Review by Gruel

"X-Men games haven't been this fun since the early 90s arcade classic"

Last year Activision released one of the best X-Men games since the arcade original in the form of X-Men Legends. It was an isometric view, hack and slash RPG and became an instant hit. Now Activision and Raven Software team up again to deliver X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (RoA). It is more of the same type of gameplay that fixes a number of qualms with the last game, and other than a few little quibbles this sequel is just as much fun than its predecessor.

RoA has a far better story than the last game, now the evil Brotherhood faction the X-Men were dueling with before are their new allies. The even more dreadful Apocalypse has risen to power and recruited a lot of old X-Men foes such as Omega Red, Abyss, and Lady Deathstrike to name a few. Now the Brotherhood and X-Men must put their grudges on hold and team up in order to stop this new uprising.

There are 16 total playable characters, and lots of favorites from the last game return like Wolverine, Iceman, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Gambit, and Storm. Some other new X-Men faces that are playable in RoA are Colossus and Bishop. The inclusion of the Brotherhood now allows control of classic X-Men villains such as the enormous and powerful Juggernaut, Toad, Mystique, and the almighty evildoer himself, Magneto. There are lots of dream pairings fans have been dying for available, and I love having Juggernaut in your party while he smashes away at things with his brute power. Unfortuanately, as a result of the inclusion of the Brotherhood characters, some controllable characters from the last game were either cut all together or are now just very limited NPCs to interact with like Beast and Angel.

RoA plays nearly identical to the first Legends title. It is still the good old hack ‘n slash action with plenty of X-Men super powers available that can be upgraded from a robust (and at times complicated) tech tree. Some favorites of mine are Magento's levitation, Iceman's various ice beams and the powerful uppercuts that Colossus and Juggernaut are capable of executing. New to this version is the option to activate an automatic experience distribution system that instantly assigns experience and skill points to human and AI controlled squad mates when earned. If your preference is more beat the holy hell out of everything than spending a plethora of extra minutes in menus than this new feature makes gameplay a lot more enjoyable. Another new addition to gameplay is the addition of ‘Xtreme Powers.' These are souped up Super Powers that yield a great deal of damage to foes, and tokens scattered across maps must be collected in order use them.

The main new addition to RoA is online play that allows PS2 and Xbox owners of the game to go online and continue their quests with their ‘net buddies when their friends decide to pass out at home after quite the gaming marathon. Online functions perform well for the most part, I ran across some lag when battles got really intense with numerous opponents on screen at once. Other than that hiccup the online play worked wonderfully.

I still love playing this game as much as the original. It is simply a blast if you got at least three and preferably four people playing at once. It can make coordinating the awfully unbalanced boss battles a better experience. Yes the bosses range greatly in difficulty when you face them. Some you can just recognize a simple dodging pattern and vanquish them within minutes, while sometimes I ran across an insanely hard boss (Mikhale instantly comes to mind) that required very precise puzzle-solving maneuvers in order to defeat. The developers just can't get a good rhythm of boss battles going that gradually get tougher as you progress through the game; it is one of my few main beefs with RoA.

Another minor gripe of mine is the sometimes questionable computer AI of your squadmates, I lost track of the amount of times I saw a fellow mutant get stuck against a wall or looked hell bent on attacking thin air. For the most part they are pretty good, but they'll still get you scratching your head about them from time to time. The last thing that hampered my experience is the game is the numerous extra load times that are present in the PS2 version. Whenever you boot up the menu to distribute experience, it takes a few extra precious seconds to load it up, not necessarily all that long but long enough to test my patience. This extra load time is absent in the Xbox version of the game I also tried out, and the load times for the separate areas in the game are comparably longer by a little bit in the PS2 version well.

The in game graphics don't really push the hardware to its limits, but what is here is acceptable. The developers at Raven used the same type of cel-shaded character models from the first Legends title, which gives the X-Men a unique look that meshes well with their comic book origins. Each playable character also has multiple costumes that I could identify with through their evolution in the Marvel universe. The various caves and amazon jungles the X-Men traverse look pretty solid and are perfectly acceptable, but again they don't really showcase any cutting edge visuals by today's standards. The few things that do stick out about the graphics are the flashy Super Powers and the CG FMV cut scenes.

Just like the first game, Raven did a bang up job delivering a truly ambient X-Men experience. The background music is now more apparent and kicks in at just the right moment so you can anticipate a horde of foes coming your way. Of course, the voice acting steals the show again. All the characters deliver their lines with much aplomb. Patrick Stewart returns to voice Professor Xavier, and he does his usual five star performance. I'm not sure about who voiced the rest of the mutants, but they did a damn good job of making them sound like the people who voiced them in the movies and/or the classic Saturday morning cartoon show.

Activision made sure to throw in a lot of extra content for the X-Men fans to keep them coming back for more. There is lots of concept art and old comic book covers that are unlocked by gathering up various icons during gameplay. Yes, even the experience-rewarding Trivia machine makes its return as well. Danger Room and Bonus stage missions are also back for nice forms of bonuses for experience.

If you are even the slightest X-Men fan you owe it to yourself to pick this up. It is more of the same type of addictive gameplay from the first Legends title, but now you can play as the bad guys and have the ability to play co-op online. So if you haven't already, all X-Men and hack ‘n slash RPG fans alike should go out and get X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse in their collections today.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 10/21/05

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