because he is seeking what is known as harmonic DNA. Now obviously so as to not spoil anything we’ll not go into just why, as you’ll eventually find out yourself if you play. But just to offer some excitement, the battles with Apocalypse’s Horsemen are very intriguing, especially the first one. Even some of the battles you fight with major side bosses can be very action packed because of how strong they are. Let’s just say a certain four armed man from the future isn’t the nicest character around.
RoA can also be played either by yourself or cooperatively with your friends. The game is definitely a lot more enjoyable if you do play with friends, as it’s much easier to coordinate teamwork and let each other know what it is you want to do. If you play by yourself, you have to make sure your teammates are set with desirable AI parameters that will be the most beneficial to you in all types of battle. This includes when they may use health and/or energy packs, what ability they will use when called upon for help and how aggressive they actually are when fighting. However, if you do have people to play it with, managing those things will virtually be nonexistent since you have the intelligence of human players to work with. Now granted it isn’t always perfect and sometimes they’ll accidentally kill themselves or not use their particular character like how they should be. But in the end, the game is just a blast to play with close friends.
Finally, we have the combos that are available to be executed. These are done the exact same way as they were in XML. If two mutants strike an enemy with one of their powers around the same general time, the damage from each attack will combine into a combo; this increases the total damage and the experience gained from it. So for instance, say Magneto does his ability to encase enemies in metal and Wolverine attacks shortly afterwards with Eviscerate or another claw attack. This will initiate the combo called something like “Metallic Deathtrap” and it is extremely effective. Juggernaut also has the ability to throw his teammates around, especially into enemies. If he does this with Wolverine, you have yourself a nice “Fastball” special.
So really, if you enjoyed playing XML, you should have absolutely no problem having a blast with this experience. Everything was given a very nice revamp in terms of easier use and navigation. Extraction points are still used to switch out team members, visit the Danger Room and now to actually transport to other EPs that you’ve activated throughout the mission. That is actually very convenient for you throughout the duration of the game, as it will allow you to go from point to point in certain missions in the case you are looking for something in particular. The only unfortunate aspect of this whole deal was something Raven initially promised us but somehow managed to forget in the final version. This was being able to switch out party members on the fly without the use of Extraction Points. Myself and my friends never saw this option available, so we’re thinking it never made it. That would’ve put the nail in the coffin in terms of overall quality, but unfortunately it ended up being a nasty disappointment. Still, the whole game is simply nothing but fun to play, and especially if you’re an X-Men fan that has friends to play it with.
When you eventually complete the game for the first time, you will be treated to a fairly well-done cinematic cutscene. It obviously shows the defeat of the final boss, as well as one final encounter between Xavier and a couple X-Men along with Magneto and a couple Brotherhood. The best part about the ending is it shows that common enemies can work together, even when they each hold drastically different ideals. Definitely a life lesson to be had there. But to make it even better, is the fact that it was rather left open during the ending, as who you see begs you to believe that X-Men Legends III is indeed coming if Raven chooses to do so. How you actually defeat the final boss may be just because of the very character you see as your X-Men team take off in their X-Jet, and knowing that can open up a whole new chapter in the Legends saga. Who knows, maybe Raven planned for this to be a trilogy all along, and will bring the franchise into the next generation with a brand new look?
XML II also has some awesome replay value. Nevermind all the features of XML that could easily bring players back to play it, RoA has even more to do just the same. Whether it’s finding all the unlockables to view concept art, comic book covers, character pictures and such to unlocking the three hidden characters and everything else, there’s a lot to do. Plus being able to navigate as easily as you can through all the Acts via the Extraction Points makes playing it through again quite convenient. You’ll never have to worry about getting lost or having to run through unnecessary parts of a level just to get to one specific spot. It’s a very nice concept that Raven implemented to make the game that much more accessible for a second run through. Plus having so many characters to utilize throughout the adventure and experimenting with team combinations is another attraction. If you want a game that you can very easily return to either a day, week or months after playing it, RoA is most definitely a perfect example. Now granted only die-hard X-Men fans will want to unlock everything, but for the most part there is plenty to get done after you finish the main story, and how fun it is to do so can easily motivate anyone.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is most definitely a rise, but certainly not an apocalypse. It’s a rise in quality over X-Men Legends without a doubt. Not drastically, but enough to make the game even more enjoyable than its predecessor. Everything from the first game was taken and put in, just with more polish and a smarter approach. You will hardly have to worry about the tedious features that some parts of XML may have brought, as everything has been simplified for both hardcore and casual players. The graphical appeal is much better this time around, with the comic book universe really making a presence here. The music isn’t exactly memorable in an overall sense, but the voice acting is just as awesome as it was in XML, but probably even better. Experiencing the working relationship between the X-Men and Brotherhood, along with all the tension, is something to be had without a doubt. Plus the gameplay is even more simplified, and therefore just that much more enjoyable that it was originally. Having so many powers available to every character makes the whole superhero atmosphere that much more comparable to the comics and TV. Simply put, if you want a great RPG that features some of the best superheroes of all time, just stop here.