Review by Vilge Duin

"Much Improved Over It's Predecessor, But Still A Niche Title"

Introduction
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X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is the anticipated sequel to one of 2004's surprise hits. For most of console video gaming's history super hero titles have not done well outside the realm of fighting games and side-scrollers, but X-Men Legends was a mix of traditional hack-and-slash dungeon crawling, slight RPG elements and an amalgamation of the regular and Ultimate X-Men universes with enough new to make it fresh. This year Raven Software continues on that games success and tries to rectify some of its more glaring faults, but did they pull it off and succeed?

Features
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XMLII is a single or multiplayer (up to 4 simultaneously) hack-and-slash action RPG that allows you to take up arms as an assortment of 15 X-Men and Brotherhood of Evil Mutant members with 3 unlockable characters. There are over a 160 varying mutant powers to unlock and experiment with across the 70 or so areas of the game that are divided up into 5 large acts. The game also includes plenty of collectibles and things to unlock, ranging from alternate costumes to pre-production scetchwork. There is also a New Game + feature for those who wish to play the game over again with their acquired stats and items.

Story
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The story takes up shortly after the events of X-Men Legends and begins with the rescue of Professor Charles Xavier at the hands of both X-Men and Brotherhood members. Apocalypse has risen and begun his assault on human and mutantkind alike in an effort to conquer the world and prove that only the strong shall survive. You must take up arms against his diabolical plans as you battle across the Savage Land, Genosha, Egypt and many other places from the X-Men universe in order to save the earth from his clutches.

Graphics
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Graphics in XMLII are almost unchanged from its predecessor, but Raven Software has improved their use of what they have. Everything is cell-shaded as with the last game, sporting a somewhat dull yet colourful appearance. The opening levels in Genosha are especially wonderful to look at with their multiple paths and dense foliage with decent lighting effects. However as with XML many of the later levels begin to blur together and lack any defining details as they become so large that only so much variety can be present. Dark dungeon after dark dungeon rear their ugly head, much like military installations were the previous game's forte.

Enemies as usual begin to blur together as much as the environments and many are just palette swaps for others. You'll see the same basic set of 5 or so enemies throughout entire levels, with very little different to tell them apart. They simply provide you with constant fodder to be disposed of. The exception of course comes in the form of the bosses that you will face such as Apocalypse and his Horsemen. Much attention has been given to the bosses giving them personalities of their own.

Your own characters are much improved from the previous game, boasting a sharper and more colourful appearance for all. The black lines that were apparent in XML are now less obvious and this makes the characters stand out a bit more amongst the onscreen anarchy.

Powers and special attacks often fill the screen with dazzling light and a flurry of flashes. Quite frankly, this can lead to a lot of confusion. If similar sized and looking characters (such as Bishop and Gambit) are onscreen together when absolute chaos breaks loose, you can lose track of who is who very easily. This can lead to several unwanted deaths and plenty of missed attacks. Also when playing with another player, you may confuse who you have control over. For some this may be easy to manage, but it could cause problems for those who have a difficult time managing health, energy and all of the incoming enemies while keeping track of all characters. Also in regards to powers, many are just slight alterations between characters and very few are truly unique.

The game's interface has been changed and fixed up in some places, but it is also a little bit more cumbersome. This is mainly apparent when it comes to the power distribution screen. The previous game had a much better employed system that showed you all levels of a power as well as showing you what it did. In XMLII you have to press and hold Z while on a power to see what it does. This tends to create a more cumbersome time as you'll have to go back and forth between the power list and a power's description until you learn what they do. Everything however is easily readable and available within a manner of seconds.

On a final graphical note, even though they are not plentiful the CGI sequences are gorgeous. They are fully motion captured and acted excellently with top notch computer animation to give those who enjoy eye candy a treat. They are so good you will likely wish more were included and they make the in-game cutscenes look clumsy and poorly put together by comparison.

Music and Sound
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Music? What music? Oftentimes you will find yourself scouring through large expanses of a level that you've cleansed of enemies in search of a missing comic or homing beacon and find yourself met with eerie silence. When the music does kick in, when you are entering into combat, it is generic and typical action material; quickly forgotten after you've finished playing. Sounds effects can begin to blur together, and most of it is reused stuff from the previous game. Generic thumps and smacks when using your melee attacks and your typical energy sounds when you use a power. Nothing about the sound is overly impressive and can be rather dull, making some stretches of the game monotonous.

