Publisher: Activision / Developer: Silicon Knights / Price: $59.99 / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Teen [Mild Language, Mild suggestive Themes, Violence]
On paper, X-Men: Destiny seems like it could be great. Adapted from the Marvel comics and written by veteran comic book scribe Mike Carey, Destiny casts you as a new recruit for either the X-Men or the Brotherhood. You choose powers and abilities, gaining experience as you play, while fighting through hordes of mutant-hating bigots, science-weirdoes, and a Sentinel robot thrown in for good measure. But I don’t think Silicon Knights let this game cook long enough, because the result is basically hot garbage.
At the game’s start, you choose one of three characters: Aimi Yoshida, Grant Alexander, or Adrian Luca, each with their own back story that has minor effects on the game’s dialogue, though I found no discernable impact on the gameplay. From there, you choose your core powers: density control (super-strong rock-powers), energy projection (lasers), or shadow matter (teleportation and stabbing). Basically, they translate to melee, ranged, or a sort of a mix between the two, and if the game stopped there, it could have turned out fine.
Instead, half-baked RPG elements, where you use experience points to upgrade your powers and the collectible, character-themed X-Genes and costumes your pick up are all awkward. X-Genes augment offensive or defensive capabilities, or offer utility benefits, like ice-sliding, ground-level flight, electricity-powered sprinting, and more. Combining a matched set of genes with that character’s costume lets characters engage X-Mode, which can provide limited boosts to attack, defense, speed, healing, etc. Getting a matched set of genes and costumes proves tricky because each power up you find seems totally random. This frustrated me, since I’d put lots of XP into Iceman’s genes, but wasn’t able to complete a matched set by the end of the game, meaning that XP might’ve been spent better elsewhere.
Worse, the X-Genes’ supposed benefits are limited to vague descriptions like “improves” or “increases,” but with no quantifiable stats. The Colossus X-Gene limits damage taken from enemies? By how much? How much more damage will attacks cause with Cyclops’s X-Gene? What are these add-ons actually doing for the game, besides milking the X-Men license for all it’s worth?
As you play, you fight through hordes of bland, repetitive enemies, sometimes aided by familiar characters from the comics, sometimes on your own, rarely with much excitement. Once in a while, the use of a power can be pretty fun, such as “Dark Vapor,” where you sink into the ground and damage enemies as a dark, crackling blob of energy. But more often than not, you mash the attack buttons to kill the bad guys. Occasionally you encounter a boss, most of which range from ridiculously easy to merely easy. Every so often, though, a boss cheap-hits you to the point of red-faced frustration.
And, for some reason, your character can climb various beams and bars that are stuck onto buildings and walls. But only sometimes. This was tacked on in an effort to imitate Enslaved or Assassin’s Creed, I guess, but you can climb no matter what character or power set you take. And that makes no fucking sense. If it were a fun addition to the gameplay, I’d forgive it, but it is neither enjoyable, nor is it explained in the story. It’s just there, presumably so you do different things than just punching.
And of course, sometimes you pick up “collectibles.” In most action-adventure games, you might find a “comic page” or a “trophy” or something story-related, and they offer little bonuses or features. Well, X-Men: Destiny was so clearly rushed that there’s not even a name for the “collectibles” scattered throughout the game. They even look unfinished, appearing simply as white rectangles. Finding them unlocks mini character dossiers, but they provide details on in-game information only (no first comic appearance, no continuity details). The game doesn’t seem to offer concept art, or creator interviews, or unlockable power-ups or skins—nothing.
The game opens with a peace rally in Professor X’s memory, which is interrupted by a destructive attack ripping through San Francisco. From there, you’re on a quest to free captured mutants from the Purifiers, a militant band of mutant-haters, who’ve joined forces with the mutant power-harvesting U-Men. The story twists and turns, and you run into familiar old characters like Gambit, Juggernaut, and Magneto, while encountering newer ones like Pixie and Surge. The whole time, you’re trying to unravel the mystery of who’s behind the attack, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Your decisions don’t affect the story one bit, just which characters might happen to offer you missions—which is always punching bad guys or destroying something while punching bad guys.
The plot’s serviceable, but it’s just kind of there. I never really cared who was behind the attacks, and the story didn’t really care to explain who I was fighting at any given time. I just knew there were guys who needed punching, so punching’s what I did. At one point, I fought John Sublime. Who is that? I don’t know. How do I know he was John Sublime? The screen told me that’s who he was—not through dialogue, not through plot. Like the gameplay, the whole thing just seemed sloppy.
Let me put it this way: if this were a comic book, I wouldn’t have bothered getting the next issue.
Overall, your character doesn’t feel quite right when you’re in combat. Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the Marvel-themed hack-and-slasher, had tighter controls than this thing. Your character feels kind of floaty and is sometimes hard to direct, a quality made worse by a janky camera that gives you a helpful view about 60 percent of the time. The controls get the job done, but it never feels like you’re totally in control.
Of course the combat controls are amazing compared to the climbing segments. When climbing, any weight your character seemed to possess disappears. While moving along an inexplicably placed ledge or bar, your character moves at least twice as quickly as normal. The change is so jarring, in fact, you sometimes can’t help but laugh at how terrible it is. It’s like seeing the zipper on the back of a monster’s costume in a horror movie. It’s sloppy, it’s rushed, and it sucks.
Sometimes the visuals work really well. Many of the pre-rendered cut-scenes have really great animation, with smooth framerates and exciting action. The in-game graphics, too, are pretty solid most of the time, with well-rendered characters and character designs, and battle animations that seem powerful and destructive.
But when the action really heats up, the slow-down kicks in—hard. It’s been so long since I’ve seen slow-down this bad, I actually thought it simply didn’t happen on this generation of consoles. X-Men: Destiny helped me learn otherwise. Slow-down happens way more often than you’d like, dragging the rate to about one or two frames per second at times, especially during fierce combat. But sometimes just while running, the camera gets stuck in a corner. Not knowing how to reconcile what’s happening on-screen, the action comes to a grinding halt.
The effects given to your attacks and powers sound great, but after a while, it blends into a cacophony of destruction and action. The voice acting gets the job done. There are no stand-out performances, but with such a huge cast of characters, many of whom featuring wonderfully stereotypical accents, it’s actually something of a feat that there are no flat-out bad performances. The music is unmemorable, but again, in a game with so much going wrong for it, unmemorable (and not annoying) music is kind of miraculous.
If you’re a fan of the X-Men, you might find something to enjoy in this game, since there are tons of characters, and lots of powers to try out. But the game is so fundamentally flawed it will undoubtedly disappoint even those committed fans. I wish X-Men: Destiny could mutate into a better game.