Retro Respawn: X-Men Legends

The X-Men are one of the greatest superhero teams of all time! Across several decades, fans young and old have been inspired by X-Men comics, films, TV shows and toys. What you may forget though are the video games about the X-Men, and that’s probably because few modern X-Men games are worthwhile.

At the turn of the century, fans received the decent X-Men: Mutant Academy and its sequel, whilst the X-Men were prominent in the acclaimed Marvel Vs. Capcom series. Conversely, X-Men: Next Dimension, X-Men: The Official Game and X-Men: Destiny were all regarded as appalling. So, aside from the hack and slash title X-Men Origins: Wolverine (based on the eponymously titled film), you’ll struggle finding exciting, modern X-Men games from the last 15 years. However, there are two titles that still stand tall; two titles that capture what it’s like to play as the X-Men. The first of these is X-Men Legends.

Raven Software are responsible for developing X-Men Legends and the sequel, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse. Raven Software are also responsible for Quake, the Star Wars: Jedi Knight games and even Call of Duty as co-producers.

Both X-Men Legends titles take the form of action-RPGs as you beat up bad guys in fast-flowing fights with a team of up to four of your favourite X-Men. The X-Men Legends games also have an enthralling story and plenty of collectibles for players to gather across a variety of levels. 

The first X-Men Legends game begins in New York City (as you would expect for almost any Marvel superhero). Its opening cutscene sets the story in motion as the player, playing as Wolverine, ventures through New York, fighting through wave after wave of enemies. X-Men Legends does a great job of introducing the core gameplay elements straightaway. Through game tip icons, players can learn about different stats, items and hit combos. Health and energy packs become available quickly, which can restore each respective stat on one character.  

Stat and skill points – which upgrade a plethora of character traits – are also introduced in the opening level. Some of these include powers, health, defense and strength; it really homes in on RPG elements. This means that by the end of the level, players have a decent understanding of the game’s mechanics – the primary goal of any tutorial. 

Later in the level, players unlock Cyclops as a second playable character. Combos are introduced here, which is when two characters simultaneously use their powers. Most of these have pretty cool names to boot. Here, multiplayer is also unlocked, allowing two players to simultaneously venture through New York. Boss battles are also encountered in the first level, and while they’re nothing too special, it’s satisfying to see the health bar decrease with powerful attacks. 

In later levels, additional features gain importance. Extraction Points acts as save points and as a method to change your team during a level. For example, you may need to replace a fallen team member. This helps to keep the game fresh for sure! At said Extraction Points, Forge and Healer are two characters who can trade the player some items. This is in exchange for Tech Bits – the game’s main currency. Players pick up useful gear that can be equipped to characters. This gear will increase stats, making them stronger in battle. However, I believe this feature flourishes more in the second instalment. 

Four powers are unlocked for each character by the game’s climax, which all have different effects. Most X-Men have two direct damage-dealing powers (although some have abilities that freeze enemies in place or cause them to flee in fear). One power is dedicated to a buff, such as increasing defense or adding damage to melee combat. Then, we have the X-Treme Powers! These are the most powerful moves in which can be used sparingly. These are great for getting your team out of a pinch, dealing high damage or stunning enemies in the vicinity. To add a bit more flavour to the formula, powers can change slightly as they’re upgraded. Some of the changes make powers significantly more fun to use!  

The other key element of gameplay to be introduced is resistances. Many enemies will have strengths and weaknesses, meaning that you must pick your team pretty carefully. For example, some enemies are resistant to physical attacks, so the likes of Wolverine or Colossus are ineffective. Meanwhile, the likes of Iceman or Jean Grey could deal significant damage!  

Finally, we have the small features that can aid the X-Men on their missions. We have a map for every location so that players can find their way to objectives. There is also the ability to choose from three cameras; two are top-down and one is closer up. It’s the little things here that can go a long way.  