On the voice acting front, some of the actors do a competent enough job but the vast majority of the actors seem bored and uninspired, phoning in their performances. Voice acting veterans like Dee Bradley Baker, James Arnold Taylor, Richard McGonagle, John DiMaggio and especially Patrick Stewart do excellent work which makes the rest of the enormous cast pale in comparison. Some voices (such as Deadpool's as a glaring example) are not what's to be expected and in some occurrences is almost cringe worthy. Most notable is the character's banter during battles. You'll soon grow to hate “I cannot do that, I am out of power” and similar sayings said by your characters almost any chance they get. The game would have heavily benefited from more quips spoken by the characters. You can only hear Wolverine tell you he's the best at what he does so many times before you wish his vocal cords were removed.

Gameplay
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Most of the gameplay comprises of taking your chosen X-Men or Brotherhood members (any combination of 4) through large environments, killing every enemy in your path towards you goal (which is often displayed on your mini-map). Attacks are relegated to the A and B buttons with rudimentary combos possible from multiple presses of one or both. Y as before allows your character to jump and allows some characters to teleport a short distance or fly if they have one of those abilities as powers. Healing your health is as simple as tapping Z, but regaining your energy is still cumbersome with the need to press and hold X before you press Z. This can lead to momentarily lapses in concentration and some unwanted damage incurred by your characters. Powers are handled by holding down the R trigger and pressing a corresponding button with a power assigned to it.

On that note, Raven Software has expanded the selection of powers greatly. Each character has over a dozen active and passage powers ranging from temporary stat increases, energy attacks, Xtreme attacks to gaining energy from knockouts, flight, increased attack speed, etc. The attacks are often varied and befitting of the character that uses them. However, many seemingly identical powers are shared amongst multiple characters. For instance Rogue, Colossus and Juggernaut all have a similar “power punch” power that does pretty much the exact same thing. Iceman and Sunfire are near carbon copies of each other (with basic differences such as bridge building vs. flying). This is simply a result of trying to take similar powered characters from the comic page and translate them into a video game.

Every character gets at least one or two alternative costumes that can give them a bit more visual flair if you don't like their Ultimate X-Men defaults. Also you can collect sketchbooks and comic books along with a couple other things like stat increases and homing beacons to give those with a desire for exploration some extra fun. None of them are mandatory to be found but do provide a little bit extra for those on the lookout.

Level design has vastly improved over the previous outing. Gone are the sterile military installations of old, replaced with lush jungles and Egyptian temples. But as with the last game, many of these different areas begin to look identical after awhile and there's nothing to really hold your attention once you're used to it. Some areas (such as a specifically large section of Act 3) can blend together so much you begin to lose track of where you are easily and wonder where you're going. All of these environments have destructible elements but essentially the exact same things are destructible in them all. Barrels and crates, random walls, but nothing really spectacular can be destroyed unless it's part of the story. Some walls can be obliterated, but as with before, Raven Software conveniently placed indestructible walls behind others in order to prevent going beyond the game's limits. It's an annoying artificial invisible wall that just shows the lack of true destructibility. You'll be asking yourself “Why can I break through this but not that?” many times.

The games difficulty greatly depends on how you wish to play through it. If you take the same 4 characters and decide to plough through everything, then it'll will be very easy no matter the difficulty setting you choose. If you try to keep everyone levelled up the same, you'll come across many situations where enemies will far outclass and you may find yourself slaughtered. This is not helped by Raven Software's asinine new experience system that rewards characters for beating enemies close to their level. An example of how flawed this system is: if you have a character at level 35 and they beat an enemy at level 30, they will get more experience than a character at level 20 who beat the same enemy. The concept of gaining more experience for beating enemies far stronger than yourself, that has been apart of RPG's since they were created, does not work at all in this game as a result. You're better off keeping the same 4 characters during an entire playthrough which makes some elements of the game even more repetitive.

Many will find the lack of any true Brotherhood members disheartening. Juggernaut, despite being a very welcome addition to the game, is not a mutant while Scarlet Witch's inclusion as a Brotherhood member over Mystique, Avalanche, Pyro or Blob is suspect. So for those who wanted an equal roster of X-Men and Brotherhood members you are left with Magneto, Toad, Juggernaut and Scarlet Witch. While on the X-Men side only Sunfire and Bishop are new characters with the other's reprising their roles again. Many fan favourites from the first game like Beast, Emma Frost, Jubilee and Psylocke are either left to cameos or left right out of the game. Also with many clone characters and very little differences it will seem like you have an even smaller roster of characters to choose from. To slightly combat this Raven Software have included “team attributes” that add slight stat boosts or other bonuses to groups of four characters that fit the description. This is a nice addition but many of the bonuses are nearly useless and the results are negligible.

