(Xbox 360 Review) X-Men: Destiny

Developer: Silicon Knights
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action / Role-Playing Game
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 4 = Below Average

In a what-if world, Charles Xavier, the leader of the X-Men known as Professor X, has been killed by a future mutant-hunter called Bastion. The academy has been closed, and the X-Men have largely disbanded. While some of the team still hold on to the name and fight the good fight, most have vanished, died, or gone their own way. Since then, San Francisco has been segregated into mutant and non-mutant sections, and the newly formed, human-backed Mutant Response Division attempts to keep the peace. As the MRD’s chief, Luis Reyes, gives a speech about the importance of unity, three young mutants mill about the crowd that has gathered to listen to his conciliatory efforts. One of these mutants is you. And in a few minutes, you will start on a path that will lead your character either into the remaining ranks of the X-Men or their rivals, Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants.

As you flick through the three characters, each has an accompanying bio that touches on all aspects of this new world. Aspiring pro football player Grant Alexander has little interest in the political and social upheaval, thinking only of his future as a star college athlete. Then there is Adrian Luca, a member of the anti-mutant extremist Purifiers who is seeking to avenge the death of his father. And finally, Aimi Yoshida, a newly arrived refugee from Japan whose parents spirited her away in order that she not be forced to follow them into the government’s mutant camps. Each is about to discover that, like it or not, they are mutants, and that they have an important role in the impending chaos.

Each character is a blank slate and can be assigned one of three mutant powers: density control, energy projection, or shadow matter. The set runs the gamut of the superhero-power toolbox, with density control focusing on power, thanks to a rock coating that forms around the character; energy projection allows for powerful energy orbs and beams to be unleashed; and shadow matter is similar to the tentacle powers in Prototype, though they are of a more granite nature. As experience is gained, through pummeling enemies, making it through challenge areas (re: pummeling enemies), or ripping down anti-mutant propaganda posters, the powers are strengthened and evolve down branching paths. Energy projection starts out innocently enough with a fast, weak attack that flings orbs, a strong, slow attack that tosses them further away, and a beam combo ender. As experience is earned, the points can be dumped into each power to increase their potency, either through adding a buff or an extra move onto a combo. At certain points, an entirely new ability is unlocked, until your character is eventually a walking powerhouse. The energy projector will find themselves in any number of situations, either surrounded by firing orbs, shooting out powerful beams, dropping rejuvenating force fields that stuns any caught within it, and eventually the epicenter of a hovering vortex that draws in and damages nearby enemies.

Combat is further expanded by the addition of suits and x-genes. These are actually strange, because they allow for your character to wear a knock-off costume of another that somehow grants similar powers. The same goes for the offensive, defensive, and utility x-genes. The powers can be passive or active, and those from genes can be upgraded along the lines of your character’s actual powers. A Psylocke defense gene allows characters to pass through enemies, while Wolverine’s suit gives them a mild regenerative power. Most of these are found scattered throughout the world, while others can be earned by completing the various challenge areas located in side alleys and rooms. A block system can also be utilized, with those timed shortly before impact resulting in a parry, which sends the enemy flying back and adds a little juice to your power’s M-Power Meter. There’s also a lock-on function to help pinpoint attacks, but it frequently doesn’t work well—or at all.

Once you get past the initial stages, you will quickly discover that many things don’t work well. The foundation of Destiny actually isn’t bad, with the multiple, branching power system offering a decent breadth of moves and combos, but what’s been built upon it is a house held together with duct tape and gum.

I encountered so many problems that it’s difficult to know where to begin. I guess the best place to start is with the faction system. The idea of having to choose between the X-Men and Brotherhood of Mutants is a great way to introduce light role-playing mechanic, primarily in regards to decision trees. Initially, the dialog options seem to offer a cool quasi-BioWare experience, with each mission taken and answer given regarded as a nod towards one particular faction. The evolution of these relationships is ripe for some memorable moments, and some increasingly drastic mission variances. In practice, though, it all means very little.

Despite my cozying up to the Brotherhood during my first playthrough, I still had to fight Magneto, Pyro, and Juggernaut. On my second go-around, a mission I accepted for the X-Men was eerily similar to the one I had previously taken on for the Brotherhood—because it was the same. Choosing a side also doesn’t block access to any of the other faction’s suites or x-genes; I was a fierce Brotherhood soldier and did very well with Colossus’ genes. Slight differences do crop up in the dialog and for a handful of missions, which are similar to all of the others anyway, but it all feels so insignificant in a game about destiny and choice.

You get a glimpse of how great a fleshed-out faction element could be. There are moments when others join in on a fight, and those are also the times when the decision to focus on a new, unknown mutant pays off. In those true comic-book moments, Iceman will be gliding around above, swooping down to assist Cyclops while Nightcrawler bamfs all over the place. Not only are these lively fights great examples of what could be, but they are also a testament to how cool it is to be fighting amongst the legends rather than as a legend. If only there was a genuine payoff with any semblance of bonds being formed, relationships changing, or anything else that conveys a meaningful shift in attitude.

But aside from the limp design and easy difficulty—around five hours, max, on normal—the game is plagued with technical issues. Whether it’s the dialog being drowned out by the music or cutting out entirely; distorted sound effects; enemies clipping into, walking into, and getting stuck on objects; or erratic segues that lead to people cutting each other off in conversation or areas shown prematurely during a cutscene, something is always not quite right. In fact, I don’t think Gambit’s hips were ever not sticking out of his trench coat the entire time he was featured onscreen.

So much of the game is awkward in a wince-at-the-screen way, whether it’s a human character teleporting in a cutscene, cutscenes triggering during the heat of battle, or people reacting to something that didn’t happen. But these are light in comparison to some of the true glitches. The game hung during the intro during one session, while in another my character shot up a foot and got stuck in the falling pose despite being on solid ground. One of the more surprising bugs was when Juggernaut didn’t move an inch during his entire boss fight.

Even if you can ignore all of the missed opportunities of exploring racism, responsibility, growth, acceptance, fear, hatred—things the comics have covered admirably for decades—the baton-wielding (why?) carbon-copy enemies, and total lack of follow-through with the faction element, the glitches remain. The core combat system is undermined at every turn by … pretty everything else. The fighting shines at times, but it deserves a much better game.

X-Men: Destiny feels as if the game was beginning to find its legs, and then someone rushed in, yelled “We’re late!”, and those unpolished, disparate elements were quickly stitched together. The result is a game that demands a lot of your patience with very little in the way of compensation. In all, X-Men: Destiny is a slapdash effort that oozes with potential (Magneto throws the freaking Golden Gate Bridge!), but unfortunately for fans, it oozes a lot of nasty stuff too.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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