Video Game Review: Lackluster ‘X-Men: Destiny’ Has No Super Powers

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CHICAGO – Imagine this — an X-Men game in which you don’t play a known member of the legendary team. Want to rage with Wolverine’s claws, shoot beams with Cyclops’ eyes, or rain chaos with Storm? Well, you’ll have to go back to the last “Marvel Ultimate Alliance” game to do so because they’re not playable here. And while the creative direction could have resulted in something fresh, every element of this game makes it feel like an afterthought, like you’re not playing recognizable names because they shouldn’t be that involved in a mess of a game like this one. Video Game Rating: 2.0/5.0
Video Game Rating: 2.0/5.0

I should make clear that I’m not opposed to superhero games that take creative risks and making an X-Men game in which you don’t play one of the MANY household names within the most legendary team of mutants in comic history was definitely a risk. But that’s not what sinks “X-Men: Destiny.” If you took out the central character and replaced him with Gambit or Cyclops (and you really could), the game would still have significant problems. I’m just saying that it doesn’t help the nagging feeling that this game was woefully underdeveloped when you have an unengaging new central character at the heart of the story.

X-Men: Destiny
X-Men: Destiny
Photo credit: Activision

And oh what a boring story. Filled with un-skippable cut scenes that only serve to alleviate the repetitive boredom of the most uninteresting enemies in a long time, “X-Men: Destiny” has a remarkably dull story that it feels like someone tried to pump up by adding the illusion of choice through dialogue options and the occasional player decision of power, upgrade, or even path. Rarely have so many choices felt so useless. You are often presented with a cut scene and then, where a list of response options should be, given one choice (I suppose based on previous choices but it happens so often that it feels like you’re just clicking “Next” in a cut scene). And the dialogue choices are so interchangeable that it becomes impossible to care.

X-Men: Destiny
X-Men: Destiny
Photo credit: Activision

That’s the worst thing about “X-Men: Destiny” — the apathy on every level. Backgrounds are not just poorly-designed in terms of graphics, some aren’t even there. Yes, it’s wide open space behind you where the sky should be. Buildings look flat. The game has no depth at all on a visual level and honestly looks like a first-gen PS3 title if not a PS2 title. Character design, animations, levels — all of it is disappointing.

Like the dialogue choices, there are other half-ass RPG elements. In fact, you start the game by picking one of three characters and then you gain XP throughout to upgrade chosen powers and abilities. Once again, it feels like these elements were tacked-on and are never an organic part of the storytelling. As with most flawed RPGs, it gets better as it progresses and your character becomes more enjoyably powerful but I have to admit to putting very little thought into what powers I would acquire and upgrade. It didn’t feel like I had to. They’re interchangeable. It’s the illusion of RPG elements and choice that have no impact on the actual game. They’re decorative.

What’s “X-Men: Destiny” about? You play a young mutant at a peace rally in San Francisco when the city becomes the center of the latest battle for mutant rights. Once again, you’ll have to choose to ally with Cyclops and his X-Men (Professor X is dead…I know, blasphemy) or Magneto and his Brotherhood, who espouse a more violent response to the chaos. At the beginning you choose a template character who is then upgraded with elements of other mutants (Iceman’s freezing ability, Juggernaut’s fighting skill, etc.) but, as mentioned, none of these powers are well-defined enough to feel distinct. They are cosmetic changes to a button-masher that will basically require the same buttons to be mashed no matter which path you take.

The worst thing about “X-Men: Destiny” is the “enemy wave” structure that the entire game operates on. The screen even offers a countdown — “25 Enemies Left” — as you zap/hit/blast some of the least-interesting villains of the year. (It doesn’t help that the game glitched more than once, leaving an enemy that needed to be killed stuck in the environment). I hated the enemy A.I. in “Destiny,” one in which so many worthless baddies sit and wait for you to kill them before you can move on to another section of the boring map and do it again. The game and combat are so remarkably easy and uninspired that the only chance you have of dying is if you fall asleep.

Great Marvel games are admittedly rare (although I’ll defend both “MUA” games and last year’s “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” wholeheartedly). But rarely have we seen one that was this flat and uninspired. Fans of The X-Men deserve better although this lackluster experience is likely to be forgotten so quickly that most of them won’t even know it existed.

“X-Men Destiny” was developed by Silicon Knights and released by Activision on September 27th, 2011. It was reviewed for the PS3 but is also available for the Xboc 360, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo Wii. content director Brian Tallerico

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