But the heart of the game is the combat, and to be honest it can grow tiresome and uninspired. Many late game battles will be simply running into your enemies and unleashing all sorts of havoc on them with the screen filling up with countless lighting effects and texture changes. Four characters plus a handful of enemies plus powers going off every which way every second plus plenty of things being destroyed equals one clustered, confusing and crazy screen. Oftentimes you won't know what happened, just that you came, you saw and you conquered. This can take a great deal of the enjoyment out of the game, and just make it seem like every other hack-and-slash game out there. The personality of the X-Men universe is all that keeps it from being yet another entry in a growing clone market. The inclusion of dragons, goblins and assorted ‘fantasy' enemies also takes away a lot of the immersion with the game and there are many times I questioned if I was playing X-Men or Baldur's Gate.

Aside from the combat, there are some simple fetch quest puzzles and simple traps to overcome. Nothing to really interfere or break up the battles, which can make it sometimes seem even more monotonous. The inclusion of some more character specific game elements would have been welcome, but as is the game's puzzles are solved with having a character with a specific ability (flight, bridge building or might more often than not).and simply pressing a button.

On a final note, the game has thankfully done away with the rather boring and overlong “mansion” sections of XML. All players can now move on screen at almost all times, and most of the story elements are even optional. For those who just want to dive in and go through the game you can without being really hassled to follow the story. However for those who want to, you may find yourself watching mission briefings well after you've already completed the mission in question. There is absolutely no forcing you back to the hub sections and this can be slightly confusing as to your progress through the game. Also aside from an opening section where you are forced to play with four specific characters, the game is fully playable with all fifteen characters from the get go.

Replayability
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Raven Software listened to criticism and they have addressed the biggest fault with the previous game. This time round a New Game + feature has been added that allows you to take your earned powers, experience levels, money and items and carry them over to a new game. This opens up countless possibilities. From simply playing as extremely strong characters from the start (albeit against enemies that begin at level 50) to trying single character challenges. The New Game + feature does away with having to start a completely brand new game as with XML and allows you to keep on playing. You can also go back to previous levels this time to fight enemies and explore for secrets.

Despite the sameness of some of the characters, each is fully realized and useful in their own right. No character is completely useless and no character completely dominates (unlike the previous game). Some that may even seem very similar to others might have some little nuances that make you pick them over another. This variety can allow many combos of characters to be achieved and played through the game as. Play through the game as the Brotherhood your first time through? Well play through as a group of X-men right after. Your choices are pretty vast.

On a replayabilty side there is always the human factor. Adding a friend or two can greatly increase the amount of fun and can invigorate life into the game. Other players can come and go with the touch of a button and in seconds you can be battling with friends. The game also comes with danger room challenges and an unlockable skirmish mode to try out various characters and teams against each other.

Value
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The large amount of replayability is countered by the lack of online play. While the X-Box, PS2, PC and PSP (through Wi-Fi) versions have online play the Gamecube was shafted in this regard. Although controls, graphics, sound and everything in general between the versions is almost negligible, the lack of online play may make getting XMLII for another online capable console a better buy. However as a standalone Gamecube game you can find no better if you want some dungeon romping fun by yourself or with friends.

Conclusion
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If you're a fan of the X-Men and enjoy hack-and-slash action RPGs than this game is for you. The sheer volume of your quest (which can take upwards of 20 hours) and the many inside things for fans make this a highly enjoyable title. For those who are on the lookout for a good game, you may grow tired quickly with the game's repetitive battles and slightly cumbersome controls. It is a good game, don't get me wrong, but many of its flaws are still present and are simply a result of being this type. Unless you can see yourself battling identical enemies constantly without much variety than you are simply going to grow tired of the game pretty quick. Also if online matters to you at all, one of the other versions will definitely suit you better (the PC and PSP versions also have additional extra characters) since the Gamecube completely lacks it. What it comes down to is if you enjoy the X-Men and like this style of game, then you'll definitely enjoy this title. If you're sitting on the fence and unsure of it you may want to rent it first to see if it's more to your liking then making a decision..

Overal Breakdown (All out of 10)
=========================

Features - 6
Story - 7
Graphics - 6
Music and Sound - 4
Gameplay - 6
Replayability - 7
Value - 6

Overall (Not an Average) - 6


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/28/05


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