Retro Review: X-Men Legends II: Rise Of Apocalypse

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Back in the long long ago (2004) I got a game from my sister for Christmas. That little gem was the original X-Men legends. To say I got lost in it would be an understatement, as it became the only thing I would play for a few months. To give you some perspective, this was also during my times with The Sims, Final Fantasy IX, Chrono Cross, and Soul Caliber II, so it had some stiff competition. X-Men Legends had too much going for it, however, and the prospect of leading the X-Men against Magneto was too much for me to resist. Eventually I beat it, and having reveled in its fun if somewhat short story, I let it lapse into the halls of sweet gaming memory, and occasionally picked it back up to own my friends on multiplayer.

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Almost exactly a year later, however, came its sequel, Rise Of Apocalypse. Never could I have imagined incurring more butt hurt from sitting too long on the living room floor from playing, but alas, my imagination was blown. Not only could I still lead the X-Men, this time against Apocalypse, but also Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants. And so it began anew, my quest to push the boundaries of proper gaming limits. Well, I recently hunted down this little number again, this time on PC and have begun playing once more. It was a bit of a challenge, as I didn’t want to shell out $40-$60 dollars for a copy (guess that attests to its popularity and/or rarity). So let the gaming worship commence!

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X-Men Legends II is a fantastic game on its own, and you needn’t have played the first one to enjoy it. Matter of fact, I found it hard returning to the original after playing the sequel. You see, as a sequel, I always saw XML II as perfection, much in the same way I view Baldur’s Gate II. Not only did it manage to keep everything that worked about the original title, but it took even further and improved upon them. The combat was smoother, and the combos expanded. Now, instead of each hero simply getting 4 or five powers, each of the 15-20 characters got 12-18 powers of their own. And never mind the limitations of the PlayStation 2 controller. They let you easily cycle through each power and map it to one of the shape buttons. XMLII also expanded on the combos from the previous one, giving nearly every single character a combo that could be done with any other character, and with multiple powers. That’s a lot of combos y’all. Add to that better (if not perfect) auto targeting, a better story, and better dialogue over all, and you got yourself the perfect sequel.

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That’s not to say it’s a perfect game. I may be in love, but I’m not blind. It does have its faults, and in places that seem like a huge oversight. For instance, many references are made by both the X-Men and Brotherhood that their temporary alliance isn’t amicable, a sentiment shared by NPCs all across the game, including little dialogue tidbits that really help drive the point home. However, when speaking with say, Mr. Sinister as he’s trash talking Magneto, and you have Magneto in your party and there is no special exchange that takes place makes for a big disappointment. It may seem like nothing, but the game goes out of its way to add sometimes lengthy dialogue to draw on character history and flesh out their relationships. Still, they do it in rather odd way. For example, when running into Grizzly, it was Jean Grey who had a heart to heart as to his change of alignment, and her insistence that she could help him. But when Colossus hears in the field from an interrogated soldier that his brother, Mikhail, is a horseman of Apocalypse, there’s nothing. Like I said, it may seem small, but it always irked me that this aspect of the game wasn’t utilized better.

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Also of negative note is the voice acting. While possessing some of  voice acting’s greats (including Patrick Stewart as Prof. X, Grey DeLisle as Mystique, Dee Bradley Baker as Nightcrawler, Dawnn Lewis as Storm), some of the other characters suffer from terrible voice acting. And even some of the better voice actors are used in an odd way, or their choice of voice just doesn’t go well. My main gripe is that of Rogue. Voiced by one of my favorite voice actresses, Catherine Taber, Rogue’s voice acting is terrible. I feel dirty saying it, but it makes me cringe. In addition, she got a lacluster power pool, and somewhat dinged stat wise, making what should be a great character simply passable. But man, the voice acting…which is all the stranger being that Taber is from Georgia, and should at least have the accent shuffled away somewhere. But it seems like the script itself is to blame, as there are multiple (!) uses of “y’all” as a singular noun. For those not in the know, “y’all” is Southerner for “you all”. Obviously it bugs me, but mostly because I love both the actress and the character.

Let’s talk more about Rogue for a sec. She actually represents the wrongs of the game. Voice aside, it seems like she got the short end of the script stick. Her characterization is wonky, turning her into a sort of brat with no real opinion. As I stated before, her powers are on the weaker end of the scale in compared to the rest of the roster. Add in the lack of a special dynamic between her and select Brotherhood members (chiefly Mystique and Destiny) and she rounds out as having every negative aspect of this game. Truly a shame, as all the parts were great, until they came together to form the whole.

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Circling back to some positive aspects, lets look at what the X-Men Legends series started. X-Men Legends and XMLII started off a string of action role-playing games that have mostly been critical successes, and mostly based off the Marvel IP. These include Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Justice League Heroes, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. All have had gameplay aspects that originated (from my knowledge) from XML. From the user interface, large rosters of famous heroes, theme park esque story progression, and the utilization of powers. Some characters, such as Storm, have been changed in almost appearence only over the course of multiple appearances. Now I haven’t played MUA 2 or Justice League Heroes, but I believe they received relatively decent acclaim. The point being that we have the XML duo to thank for many innovations of some great games.

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To sum up, if you can find this game (it’s damn hard, let me tell you) you’ll be all the better for it. Despite some odd choices in design and story, it’s an absolute must for any X-Men fan, and is a great standalone adventure. Any game where I can join Jean Grey, Magneto, Scarlet Witch and Storm together to pound out some justice is damn OK in my book.

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