Not every game needs to be a blockbuster. Developer Silicon Knights has taken that advice to heart with the functional but flawed X-Men Destiny. This is a game brimming with ambition, but it lacks the execution to deliver on its goals.
What concludes is an occassionally offensive package that somehow manages to please in spite of its shortcomings. X-Men Destiny should be by rights a disaster, but it's actually surprisingly playable.
The game opens with a public rally designed to commemorate the death of X-Men old-fogey Professor Xavier. Just as Cyclops and the San Francisco mayor shake hands to symbolise the peace between humans and mutants, a mighty attack plunges the city into chaos.
You play as one of three characters amongst the crowd. There's the irritatingly whiny Japanese student Aimi; college douche-bag Grant; and one-time ditched inFamous 2 protagonist Adrian. None of the three present themselves as particularly likable, adding an unintended moral depth to the game's first decision. We plumped up for Aimi in our first play-through — purely because we liked her scarf.
Whichever character you choose will find themself with inexplicable super-powers. There are three core powers to choose from spanning rocky fists, shadowy blades and projectiles. All three are fun in their own way, and can be upgraded throughout the game by collecting XP and perusing menus.
Depending on which core power you choose will also depict which special attacks you uncover later in the game. The shadow blades for example prompt subsequent power-ups in which you can turn into a cloud of gas and attack enemies unnoticed, or suck them into a cyclone. The game does a good job of dropping new power-ups every hour or so, keeping the combat feeling fresh and interesting.
You'll also happen upon various X-Genes around the city. These can be equipped into three different slots: offensive, utility and defensive. Each different X-Gene is inspired by a different X-Man — so for example you might unlock an ice-shield from Iceman, or a fire attack from Pyro. It's contrived, predictable stuff, but as you build up your library of X-Genes it's definitely good fun experimenting with the various options you have on offer.
You'll also find costumes around the world, again each adding to your specific abilities. If you manage to complete a full-set — say, finding all of Wolverine's X-Genes and costumes — you'll happen upon an additional X-Mode. Each of these individual powers can be levelled up by spending XP collected from fallen enemies.
It's all very reminiscent of DC Universe Online, but X-Men Destiny trades in the online world for much more satisfying combat. It's basic Square-Square-Triangle stuff, but it looks flashy enough and is genuinely satisfying when you're in the groove. Unfortunately X-Men Destiny relies far too heavily on repetitive set-ups, requiring you to constantly achieve specific kill quotas before you can progress. There's some platforming thrown in to add variety, but the game is aggresively linear and it's not long before you're back kicking the stuffing out of generic bad-guys.
Despite only learning of your powers at the very start of X-Men Destiny, Cyclops and co are keen to leave you with all the work. There's some civil war nonsense that plays out in addition to the main narrative, allowing you to choose between the X-Men or the Brotherhood. This adapts the type of characters you'll hang out with and missions you'll encounter, and while the moral choices are offensively binary, there's a good amount of variation to encourage several play-throughs.
Unfortunately the acting is sub-par throughout the entire campaign. Gambit sounds a bit like a French person that's spent their entire life living in Texas while trying to learn Italian. And others aren't much better. The only actor that puts in a quality performance is Nolan North, but even then you can't help but wonder when Elena and Sully will show up — even though he's voicing Cyclops.
Visuals are good for the most part. The animation's a bit dry and the frame-rate is incredibly variable, but the game does push itself hard, with some enormous battles involving hundreds of foes and several friendly X-Men the obvious highlights.
It's a difficult game to judge. X-Men Destiny does a lot wrong during its initial 5 hour running-time, but its hard to fight the desire to dive in for a second play-through as another character. The decision to allow you to craft your own mutant is ultimately a good one, allowing you to experiment rather than being fixed to the very specific abilities of the X-Men's existing roster.
Bizarrely, it's probably not a game for anyone fond of the source material. Those looking for deep levels of fan-service and an intriguing plot that ties into the franchise's overarching fiction will come away disappointed. But if you're looking for something a little bit mindless with a good helping of combat variety, you'll be well served here.