This isn't your typical movie-to-video-game adaptation; Raven Software gives us the most intense and violent Marvel game to date with everyone's favorite X-Men at the heart of it all...
Snikt! (Google It :) )
Most hardcore gamers don't get too excited about new games that are based on a movie, and for good reason given the history of such releases. When I first heard about the X-Men Origins: Wolverine game, I wasn't all that shocked nor excited, until I heard Raven Software was going to be developing it. Raven is not only a superb game developer, but they obviously have a passion and depth of knowledge for all things X-Men if you consider their X-Men Legends and Ultimate Alliance games. They're also no stranger to action, and so the combination was ripe for a hell of a game.
The end result is just that -- a hell of a game. XO: Wolverine, which I will shorten to just Wolverine from here on out, is perhaps best described as God of War meets Uncharted, or at least that's what I kept thinking of as I played through it. In Wolverine, you will experience all of the furious, blood-soaked, melee violence of God of War along with the tomb raiding style adventure seen in Uncharted. That's not to say that the Wolverine game doesn't distinguish itself, but gamers familiar with God of War and Uncharted will note similarities. In saying that Wolverine is similar to those two games should in no way be interpreted as a 'bad thing.' In short, when it comes to matters like this I tend to think 'if it's not broke, don't fix it.' So in other words, I have no issues with Wolverine sharing those similarities and I don't think every new game that comes out in a genre has to 'raise the bar' or be totally unique.
Anyway, with that behind me, I should also mention that I haven't seen the movie that this game is at least partially based on. I have heard the story jumps around in the film, and it does in the game as well via flashback missions that take Wolverine back to his days as part of Team X, the elite mutant squad led by Willaim Stryker that executed black ops around the world. After an opening cutscene set in the present, the story flashes us back to Africa during one of Team X's missions. The overall plot to the entire game is laid out fairly early, after Wolverine wakes up from the Weapon X facility. Via cutscenes and computer audio logs, the story unfolds and the hunt for Victor Creed and William Stryker heats up.
The hunt begins with you having basic hack and slash abilities, but you will quickly pick up additional techniques such as lunging and dodging, essential in dispatching the enemy as well as navigating the environments. I thought Raven did a good job of getting players immediatley into the action -- you start by free falling after diving out of a destroyed helicopter afterall.
Wolverine is an interesting character with several unique abilities. One such ability you have from the start is his Feral Sense, which has several uses. Enabling the Feral Sense is done by pressing up on the d-pad, and it will stay on for about thirty seconds at which point it turns off, or you can just press up a second time to disable it. You can also immediately turn it back on when it turns off, there is no usage limit or meter to it. That said, the Feral Sense ability does a lot for you; it projects a faint blue stream to indicate which direction you need to be going to further the story. It also highlights various objects in the world according to how you can interact with them, which I found very helpful. Yellow objects are destructible, or indicate a fallen solider who's dog tags you can collect (95 total in the game, I think I found 80 of them). Red objects indicate environmental dangers, which you will find lots of during the later African missions as you navigate the ruins. Green objects indicate climbable walls or pieces of an environmental puzzle or objects in the environment that you can use to quick kill enemies (like spikes or a forklift blade). Lastly, the Feral Sense is also used to help locate enemy soldiers who have a cloaking ability. The Feral Sense is a great mechanic that clearly serves a lot of great purposes. You wouldn't want to make a Wolverine game without, but Raven did a great job in not making it an afterthought -- it's a very vital and well done aspect of the game.
When people think of Wolverine, the Feral Sense probably isn't the first thing they think of in describing him. His adamantium claws and skeleton, his gruff voice, the distinguishable costume, and of course, his ability to regenerate are far more likely to come to mind. Wolverine's regeneration ability is the basis of the vitality or health system in Wolverine. Health is indicated by a red meter in the upper left corner of the display; when the meter is depleted, there is a brief cool down period before the regeneration starts, during which time a secondary meter, indicated by a beating heart, becomes very important. When the red meter is gone, your health is in great danger and you can be "killed" (or captured as the continue screen often says). Dying in this way is actually really rare because your health regenerates quickly enough that you can just about always buy yourself some time and stay alive. Still, you're always aware of your health meter, but more importantly you're focused on playing and taking in the action rather than constantly worrying about your health.
In addition to the regenerative ability and his combat skills, Wolverine can also use Mutagens to give him an extra edge in battle. Mutagens are collectible objects scattered throughout the game that give Wolverine various boosts. These boosts take the form of sustaining less damage when attacked, doing more damage when attacking, learning Combat Reflexes quicker, earning more Experience Points per kill, having a longer Rage and Vitality meter, and so forth. All told there are eight or nine Mutagens, each with three levels to upgrade, although you don't purchase these upgraded Mutagens, you find them. You can equip up to three Mutagens simultaneously, after you have leveled up your character enough that is (I think you need about a level 20 to carry three).
