There’s something mystifying about the violence in comic books. The old school relied on the now overused “pows” and “whams,” while more recent history has returned noticeably more explicit violence and realism during battles. But through it all, the cell-by-cell presentation rarely affords the kind of gorgeous destruction and horrifying detail that those fights would realistically produce. Even when comics are adapted to television or the big screen, their often overtly comic nature is due, I would assume at least in part, to the shocking brutality the fights would logically produce — Batman’s Batarangs careening carefully off of guns rather than slicing through hands, etc. And save for the recent adaptation of Alan Moore’s iconic Watchmen to the big screen — a film so gag-inducingly violent you almost need to reread the book to assure yourself that it all went according to plan — this trend seems to hold true.
Enter Wolverine, a member of the historic X-Men series. His powers are varied but all increasingly cool (largely the most appropriate word for his skills). He can smell and sense danger, a helpful but mostly innocuous skill. His body heals at super-human speed making him nearly impossible to kill, again, cool, but mostly PG-rated. And he has razor sharp blades that can cut through any material and that rip through his flesh whenever he needs them … wait, what? When thought about logically, the way that Wolverine “subdues” enemies is, basically, to cut them in half. He’s the equivalent of a back-alley mugger that has uncompromising stealth and six really, really sharp knives that he uses to fatal effect. But that never passes through your mind when you watch the popular ‘90s cartoon or read the books. He just seems particularly bad ass.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, however, is something of a blood bath. And given the frequency of the gory slow motion cut scenes and writhing, limbless enemies for the creators, this is more a blood bubble bath, a playfully enjoyable celebration of dismemberment and blood-gushing death. This isn’t a slight against the game, though, just an aspect of the game that’s glaringly obvious from the get go.
Not having seen the eponymous, accompanying blockbuster, it’s difficult to comment on the story arc of the game, but it seemed to be a non-issue for the game creators. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is explicitly not about the story. It’s about the fights. Almost immediately, you’re thrown into swarms of enemies of all different shapes and sizes: general henchmen with automatic weapons; vaguely indigenous, machete-wielding ninjas; and shortly thereafter, oversized genetically manipulated boss monsters.
Though as the game progresses, fights becoming increasingly formulaic: walk down a designated path—occasionally avoiding traps — into a large open area where you’re confronted by 20 or so enemies. And while the various kinds of enemies will keep you interested for a time, the fights are almost all won by doing a two-button lunge move, which hurls Wolverine across the board either killing enemies or pinning them to the ground so that you can repeatedly stab them in the face — yes, seriously.
To remedy this stagnation, the game allows you to “customize” Wolverine through the addition of experience points/leveling up and attachment of “mutagens” (attribute-boosting bonuses that you find throughout the environment). This customization goes only a short way in making the game continuously captivating as the lack of actual results you see from these advancements is minimal and rarely makes a significant impact.
In the end though, X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s greatest accomplishment is doing justice to the spirit and realism of Wolverine. Of the various X-Men games that have been made in the past, none of them aim to provide this level of understanding to the characters’ personalities. For this, X-Men Origins should be lauded. But if you’re looking for a game that will keep you constantly entertained and intrigued, this probably isn’t the answer. Unless of course you’re really into chopping people in half.