If you’ve seen Fox’s recent film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or you’ve been talked out of seeing it by friends, or by this website, chances are you have a low opinion of the recent travails of one of Marvel Comics’ best-loved characters. Well, let this reviewer tell you now that the game X-Men Origins: Wolverine (the Uncaged Edition for your Xbox 360 or PS3 ) is far more worthwhile than its cinematic counterpart. Maybe its logic and methodology are the same, but the game is far more gleefully gruesome, and far, far more fun.
Started about two-and-a-half years ago by the competent Raven Software, XO:W (hereafter, “Wolverine” ) clearly shows an excellent amount of polish. Raven, the makers of last generation’s X-Men Legends series and the more recent Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, got a hold of the Wolverine license, and were itching to “do it right.”
So, they got cracking on a new Wolverine game! What transpired later was the announcement of a new film from Fox featuring the origin story of everyone’s favorite comic character. The reaction of the Raven people must have been ecstatic when that news dropped. A game based on a film that they would actually have the time to do right? Fantastic! Finally, the every-game-made-from-a-movie-will-suck curse would be lifted… I can only imagine, however, that once they actually started wrangling with the “source” material from the film people, they had a hell of a time making it all fit together. That’s right: the every–game-made-from-a-movie-will-suck curse has only been partially proven untrue. Is this a good game? Yes! Would it have been better had its cinematic tie-in never existed? Hell yes. We’ll get to the details of that later. Let’s, for now, cover what really works.
The first thing any seasoned game player will notice is that “Wolverine” plays very much like a venerable action franchise of late. Yes, “Wolverine” is not a little like Sony’s AAA series “God of War.” This is a good thing. The “God of War” series is so satisfying, its building blocks so solidly in-place, that borrowing ideas from it is not like an artist copying the Mona Lisa, say; but more like a caveman copying the wheel. It’s not intellectual theft, it’s complete practicality. We’ll be playing “God of War” on the Playstation 12 ( if it ever comes to that ), even if it’s not a bit different from the previous entries. Yes, we’re big “God of War” fans over here. This is not to say, however, that “Wolverine” is some carbon copy; no. It does enough well on its own to merit a look.
So, yeah, Wolvie starts the game as he should, clawing like mad, and tearing through enemies with regular attacks, as well as brutal combos strung together with different button presses. He does light and heavy attacks, grabs, blocks, counters, and even ‘quick kills’ that efficiently dispatch enemies with some properly timed actions. Soon, of course, Wolvie is also blessed with ‘Rage’ powers, which allow him to perform over-the-top maneuvers that use up a special meter ( a la “magic” in the “GoW” series ). All these moves are upgradeable, too, via a leveling system that is based off of experience points received from every kill. With a bit of practice, you’ll soon be smashing people around with little effort.
In addition to the Rage powers, the designers bless Wolverine with a nifty little move called the ‘lunge.’ By pressing the two shoulder buttons at the same time, Wolverine can target enemies who are in-range, and leap huge distances in order to tackle them. It’s a great mechanic that allows you not only to devastate the tackled enemy with a series of follow-up attacks, but it also serves as an evasive maneuver of sorts. Why walk when you can lunge, after all?.. We were impressed by the way it allows Wolvie the opportunity to cover large amounts of distance with two button presses in battles with large numbers of enemies. It just feels right, and it’s an action convention that we imagine will stick around. There’s only one little thing about this ‘lunge': halfway through the game, we were suddenly struck and a little stumped by the fact that we couldn’t lunge anywhere we wanted. See, the game uses the lunge for some of its larger-scale action scenes, where Wolvie has to leap from one moving object to the next by lunging to that object. While it works very well in those contexts, the fact that you aren’t allowed to lunge without a ‘targeted’ enemy is a little kooky. If you wanted to simply lunge across a large gap, you aren’t allowed, unless you’ve an unfortunate subject on the other side. It could be that giving the player this power might make the game too easy by allowing you to bypass certain platforming elements, like walking across perilous beams ( hello again, “GoW”… ), but then why not remove these elements in favor of giving Wolvie some mad free-jumping powers? I think that would trump balance beam acrobatics in the Fun Department. Maybe the lunge will be something grander in the next “Wolverine,” if it were to be done by Raven ( fingers crossed! ).
