With any big-budget movie inevitably comes its videogame counterpart, a great chance for publisher and developer to cash-in on the hype surrounding a film, or in the case of a popular superhero flick, take advantage of its legion of fans hoping to indulge in their role-playing fantasy. As we’ve depressingly discovered on many occasions, however, most movie tie-ins fail to provide quality entertainment other than to ardent fans of the film. Signs that many of these titles have been rushed to meet their strict release deadlines often seep out of every unimpressive pixel and poorly implemented feature, yet the masses still queue up to buy them year after year.
Though it took us a while to think of any exceptions to that rule, we did come up with three titles that we’d rate "above average" for movie to videogame conversions: Spiderman 2 presented us with the immaculate open-world Manhattan to explore, as well as a superb web-swinging mechanic; Stranglehold impressed with its John Woo-style cinematic flair; and Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy, a largely overlooked game, boasted high production values and an exciting hand-to-hand fighting mechanic. We can now add one more to that list of above average — but still not brilliant — movie tie-ins: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which has surprised us somewhat with its provocative approach to violence and satisfying combat system.
Based on the Twentieth Century Fox feature film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine follows the story of Marvel’s mutant superhero as it transports you deep into his past to discover more about his origins. The tale starts off well, with some excellent voice acting and impressive cut-scenes as the game moves back and forth between different periods in James "Logan" Howlett’s (a.k.a. Wolverine’s) life, but it soon disintegrates into a series of baffling and branching plot-lines that make little sense. It’s an interesting subject matter and a good base to build on, but about halfway through the game things become extremely confusing. Fanboys may be able to make sense of the interweaving plot, keeping track of the influx of new characters and how they relate to each other, but we were totally lost. Nevertheless, you can’t blame Raven Software for the material it’s been given to work with. Credit deserves to be given for the way the studio has taken this rather tenuous plot and crafted an exciting game around it.
With action taking place from the third person perspective, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is unashamedly violent. Early on, there’s a good taste of things to come as you watch in horror (and glee) as Wolverine leaps onto the windscreen of a helicopter, smashes the glass, grabs hold of the pilot and then thrusts his head into the spinning rotary blades. From this point forth it’s action and blood all the way. You move from point to point through jungles and compounds using Wolverine’s super-human strength and indestructible claws to impale and decapitate hordes of enemies. As you progress, expect to take on a series of new and familiar mini-bosses, including Gambit, Creed, Blob, and the gigantic robot Sentinel. The endless river of blood forms the sort of brutal stuff that Jack Straw’s nightmares are made of. There’s something intensely gratifying about ripping your opponents to shreds in such a graphic way.
There’s not a huge amount of variety to the gameplay. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is predominantly about close-quarters combat and smashing your way through enemies as they surround and attack you from all angles. There are occasions when different gameplay elements are introduced in an attempt to freshen things up, including boat and car chases, platforming, and even a little bit of puzzle solving here and there. Unfortunately, those elements are extremely average, with box-shifting conundrums and route-finding puzzles generally adding little to the gameplay. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is essentially a game that prides itself on its deeply satisfying combat scheme and unflinching violence. Indeed, it encourages you to be as brutal as you dare by offering Trophies as rewards for "unique" benchmarks like dismembering 100 enemies or setting 20 of foes on fire. X-Men Origins does this with great style by offering a range of enjoyable and visually impressive moves that make gameplay much more than an exercise in button-mashing.
Wolverine’s trademark claws can be used to devastating effect with a mixture of light and heavy attacks that are complemented nicely by combos, grabs, parries, dodges and special attacks. There’s nothing innovative about the control scheme, but it’s a smooth system that’s intuitive to use and one that is made infinitely more satisfying by some of the gory animation on show. The lunge attack is an excellent addition to the standard array of combat moves, allowing you to lock-on to any ranged target and then lunge across the screen to take an enemy out. These lunges result in slow-motion finishing moves that differ depending on the type of enemy you’re attacking – and range from slicing a victim’s arm off to plunging your claws deep into his stomach and ripping his guts out. Berserker rage mode also allows you to unleash your wrath when you’re surrounded by multiple foes; it’s impressive to watch Wolverine spin, slicing and dicing anyone who doesn’t move out of his path. The environment can also be used to good effect, such as by pushing a car downhill toward a group of enemies or tossing them onto spikes, and there’s often a very brief cinematic to complement the scene and showcase just how brutal Wolverine can be.
With red orbs spilling out of dead enemy bodies contributing to Wolverine’s EXP, there’s more than a passing resemblance to God of War, which Raven Software openly admitted has influenced the game alongside the likes of Devil May Cry. The EXP system works well here; you unlock new skills, level up, and spend your points on new abilities. There’s a steady progression in the game with enemies and mini-bosses generally becoming more challenging the further you progress, so unlocking new skills and leveling up compensates nicely for the increase in difficulty.
Excellent audio work, including a rousing musical score and impeccable voice-acting, add immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the Wolverine Universe. Graphically, aside from a few bumpy textures and small bouts of stuttering during some of the more intense encounters, it’s a game that has some fantastic looking locations and superbly rendered character models, most notably the perfectly modeled figure of Wolverine.
Nevertheless, X-Men Origins: Wolverine isn’t without its flaws. Approximately halfway through the game it does feel as though Raven ran out of ideas. It’s then that some of the mini-boss battles do get repetitive, as do the animations, behavior, and the design of enemies. The puzzle solving and platform sections, especially crate-shifting, can be extremely mundane and have been done better a thousand times in other titles; the game just doesn’t benefit from their inclusion.
Still, X-Men Origins: Wolverine shines when you’re simply throwing yourself at enemies and ripping their throats out, chaining together lunges and combos and plunging your claws through skulls. It’s an indulgent pleasure that rarely gets stale despite its repetitive nature. It isn’t a game that will appeal to everyone — it’s strictly for the brawler crowd — but those willing to give it a chance will enjoy the game’s fast pace and glean a perverse satisfaction from its violent combat. As for X-Men fanboys? Well, they can rest assured that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the absolute best Wolverine game to date.