X-Men Origins: Wolverine Xbox 360, PS3
Back in 2004, Activision released a game that completely changed my attitude toward movie tie-ins. It was the Treyarch-developed Spiderman 2: The Game, and although not perfect, it confidently defecated on every comic book/movie/pop-group based video game that had gone before it. This wasn’t because of the A-list actors voicing their on-screen counterparts, or because New York City had been brilliantly recreated in a completely open-world environment – it was because Treyarch had nailed the feel of being Spiderman. Zipping in-between buildings and bouncing across rooftops was an absolute joy, the responsive controls providing hours of satisfying web-slinging. It was because of this that the often repetitive missions became less of a burden, and more of an opportunity to take to the Manhattan skyline and enjoy the thrill of being Peter Parker’s wall-crawling alter ego. Why bring this up now? Just as Treyarch managed to provide the ability to be Spiderman, Raven have now succeeded in equal measures, albeit with an altogether different kind of beast.
Taking control of Wolverine couldn’t feel more natural. This is, in part, thanks to a suspiciously familiar combat mechanic, as seen in games like God of War and Ninja Gaiden. Similar as they are, there’s no denying that the system fits the character perfectly. Switching between light and heavy attacks provides effortless combos with which to cut through enemy soldiers like a hot blade through butter. Charging a heavy strike initiates an uppercut that sends enemies airborne and allows for some mid-air aggression, while a grab button gives the ability to whip enemies out of the air and slam them to the ground. The latter also enables Wolverine to grab an enemy by the ankles and spin them around, smacking other soldiers out of the way before launching the hapless victim in a sort of human-hammer-throw. These alone provide plenty of ways in which to tear through the enemy ranks, but what really makes Wolverine feel like Wolverine is ‘the lunge’.
Holding down the right shoulder button brings up a targeting reticule that will lock on to the nearest enemy. A simple press of the left bumper sees Wolverine pouncing through the air, claws first, pinning the victim down, and allowing for all manner of follow-up attacks. It’s incredibly satisfying. As Wolverine’s attacks are all close-combat, having the means to close surprisingly large distances in such a quick and brutal manner turns a run-of-the-mill hack-‘n’-slash into something altogether more exciting. What’s more, inputting a heavy attack or a grab mid-flight changes the outcome of the striking move, adding to the range of ways that Wolverine can induce pain on those who get in his way. As fun as lunging at unsuspecting enemies is, it’s when everything is combined into one swift movement of carnage that everything comes together. Uppercutting an enemy, grabbing and hurling them across the level, then locking on and lunging so as to strike them mid-air, is the sort of beautifully visceral chaos that sets Wolverine apart from previous attempts at bringing the character to gaming.
While we’re on the subject of viscera, let’s talk about blood. The ‘Uncaged Edition’ (that is, the 360 and PS3 version of the game) is rated 18+, and rightfully so. as there’s hardly a second that goes by without the red stuff getting spilled. The violence on display is absolutely incredible. Heads, limbs, and torsos go flying in all directions in an orgy of bloodshed. Wolverine’s ‘quick kills’ (a grab followed by a well timed heavy attack) see a short animation that usually results in something particularly grotesque – like tearing a man in two, or pushing an enemy’s firearm beneath his chin and watching his head explode. There are also multiple ways in which Wolverine can use the environment to his best ability, such as grabbing and impaling enemies on broken pipes, or hanging them from the front of fork-lift trucks. It’s disturbing and brilliant, and does more to replicate the character’s anger and rage than any of the X-Men films have ever managed, not least the one on which this game is based.
With the film in mind, it’s probably worth mentioning that the game follows the plot to a painstaking degree. Those who‘ve seen the film will realise that this is not a good thing, and while there are a few deviations and tweaks to the details, the overall narrative remains the overly-contrived farce of the big screen counterpart. This is a real shame, especially when the levels that aren’t taken from the film offer a far more enjoyable X-Men experience, it makes me wonder what Raven could have achieved had they not been dedicated to reproducing Fox’s terrible excuse for a blockbuster. On a positive note, the way the story is presented in the game is at least a little more interesting, with Wolverine’s mission to hunt down Victor Creed interspersed with playable flashbacks to his time with William Stryker’s Mutant Strike Team in Africa, before he went rogue. It initially makes the plot harder to follow, but it’s better than the chronological agony of the film.
Sadly, it’s not just the narrative where Wolverine falls short. As already discussed, there’s a wealth of things that Wolverine can do to ravage the enemy ranks. Disappointingly, very few enemies require any real tactical approach. Most can be done away with using the same attacks, and although there are plenty of other ways to do away with them, it’s left up to the player to mix it up. With no real demand for strategic combat, repetition can kick in quite early for those of a less creative nature. Similarly, larger enemies like the WENDIGO and the Leviathan can be beaten with a dodge and a lunge followed by a hammering of the attack buttons. The only time this really becomes a challenge is when there are several mini-bosses at once, and even then it’s simply a matter of rinse-repeat until they’re all dead. Then there’s the absolute abomination that is the end of game boss, a cheap and frustrating battle that pales in comparison to earlier bouts.
Wolverine sports a counter-attack manoeuvre that is initiated via a well-timed press of the block button, but for most enemies it’s easier to just run at them and use one of his special rage attacks, because after all – the guy’s invincible. Alright, so maybe he’s not ‘invincible’, but the health regeneration although looking lovely (wolverine’s flesh will tear off, revealing his adamantium skeleton, before healing in real-time), makes it all a bit too easy. Blocking is rarely a factor with typical enemies. It’s much easier to simply run through a hail of bullets, kill the offending marksman and heal afterwards. While the inclusion of regeneration is hardly a shocker, and obviously an essential part of being Wolverine, it’s a shame that nothing could be done to increase the challenge. Adding to this, Wolverine’s ‘feral sense’ – a swift press of the up button – will always point to the next objective, making traversing levels a case of simply following the line. This lack of difficulty also removes any real importance from the levelling system, as whatever perks – in the form of mutagens – are added, there never seems to be a great deal of impact on the overall experience.
For all of these gripes, however, there are a multitude of redeeming factors. A couple of the actual boss fights are epic, and set-pieces in general make some of the best action films look like child’s play. The choreography during fight sequences is superb, though it’s a shame some of these couldn’t be implemented into the actual game. Wolverine is also visually impressive, and though there are a handful of aesthetical bugs it’s never enough to really spoil the experience. It should also be noted that Hugh Jackman’s likeness is uncanny, which will no doubt please the female audience seeing as he spends most of the game with his shirt torn off (though enemy bullets seem to completely miss his pants, weird). There are a few secret unlockables, the best of which being the classic Wolverine costume, and the achievements are actually a worthy venture, unlike 90% of the games out there.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a refreshing entry into the comic book/movie-crossover genre. It has its flaws, and is by no means the perfect game, but it is the perfect Wolverine-simulator, at least for the time being. Knowing that the means to create such a fantastic formula now exists, only fills me with anticipation for any future Wolverine titles. But for now, this is a reassuring reminder that movie games don’t have to be awful – in fact, they can be better than the films they’re based on. It’s the best at what it does, and what it does is very good indeed.