Aside from that, we’ve only one actual gripe about the fighting system: the inclusion of the game’s larger non-boss enemies. Without any spoilers, the game has a few larger scale enemies that require some fancy footwork to take down. Some of these enemies require the player to leap up onto their backs to give them ‘extra’ damage. While fun at first, this back-attack is weak, and since Wolverine’s range is naturally quite limited, sometimes the back-attack is the only truly safe way to take these guys down. It can lead to some nasty repetition: leap, strike, jump off, leap, strike, jump off…. It’s frustrating, but not enough to ruin the fun. Overall, the game has a pretty great fighting system that we think will hit most action gamers’ sweet spot.
Which takes us to our next point on this game, it is violent. With a capital ‘V.’ Violent. Unlike the film, you can see right from the start that Raven wanted to nail the massive power of the Wolverine character. Your claws get reactions from the enemies they come in contact with. Once you boot up a game, the blood is everywhere. Legs, arms, and heads are sailing! The quick kills are ripping people in half! It’s chaos, and it’s exactly how an angry man with foot-long claws would take care of business; and, boy can it be satisfying. Here’s the first area where the film could have taken some lessons from its electronic counterpart – give us some ******* carnage!
So far, so good, but what about the story? This, sadly, is where the game runs into some real trouble. Before launching into this, you could definitely make the argument that in a game like this, the story means next to nothing, and that’s completely valid; if you want to just press some buttons and watch a lot of blood go flying, this game has got you covered. For fans, though, who might be interested in what the game has to offer as far as ‘canon’ things go, good luck picking up all of the pieces. See, we’re not sure where Raven was planning on placing Wolverine when they started production on the game, but we’re guessing it might have been something completely different than the origin story. The game’s opening cinema features a grizzled Wolvie looking slightly older and at odds with some mean-looking soliders in a post-apocolyptic wasteland. It’s good, meaty stuff, to be honest. What transpires in the actual game, then, is the ‘current’ origin story featured in the film ( albeit reworked considerably to give the game more action ), as well as lengthy ‘flashback’ sections that take place in Africa, where brothers Wolvie and Sabertooth have their first bit of a kerfuffle. Now, what any good action game needs is just a good straightforward story that allows the player to kick a lot of ass. “Wolverine”‘s story does not do that. The way it jumps back and forth between the ‘current’ and ‘flashback’ sections do not flow, nor add to the drive of the conflict between the brothers – they serve only to break up the game’s levels between ‘jungle’ and ‘not jungle.’ The designers admit to this, too, in their inclusion of all acquired power-ups in the ‘flashback’ sections. It’s just odd to be playing a flashback, then jump forward in time, earn extra powers via experience points, then later in the game, play another flashback segment with all of the powers that Wolvie won’t actually ‘get’ for years. Again, it’s just a silly action game, but it’s not necessary.
These sorts of problems point this reviewer to believe that Raven Software’s initial plans for the game were possibly quite different than what they developed in order to make their vision fall in line with the film. Firstly, the game features some ‘magical’ elements and enemies that could be right at home if the game were not entrenched in the film’s ‘more realistic’ setting. But even more obvious is the fact that the opening and ending cinematic bits of the game have almost nothing to do with what transpires in the game proper. In fact, after some consideration, we think they’d make for a much stronger, more straightforward story – one that might actually add TO the Wolverine saga, rather than just muddy it up, as the film does.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Uncaged Edition ) is a great game which will surely please fans of the character and any action gamers who are eager for a button-masher with brains. It’s finally a Wolverine game done right, and it will hopefully serve as a jumping off (or “lunging off”? ) point for a strong, new action franchise.
Final Verdict: CLAWS or BLAHS ?
CLAWS, for sure.
(Quick finishing note. For seasoned gamers, the game’s initial playthrough allows only the selection of the Normal difficulty. This is a bit of a letdown, as the Hard difficulty is really where the game feels more natural. Normal is a bit too easy, but Hard feels more manic and exciting. If there is some sort of cheat code to unlock the Hard mode early, seek it out.)