Hack. Slash. Snikt! Repeat.
If you ever read any of the X-Men comic books or watched the cartoons, then undoubtedly you felt at least some small twinge of excitement when you heard about the third movie. And maybe you felt another twinge when you heard about X-Men 3: The Official Game, though it might not have been one of excitement. Maybe it was apprehension. Or instant loathing.
Let's be honest. Even though we loved Aladdin for the Super NES and GoldenEye for the N64, the history of movie-based video games is not pretty. But to be fair to video game designers, you have to appreciate the risk involved with creating a movie-based game: after all, the title will suffer if the movie bombs, and the designers will inevitably be criticized for either following the movie too closely or deviating too far from the plot.
But for this project, Activision has taken an alternative route by producing a game that precedes the film. The game is actually supposed to provide a backdrop to the movie we'll be seeing on 26 May. So we faithful gamers will have some kind of advantage when we're sitting in the cinema, right?
Unfortunately, I don't think this will be the case. The game's plot is strictly limited to Wolverine, Iceman, and Nightcrawler (who's not even in the movie), and you won't see many other characters. And no, you can't choose your character for each mission. And no, there is no two-player mode. In those infrequent instances where other X-Men fight by your side, they'll frustrate you with their inaction. Example: as Nightcrawler you'll complete a mission in tandem with a computer-controlled Colossus, but you have to save him every 30 seconds from a handful of bad guys. As a fan of the franchise, I was somewhat perplexed by a scene involving the gigantic Colossus shouting, "Nightcrawler, help me," while the tiny Nightcrawler is forced to battle three building-sized Sentinels and then save his oversized comrade from a couple of faceless clones.
When playing as Wolverine, you'll watch in amazement as a hundred machine gun-toting baddies flock the screen while Storm floats just overhead doing, quite literally, nothing. The mindless button-mashing marathons that accompany Wolverine's missions quickly become tedious, and after a few minutes you'll stop having a good time entirely. And although you can upgrade your mutants in the hope of more entertaining missions in the future, you'll probably have already been turned off by the prospect of another 10 minutes of getting shot at by crowds of anonymous soldiers, killing them with a punch or a kick (or an occasional headbutt), running around a corner to heal and then repeating the process ad infinitum. I can pay 25p for this at an archaic arcade.
On the plus side, the game is one very cinematic experience, from the appropriately dramatic music to the lightning-fast plot to the minimal in-game HUD. The frequent cutscenes and the familiar voice of Patrick Stewart all lend a certain movie-esque quality to the game. Interestingly, Activision chose to use still shots for the cutscenes, which has advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, it comes across as being modelled fittingly on a comic book; on the other hand, it's a bit of a copout in a day and age when fully animated cutscenes are the standard.
This slick cinema-like presentation emerged as a turn-off because it all appears to be an attempt at masking the game's lack of depth. The smooth graphics, thrilling music, impressively detailed lighting, and even the calming presence of Patrick Stewart's baritone are all the veneer to a rough and unimpressive substance. Sort of like a trailer for Pearl Harbor. And at this point in my life, when my parents are no longer paying for my video games, I expect something more challenging, more enjoyable, and more impressive for the £35. If I wanted a few fleeting hours of auditory and visual thrills, I would have paid £8 for the movie.
It's a shame that these impressive graphics and sound are part of an unfulfilling but potentially excellent package. No two-player mode, for instance. Wolverine's missions could have been great if we could utilize the many ledges and stairways and fences that we can see but not touch, and Nightcrawler's missions would have been awesome if the game maps had been expanding tenfold vertically and horizontally to accommodate some truly thrilling teleportation jumps. When the Sentinels arrived I mistakenly thought, "Nice, now we're in for some Shadow of the Colossus-type action." But nope, the Sentinels went down like chumps. And if the Iceman levels had taken a few pages from the Tony Hawk series, we could have enjoyed the occasional slippery slope around the Statue of Liberty. Instead, we have three boring attack moves and the option of a 180 degree turn. Disappointed is an understatement.
If you want to think of the cheap filth that governs today's radio waves as the fast food burgers of the music world's dinner menu, then think of X-Men 3: The Official Game as the fast food burger of the gaming world: afterwards you feel partially satisfied but essentially still hungry, and wishing a few hours later that you'd not opened your wallet.
25 May 2006