X-Men Legends 2: Rise of the Apocalypse
Something peculiar has happened in recent times. Games that have involved the antics of famous comic book characters or superheroes have been consistently, if not brilliant, efforts that merit the attention of fans of the genre, rather than turning their idols into unrecognizable computer generated buffoons. If you ever had the misfortune and displeasure of encountering Superman 64 on the Nintendo 64 then you might be able to further appreciate how much the situation has improved in this current generation. In that game our intrepid lifesaver's abilities were limited to landing only by crashing into the nearest building and dealing with Metropolis' finest criminals by flinging his arms around in a fashion that would urge any normal bystander to contemplate asking if he'd forgotten to take the tablets that depress his hyperactivity. Thankfully X-Men Legends II suffers with none of the aforementioned problems and follows the trend of other recent superhero games that shows developers can get it right and in the process please some of the most devoted fans.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse is the sequel to last year's X-Men Legends, a sprawling Action RPG that successfully put the player in the shoes of their favourite X-Men and challenged them to play through levels where everything that moved (and a lot that didn't) was just asking to be destroyed. This time around the premise is similar but you now get to mix and match a team of characters from both the X-Men and the Brotherhood. Marvel fans will know that this pairing is a little unusual and here's why it's happened: Apocalypse wants to be the most powerful mutant in the Universe and destroy mankind in the process; an ambition that you might expect is all in a day's work for your typical all-evil antagonist. Almost predictably the Brotherhood (Magneto, Mystique and Sabertooth) aren't too pleased about the news, but realise that they're only chance of defeating such a formidable force is to team up with the X-Men (Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm). Like all good baddies Apocalypse has a few hostages in his keep, too. The safety of the captives and the future of mankind lay in our heroes hands, so after a cup of tea and a biscuit over which they argue in the minutest detail over who could beat up whom in a theoretical scuffle, they decide to get to it.
Playing as a team of four characters, each of whom you can switch between at the touch of a button, you must battle your way through five vast zones, solving puzzles and pulverising anything or anyone that stands in your way. A generous fifteen characters are available to choose from the beginning, each with the power to kick and punch relentlessly and also perform simple combos, but more importantly all have their individual mutant powers at their disposal. Seemingly impassable areas are accessed by implementing the ability of certain characters and their powers. Whether fighting fires, controlling distant objects with telekinesis navigating from one ledge to another, it is up to you to decide which of your X-Men or Brotherhood members is most suited to the job.
The three computer controlled characters more or less take care of themselves so that you can concentrate on enjoying the character you've chosen to play as. Additionally each character strengthens throughout the game as you collect power-ups and therein the ability to acquire extra moves and powers. The options available to tinker with your team's attributes can either be done automatically or manually. You can decide which power goes to whom and even the way your AI-controlled fighters conduct themselves in battle. This neat feature has the potential to work well but is annoyingly cumbersome to execute yourself due to the frequency of loading screens between menus - just the thing that you do not want to contend with in a game that is so fast-paced.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse hasn't really made any major leaps in the looks department. In keeping with the real life comic book origins of the Marvel series, developers Raven have managed to successfully re-create the characters as cel-shaded models of their penciled counterparts. As well as looking the bees knees each character moves in the same way as you'd expect them to. Legends II's environments are consistently detailed, with fantastic lighting effects, effort enough to make you feel a part of them rather than them being just a colourful path along the way to your finishing point. The fact that so much of the playing field can be interacted with adds to the absorbing feeling that teleports you into the Marvel universe.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Legends II is its co-op mode. There's the ability to play with up to four real life friends or to compete against unseen competitors in a variety of online modes in every version bar that the GameCube. The simplicity of the button bashing mayhem that unfolds onscreen means that gamers of all abilities will feel at ease, whilst it is pleasant to see a game that rewards its players for co-operation rather than asking them to rip each other to shreds. There are a few camera issues with the co-op mode as it zooms wayward into sky to keep everyone in view, but it really doesn't detract too much from what is essentially a well executed distraction away from the main game.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse could suitably have been named 'X-Men Legends II: More of the Same +', for that's what it offers. If you liked the first game then you're bound to relish the opportunity to do it all again with a fresh group of characters available and a load of new levels. Legends II is yet another example of how superhero games should be done, with over the top special effects, non-stop action and huge bosses. If you don't mind an underwhelming musical score and can put up with the oft confusing layout and loading times of the menu screens then there's nothing to say you won't enjoy the latest in a series that looks to have a bright future ahead of itself.