Review / X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Xbox 360)

Raven Software came out of the gates hard with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Not only did they claim that it would be what Wolverine fans had always wanted in a game, they also distanced themselves as much as possible from the movie. From the get go they made sure that everyone knew they had been working on this game before the movie and that it wasn’t just another film tie-in. With the movie sucking hardcore the latter strategy proved very fruitful, but does that mean that the former claim is true?

Wolverine is definitely bloodier, deadlier and full of slicing and dicing like fans have always wanted, but does that make it the game we’ve always wanted? The real kicker is capturing the wild character that is Wolverine in game form. Has Raven created a game where you feel like you’re acting like Wolverine or are you just acting like any brawler in any game? After spending the past few weeks literally tearing through the game I’ve come to a conclusion. That conclusion follows… bub.

The most important thing that Raven nailed was the brutality and power of Wolverine. He moves and attacks exactly like Wolverine should and that’s much in thanks to the game’s incredibly easy to pick-up, but still somewhat deep fighting mechanics. You’ve got your basic combos played out with the X and Y buttons that allow you to do ground attacks and spins and launch enemies in the air. On top of this you have the grab which is executed with the B button and from which you can pull off a cinematic quick kill. When this happens Logan will eliminate his opponent in a cinematic fashion as the camera pans around him and you watch. It’s a blast no matter how many times you pull it off, though the variety of finishes starts to be limited as you play along. Enemies also block and counter and you can do the same. The battle system plays out very well, though it isn’t that deep in the end.

Wolverine also has four special attacks which use a rage meter up. There’s a spin attack, a drill attack, a hurricane attack and a rage attack. The spin attack and the hurricane attack are pretty much the same and are good for taking out groups of enemies, but never really seem that useful. The drill attack is more focused in a straight line and eventually becomes totally useless unless you want to have some fun with it. By the end of the game you realize that the only truly useful special move is the rage, which increases Wolverine’s speed and power. Tearing through guys with your rage on is a blast, but usually just ended up in button mashing and lunging a lot.

What does set Wolverine apart from other systems is Wolverine’s lunge, which has to be one of the best attacks in a game ever. Players can lock onto an enemy from a certain distance and pounce on them, landing with their claws impaled in the enemy’s chest. From here players can pound away on the downed enemy, toss him into a wall or jump into the air and bring their claws down onto his face – most of the time ending in death. The lunges are visceral and an absolute blast. Sometimes you’ll just jump around a level lunging at every enemy until one of them has a shotgun and blasts you out of the air. It might be the most fun I’ve ever had with a simple beat em’ up. Sadly lunging doesn’t save the entire fighting system and thanks to a lack of variety in enemies (machete, machine gun and a few others) the game starts to get very repetitive. It’s a blast in small segments, but fighting the same battle over and over starts to get a little tiresome.

Also tiresome are the mini-bosses. Most of them can be beaten with a well timed lunge attack played over and over again. It’s exciting the first time and aggravating the next nine times. Variety is the spice of life and Wolverine is lacking in it. Some of the main bosses fall into this category too, with simple running and hacking being an easy way to destroy them. Thankfully Wolverine also delivers some truly epic battles. Fighting Gambit on top of a casino is stunning and destroying a plummeting Sentinel while skydiving is also epic. There are also some fantastic QTE segments (something I think much of the gaming world comes down far too harshly on) that are really just fun to play through. Basically the more cinematic the game tries to be the better the boss battle or event.

I think the developers were trying to avoid the repetitiveness of the game by infusing a bit of an RPG twist. The more creatively you kill an enemy and the more enemies you kill in a row the more experience points players get. These points can be used to buy more power or health or special attacks for Wolverine and leveling up instantly gets players more life and can open up new powers. The problem is if you level up right you’re almost too powerful for a good chunk of the game. By the end I was taking out bad guys left and right with ease. The game also flashes back and forth in time while telling its story and the enemies in the past never get any stronger except for a few new characters, so that by the time of the last flashback players will be ripping through guys like warm butter. The challenge really seeps out of the game very quickly. That fact doesn’t however mean the game gets any less fun.

The other issue with difficulty is that you never feel like you’re going to die because, well, Wolverine never really can die. He’s got regenerative mutant abilities meaning that his life constantly regenerates, and you’re killing people so fast you’re also almost never in danger. All players have to do is run to a corner and wait a bit for their life to regenerate. Does not being able to die make a game less fun? Not in this case. While your heart never starts pounding because you’re about to fall over dead it’s still a blast to kill everyone in sight in slow motion.

I’ve come down hard on the gameplay as being pretty repetitive and not that challenging, which at its base it is. However, the levels are designed so well around the repetitive gameplay that many times you forget to notice that you’re doing the same thing over and over again. For instance the lunge is incorporated into a daring escape from a flooding tube where Wolverine must lunge from the back of one enemy infested truck to the back of another. It’s kind of awesome and works really well. There are other levels such as this that I won’t ruin, but they keep the redundant gameplay felling fresh even if it isn’t.

The plot of the game is actually better than that of the film, and while it still tries to cram as many mutants in as possible from the comics it works far better in a 6-10 hour game than it does in a two hour movie. Even the completely butchered Deadpool is a bit more tolerable, though that might be because players get to tear him apart themselves. It’s clear that Raven had a love for the character of Wolverine, and that they wanted to stay as true to him as they could while still following the film’s story loosely. Sadly a lot of the dialog falls flat on its face, making cutscenes feel less like Wolverine than the gameplay does; both a testament to how much the gameplay feels like Wolverine and how poorly scripted some of the scenes are.

The clawed mutant with regenerative powers is in the details though. The little touches really make this more than just another movie tie-in. Most noticeable of course is the fact that Wolverine takes real time damage. As players get hit, cuts, scars and gaps appear on Wolverine until you’re literally almost just a skeleton. It’s very cool to watch your muscles and skin start to grow back. Not so much your pants and shirt, but running around with a naked Wolverine probably wasn’t an option for getting by without an AO rating from the ESRB. Also cool is the ability to switch Wolverine into a few extra costumes. Playing as classic blue and yellow or brown and orange Wolverine was far superior to the wife-beater Wolverine of the film even if the real-time damage wasn’t as good looking.

I would have loved if the game had more of a high-score mode than it does. Playing back through the levels, which you can do, would have been far more entertaining with some high score challenges or at least a little point counter at the end of each one. Still, I can see easily picking up the controller in the future and having some fun with Wolverine again once the gameplay feels fresh again. There are certain parts that just beg to be played through perfectly so that Wolverine can look as cool as possible and this goes back to the fantastic level design.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is caught somewhere between a repetitive movie tie-in and a truly awesome game and I would say that it tips more towards the awesome side than the dumb one. What it lacks in gameplay it makes up for in general coolness and the fact that you’re playing as Wolverine. In fact that factor cannot truly be overlooked. It is simply awesome to be able to play as Wolverine in this manner. No matter what gripe one might have with the game it is impossible to argue against that.

+ A truly fun and cinematic fighting system. The lunge is an absolute blast to play with
+ Creative and intense boss battles that will stick out in your mind
+ Awesome level design overrides most of the gameplay and enemy type flaws

– Gameplay can get repetitive despite being constantly fun
– Far too few enemy types to keep things interesting
– Voice acting and scripting make cut scenes a poor distraction between the action