All of this combines to create a pretty fluid and in-depth experience. This is why – for first-time players – X-Men Legends can be quite the challenge. I would argue the gameplay still holds up pretty well, as a result, aside from some AI issues here and there. Nonetheless, X-Men Legends can be rather punishing if you’re not careful because some enemies can do insane damage, and others can take the player by surprise.  

To get a feel for the gameplay and certain characters, the Danger Room is a great place to hone your skills. Buying and collecting discs allows players to choose from a variety of short missions, including survival, protect and destroy missions. It’s great to have a place to practice with no consequences. What’s more, the Danger Room is available from the main menu, and here it offers even more characters to play and battle as. From Morlocks to Sentinels to the Brotherhood, there’s a great variety! 

So, what’s the story of X-Men Legends? Well, it follows Alison Crestmere (A.K.A. Magma) – a mutant only just discovering her powers. Despite Alison being the central character, there are several narratives, all with different key protagonists and antagonists. Cyclops, for example, is the main protagonist in one mission, and Professor Xavier has his own sub-narrative. This is great because it allows a range of iconic X-Men heroes and villains to flourish in the video game environment.  

Nonetheless, Alison is a decent central character, although she hardly overshadows the likes of Storm, Wolverine or Jean Grey. This is perhaps a good thing because she plays a similar role to Jubilee in X-Men: The Animated Series. She is the newest X-Man used as a viewpoint character to learn more about the X-Men and to look at the team in awe. Like Jubilee, she is simply a teenager with her own trials and tribulations.  

In opposition, we have four key villains across the game, three of which have a clear agenda that makes each more than one-dimensional. This is always what X-Men has been fantastic at, creating characters with genuine and heartfelt motivations, in part due to the parallels to political and racial real-life tensions. It’s satisfying to see X-Men Legends acknowledge the comics and core themes at the heart of X-Men‘s best storylines. 

Locations play quite the significant part in X-Men Legends’ story. Iconic locations from X-Men media, such as the Weapon-X Facility, Muir Island and the New York sewers, play their parts in establishing the atmosphere. Several locations are reused (the sewers), but otherwise, the selection is diverse enough. It’s lovely for any X-Men fan to see the locations that have stuck around and become favourites.  

Every location in the game wouldn’t be complete without stellar visuals and terrific music. The sewers, for example, are perfectly dingy and gloomy, with a combination of harsh greens and browns. The Astral Plane is visually outstanding too! Taking metaphor and visualising it so harshly creates anxiety whenever your team visits. It’s really creative, and I can appreciate that so much. 

As I mentioned, music goes a long way to creating the correct atmospheres. Some of the brighter locations have music that makes you feel awesome and powerful while maintaining the intensity. Other places have quite sad tones to make the player stop just for a moment and take in the brutality of some scenes. There is a particular level towards the end of X-Men Legends that is very dark in relation to tone and theme. Music perfectly emphasises a melancholic tone. X-Men Legends gets this right most of the time. 

In-between travelling to various places across the planet, the player can control Alison as she explores the X-Mansion. We are treated to music here that is quite relaxing, as it should be, offering a good contrast to the intense levels. Here you can talk to many members of the team, from Nightcrawler to Colossus to Jubilee. This is great for new fans especially as they can get to learn about the backstories of the most iconic X-Men. It can feel a bit too empty as a hub world sometimes, but it suffices. At these points in the game, players can access missions taking on iconic moments from the comics. One mission covers Wolverine’s escape from Weapon X; another recaps Juggernaut’s first battle with the X-Men. These are nice little side-missions for fans new and old.  

It is in the X-Mansion that the player can view many of the game’s collectible comics and artwork, which is great for getting an understanding of X-Men Legends’ influences and development. Players can also access trivia to test their knowledge about the X-Men. Little touches like this, again, flesh the game out so much! 

X-Men Legends has a few little flaws – most of which I’ve mentioned – but it truly is a great game! Gameplay and narrative are spot on, and additional features flesh out X-Men Legends, making it a complete package. Graphics are not so great even by 2004 standards, but aside from this, you can still have a blast with X-Men Legends. If you like X-Men or even just Marvel, give X-Men Legends a chance.  

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