A moment ago I mentioned a couple of Mutagens that affect the Combat Reflexes and Experience Points aspects of the game. Combat Reflexes are earned by fighting the same type of enemy; for example, you will earn Combat Reflexes for machete wielding locals in Africa, soldiers in the Weapon X facility, and robots from the SCL facility. Combat Reflexes are more of an underlying element than something you tweak or alter yourself. Earning additional levels in Reflexes, which actually doesn't happen very often at all, helps you fight certain enemies 'better,' although again it's not something overtly noticed, but it's still a nice touch.
Before discussing the Experience Points and subsequent benefits of those, I'd like to first talk about Rage -- Streets of Rage -- just kidding, although what a classic series. Seriously though, Rage in Wolverine is similar to the Rage of the Gods from God of War. It's another meter that builds up as you destroy objects in the world (and which objects you can destroy are conveniently highlighted yellow by the Feral Sense) and defeat enemies. The Rage meter is situated just below the Vitality meter in the upper left corner and it allows for the use of four additional attacks Wolverine has access to as he levels up. These attacks include Claw Spin, Claw Drill, Claw Cyclone, and Berserk. Which attacks you can use depends on how much Rage you have built up, but unlike God of War, you cannot turn Rage on and off -- once you issue the command for a Rage move (R2 + a face button), that amount of Rage is immediately depleted. I only mention that for completeness, not to nit-pick. Anyway, at full Rage, you can execute some neat combinations; I personally liked the Berserk + Claw Spin combination.
Two other critical and well done elements to the game are the experience points and skills. Experience Points are earned by killing enemies, completing objectives, and finding various items like dog tags on fallen soldiers and a few other miscellaneous objects like Wolverine figures (more on these later). You use Experience Points to level up, which is taken care of in the background for you as you proceed through the game. Each new level brings with it a small health bonus, a Skill Point or two, and possibly other benefits depending on the level -- these might be additional Fury Attacks or Mutagen slots for example. Each time you level up there is a flashy, seamless video sequence (not really a cutscene, but you know what I mean) that takes place in game, and it looks cool.
Skill Points are used to upgrade Skills. There are about a dozen of these that you can upgrade. These include things like increasing the vitality meter, the Rage meter, and the damage that Wolverine's claws do. You can also assign points to your Rage attacks to enhance them; for Claw Spin for example, you can increase its duration and damage dealt.
The sum of all these elements really enhance the entire Wolverine experience. I thought Raven did a great job in not only designing these elements, but in integrating them not only into the game, but with each other. The combination and customization players can do isn't as deep as a full fledged RPG of course, but it most certainly is a very significant and enjoyable part of the game.
Speaking of customization, there are alternate costumes for Wolverine that you can earn as you play through the game. If you're like me, one of the first thoughts that crossed your mind about this game was a hope that you would be able to don the classic yellow and blue uniform that many of us remember from our youth. This Classic costume is available as well as a Legendary (dark red and dark yellow) and X-Force (charcoal and black) costume, as well as one other, apparently. I managed to unlock these three, but there is a fourth (or so it seems from my Main Menu) that is still Locked. Anyway, you unlock these costumes by finding floating figurines of Wolverine in said costume throughout the game. You have to find two of each costume, and once you do you unlock the Bonus Mission from the Main Menu that pits you against Wolverine in that costume. These Bonus Missions are actually pretty easy, but the reward is the ability to don the costume at any time, which rocks. It's important to note that the different costumes are only a cosmetic thing -- no new abilities are unlocked and all cutscenes still show Wolverine in his default costume (which is normally a shirt and jeans). Also, if you have already found or unlocked a costume and you find more figurines for it, you earn a couple thousand experience points.
