Silicon Knights and Activision bring us the newest game in the X-Men universe. The story takes place after the death of Charles Xavier, and is based in San Francisco. There is a growing sense of distrust and angst between humans and mutants. You have the good ole X-Men on one hand, led now by Cyclops and Emma Frost, with other members including Iceman, Surge, Colossus, and Fringe to name a few. The X-Men still believe that a peaceful approach is required to improve relations with the humans. Magneto’s Brotherhood would rather punish and kill humans for their acts against mutants; his followers include Raven, Quick Silver, Pyro, and others. You also have the MRD, Mutant Response Division, who are a human military force intent on keeping the peace. Finally, the Purifiers are humans intent on wiping out mutants to keep the gene pool mutant-free.
All four of these factions are on a collision course in X-Men: Destiny and your decisions as a new mutant will help shape the future. You can play as a female mutant, Aimi, who was abandoned by her parents, a sports dude, Grant, who wants to play pro football, and another character, Adrian, whose late father was a Purifier. In any case, you’re looking at a roughly six hour campaign each, during which time you can skew your ties towards The Brotherhood or the X-Men depending on the “missions” you accept and what decisions you make during some key conversations.
This destiny system may sound pretty robust, but it’s pretty flat and your decisions ultimately don’t carry a whole lot of weight in the story, and certainly in the gameplay. That said, the game did make me think, even if just briefly, about my decisions before committing to them. There are other decisions to make too, including which Suit and X-Genes you want to equip and level up. What mutant powers you decide to unlock at certain ‘destiny events’ shapes your character and combat abilities too.
One aspect of XD that I couldn’t really get over was just how powerful my new mutant character became by the time the game was over. I mean, I beat the crap out of Wolverine, single-handedly destroyed a Sentinel, and generally had powers that exceeded those of the veteran X-Men. I don’t know, it was just strange that some new mutant could, in a day, suddenly become so powerful. I’m not sure why Silicon Knights decided to introduce three new characters rather than pulling from the extensive X-Men universe for more established characters that they could then fit into their story, but it is what it is.
On your way to figuring out which faction you want to join, you will face hundreds of enemies. At the outset, these are primarily Purifiers, who end up being the most common enemy of all. There are just a few varieties of these, and you will see the exact same enemy an awful lot (often eight or ten of them on screen at once). Certain story moments have you squaring off one-on-one against well known X-Men, and this is neat, although nearly every boss fight in XD is poorly designed. Either the AI is too slow or they are too predictable and can only perform a few attacks.
The combat, which is ninety-percent of the gameplay, gets monotonous. Things spruce up a little once you start unlocking some additional powers, though. At that point, the combat still isn’t very good, but there is a little more variety. Most of the time you are fighting alone, but other times AI helps, usually other X-Men. This can look pretty neat, but it’s ‘loose’ — there are no team up abilities and Cyclops is just as likely to shoot his beam at me to hit an enemy on the other side. True, I don’t take any damage because with actions like that, but it still feels cheap and I wish the AI — friendly and enemy — was a lot better. It’s easy to cover up some AI mistakes in a loose brawler like this, where fists and powers are flying everywhere and there are just tons of ‘throwaway’ enemies running all over, but nevertheless, you will notice some bad AI here. Some enemies would run up to me but were very hesitant to attack, choosing instead to stand around or run in place waiting for me to smash them, for example.
XD includes X-Genes and alternate Suits to help spice up gameplay, too. The X-Genes — there are forty-five of these — are separated into Offensive, Defensive, and Utility categories. Many of these abilities are practically exactly the same, just that they’re based off of different X-Men. There are a handful of Utility Genes for example that do the same thing for you: allow you to run faster. Personally I liked Wolverine’s Offensive Gene a lot, as it made my attacks quicker and more damaging. His Defensive Gene can provide another MP slot, which is the go-juice you need to be able to execute your mutant powers. The MP meter is segmented to show when you can use your Square, Triangle, and Circle mutant powers, and it fills up as you parry and attack enemies. Alternate Suits for your character provide similar tweaks, such as Toad’s suit that grants you some toxic effects on your enemies. The Suits look terrible, but combined with the X-Genes, they give you some customization which was welcomed.
Despite customizing your character, the gameplay feels largely the same. Enter a room, bash 10, 20, 30 or more enemies, and move on. Sometimes you have to interact with a switch by just pressing X, or climb a structure. Level design is linear, but there are some short alternate paths that normally lead to Challenge Arenas, where you have to defeat x number of enemies in a time limit which can earn you an additional X-Gene. The game makes it very clear where you need to go, thanks to a mini-map with an icon and a huge flashing ‘X” logo in game. Often, this marker is next to a character that is waiting for you to get close enough to start up a conversation. There are dozens of conversations in XD with a variety of X-Men. Players can choose from a few topics to discuss; if you accidentally press the same topic a second time, you will have to sit through the conversation all over again, so be leery of that. You’re likely to grow tired of the same facial and hand animations used during the conversation cutscenes, too.
XD does allow you to play through the campaign with three different characters, which changes the gameplay a little, but I would have rather had the ability to play as either established characters or just had one really good new mutant story, not three mediocre ones. New Game+ is supported though, which keeps all of your earned/found X-Genes and Suits and powers intact, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately, no multiplayer mode is available; the lack of a competitive multiplayer mode isn’t hard to understand, but co-op should have been included.
As for the presentation, wow — XD is rough. Visually, this game could pass as something on the original Xbox, at times. Textures lack detail, colors look flat and bland, framerates stutter, and the conversation sequences are awkward and stiff. I thought a couple of the boss fights looked good, but honestly the game looks really dated and boring otherwise. The sounds are all okay, although one of the sounds Adrian makes while jumping is embarrassingly weak.
To the summary…