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X Men | Legends | review | game | Lollipop
(Activision for the X-Box, PS2, and Game Cube)
by Eric Johnson
X-Men comics have been around for over 30 years, but Legends is the first game worthy of praise. Part squad-based strategy and role-playing with a whole lot of button-tapping fisticuffs, Legends succeeds primarily because of enthusiasm for the subject matter, despite the fact that a great deal of what it intends to be never actually materializes. Its greatest accomplishment lies in successfully integrating 14 superheroes with eclectic oddball mutant powers. Sure, you can build an entire engine around an individual hero (like Spiderman), but switching between a flying telekinetic, a fellow cursed by uncontrollable optic beams, a claw-fisted berserker, and an organic metal Russian strongman in an enjoyable game is an infinitely more daunting task. Accomplishing this places Legends alongside City of Heroes and Freedom Force, an elite class of successful superhero titles. The X-Men comic is part soap opera and part conventional adventure injected with hearty doses of intentionally heavy-handed apocalyptic civil rights metaphor. The comic galvanized in the late '70s, when legendary writer Chris Clairmont bucked convention by devoting entire issues to character development and penned storylines that took years to climax.
Continuing that tradition, Legends effectively incorporates several classic and contemporary plot lines in a long and convoluted story seen through the eyes of a dangerously overpowered newcomer. Played from a birds-eye perspective, levels take you through large, occasionally severely repetitive, but deliciously destructible, arctic, urban, and industrial environments. Mutant powers and plain old-fashioned fisticuffs are wielded to combat a rogue's gallery of diabolical adversaries, including mutant hunting sentinels, mutant-hating black ops agents, and, of course, evil mutants bent on world domination. Combat is fast and furious, an asset that sabotages the game's strategic elements. Things happen too fast for intentionally coordinated attacks, superpowers fall into rough categories never actually mentioned, and an unexplained relationship between immunities and powers hampers tactical team building. So squad selection involves picking your favorites, as I did with Storm, Psylocke, and Colossus, even if not appropriate to specific scenarios. Yeah, I'm a fuckin geek, so what!
Painful X-Mansion levels bring the action to a screeching halt, but tolerate them, for they unlock copious volumes of extra content. Anyhow, I liked it, having been subjected to nearly a dozen shitty X-Men games this past decade. I was perfectly happy to forgive Legends minor shortcomings and enjoy a title that's been a long time coming.