To this point, I've talked a lot about the various elements in Wolverine. Now I'd like to get a little more specific about the core gameplay that you will experience as you go through the campaign. Getting back to what I said at the top of the article, Wolverine plays very much like God of War smashed together with Uncharted. The ultra violent, melee combat that you expect from God of War is completely intact here, down to boss fights with oversized behemoths and battles with a dozen or so enemies at once. Keep in mind this is a full M rated game, so there is plenty of blood and gore to go around as Wolverine hacks and slashes his way through literally hundreds of enemies by game's end. Especially violent are the Quick Kills, of which there are a few dozen of (although you don't get to pick which one he does when). Quick Kills are performed by grabbing an enemy and then pressing the heavy attack button Y; doing so slows the game world down and zooms in to show Wolverine rearing back his right hand to go for the killing blow. At the moment his claws glint, you have to Y again and he'll do one of several dozen really great finishing moves, assuming of course your timing is right and the enemy is weak enough to not kick out. Also, the environmental kills are great and instant kills -- using Feral Sense, or just by looking closely at the game world, you can see various sharp objects that shimmer. If you throw an enemy at these, they'll stick, literally. Furthermore, I would mention that using a variety of attacks increases the amount of experience you earn, which promotes a much more interactive and exciting experience. In sum, as with God of War, the melee combat in Wolverine is very satisfying and tons of fun.
It's been said that too much of a good thing can be bad, and as we all know that can be the case with these types of action games. Raven supplements the intense action with a variety of exploration, puzzle, and even a sneaking sequence, meant to give the player a breather and keep repetition at bay. Overall, I thought they did an excellent job at this, although I would point out that I felt in a few instances these sequences slowed the game down just a little too much, or felt a little too contrived. A couple of examples I would point out take place during the New Orleans chapter and during the African missions; there are moments in both of these where Wolverine has to go through a jump puzzle sequence when he really should just be able to climb up the wall. Granted, this was kind of a difficult design choice because you have a main character that should really be able to climb up just about anything. In keeping that thought in check, I just thought Raven may have had a handful of sequences that felt a little contrived in that they force the player to jump through some hoops unnecessarily. These puzzles include things like grabbing a statue or box and moving it around so you can jump on it or trip a touch plate or having to button mash a wheel to open a door or activate a platform, etc. These times aren't a major drawback from the experience, but you'll probably notice them when they happen.
Speaking of drawbacks; well, there aren't that many first of all, but there are a couple of others I noticed playing through, although these too are pretty minor. I thought there were a few too many invisible walls that made exploration feel perhaps a little too 'on rails' at times. Granted, I was happy to have these invisible walls during battles way up high, but I thought they restricted the 'openness' of the game a little, but not very badly. Also, on a similar note, when exploring, you can accidentally pass through a Checkpoint spot; most times, this is no problem as you can turn around and check on whatever it is you were going to do, but many times, the door slams shut behind you and you cannot go back without restarting; some kind of warning or indication would have been a plus, but this is just another minor point. I also noticed some bugginess and sketchy design during the final boss battle that required me to restart the battle about a dozen times before I was able to finish it.
Wolverine's adventure is made up of about thirty-two objectives or missions spread out across five chapters. You can replay each objective individually should you choose to once you have completed it. All told I spent a good ten to twelve hours playing through on Normal, after which I unlocked the Hard mode. Given how darn fun it is, the fact that I didn't get all of the dog tags or Mutagens,and having the ability to put on a new costume, I could see myself playing through Wolverine again sometime -- the sign of a great game.
Presentation And Conclusion
Wolverine is based off of the Unreal engine, so you'd expect great things in terms of graphical quality, and you'd be right. Apart from a handful of rare, but witnessed, technical issues like clipping, tearing, and a objects hanging in mid-air, Wolverine is a fine looking game. Raven used a good combination of outdoor and indoor environments, along with a large color palette, to give Wolverine a great look. Camera angles were never an issue (although how it locked onto The Blob and didn't let you control freely during that boss fight was a little annoying), which is great, but they also enhanced the game by doing a few really cool things. During several sequences, you are controlling Wolverine at some dizzying heights and the camera adjusts to show a gorgeous drop down view while you walk Wolverine across a narrow ledge, being careful not to slip. Other times the camera takes over during a lunge or at the end of a melee battle and shows the action from a really cool angle.
Several other scenes are setup very nicely in Wolverine. I loved the Sentinel fight, for example, which is all I want to say about that to avoid spoiling anything (although feel free to email me). Distant backgrounds in the African missions looked great as well as the ruins up close, and the foilage looked good too. The Weapon X facility and the SCL facility were less interesting, but still good.
As far as the sounds of the game, no major complaints. During some boss fights what Wolverine would say got old as he said the same few things over and over, but most of what you will hear is Wolverine grunting and slashing away along with the screams and metal-meets-flesh sound of dying enemies. There isn't much of a soundtrack, but what is there is fine, not really outstanding, but good. Dialogue was well done.
Ultimately, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a real treat. If you were expecting a tame, forgettable video game adaptation of the movie, that couldn't be further from the truth. Wolverine is a hell of a game and stacks up well against the best in the genre; be sure to check this one out.