X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Xbox 360)
What's Not: Cookie-cutter game design makes this game another "God of War" clone.
Crispy Gamer Says: Fry It
Arguably the most popular American superhero character in the past 40 years, Wolverine holds a particular appeal for the way he straddles the line between man and animal. In his best stories, Marvel's Canadian mutant reminds readers that -- despite what we tell ourselves -- the boundary separating us from our more primal natures isn't as sturdy as we'd like to think.
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" may not deepen the way we understand the character, but it delivers on the promise of letting fans control a nearly unstoppable killing machine. And killing's the point, isn't it? Part of Wolverine's mystique in the character's early days was that he broke the cardinal superhero rule that bars homicide. Dismemberment, evisceration, decapitation? You'll be pulling those off in no time. In the game's very first cut scene, Logan pounces on an enemy character, exploding him into a mist of limbs and viscera.
Like the silver-screen release to which it's tethered, "Wolverine" delves in the origins of the clawed centenarian: his rivalry with Victor Creed (aka Sabretooth), his participation in the Team X black ops program and the Weapon X program that bonded the unbreakable metal adamantium to his bones. Logan seeks to avenge himself against Creed and those who exploited him.
"Wolverine's" a game built on the "God of War" template, with melee combat against swarms of enemies being the main style of play, along with the ability to level up various attacks and traits. The game uses a two-tiered health system based on Logan's healing ability. If he gets hurt faster than he can heal, then his major organs get exposed. Incur enough damage against those and it's game over. The character's feral senses highlight interactive portions of the environment, revealing traversal paths and breakable objects.
Along the way, you'll get souped-up Fury moves and tweaks to your healing rate, along with Mutagens, abilities that let you change the way you can progress through the game. Fighting against enemies with ranged weapons is always a problem in this kind of game, but the game's Lunge move lets Wolvie lock on and pounce on faraway enemies, taking away any tactical advantage they might have.
What makes "Wolverine" good is the sick thrill of tearing a virtual person in two. What makes "Wolverine" bad are the awkward gameplay sequences that run counter to the character's ethos. Stealth sections and "Tomb Raider"-style puzzle-solving just bog down the action. And you face off against the same enemies over and over again, just skinned or animated differently.
Developer Raven Software supposedly had around two years to develop "Wolverine," but it's still buggy. There's tons of clipping everywhere, and you'll steer Logan right through tree trunks and boulders. A really bad bug early on threw me out of an arena into a spot where the world broke, and I fell forever into blackness. Another bug let me heal in safety while I stood on a part of the level where two giant enemies couldn't touch me.
Bugs aside, some of the game's more memorable set pieces do stand out, like the fights against Creed or dismantling a giant mutant-hunting Sentinel. The parts in-between just feel all the more maddening -- the endless grunt fights with the repetitive chatter, and fetching power cells and cranks to activate doors and puzzles. Wolverine's so much better than this.
All this combines to make "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" feel numbingly mediocre. Wolverine's not the problem here. He's a great character around which to build an action game, and the game works in loads of fan-service shout-outs to the comics and movies. A Bonus mode lets players fight against alternate versions of Logan to unlock various costumes. But, the repetition in the main Story mode steadily dilutes the fun the longer you play. Walking Wolvie through a set of action-game cliches -- aerial battles, cutting down supersized enemies -- just renders him a stand-in for any number of Kratos or Dante wannabes, pretenders to the hack-n-brawl throne. When having no Quick Time Events is the game's most admirable achievement, then that's a problem.
It's not that "Wolverine's" not a fun game; it's just that it's the same kind of fun over and over again. Even disembowelment gets old after you do it too much.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
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