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Claws at the ready, TVG checks out Raven Software's mature take on Wolverine's back-story...
The video game tie-in to X-Men Origins: Wolverine isn't your typical superhero adaptation. Despite the critically-bashed Hollywood flick aiming for the typical audience of teenagers and comic fans alike, Raven Software has decided to stay true to the character of Wolverine, with a no-holds barred, 18+ rated title (on Xbox 360, PS3, PC) that offers plenty of brutal decapitations, grisly eviscerations, and gory dismemberments.
Following events from the film and with enough artistic license to deviate and introduce new points along the way, X-Men: Origins Wolverine is a third-person hack 'n' slash in a manner similar manner to Devil May Cry and God of War. Switching between events from the past when Logan was a member of Team X and those from the present timeline, the plot is pretty convoluted for such a brainless hack 'n' slash title as Wolverine attempts to reconcile his memory and gain revenge against Sabretooth and Stryker. Put another way, finding out what's happening next in the storyline never provides the incentive to carry on playing, so thankfully the sheer emphasis on action and combat is largely entertaining enough to make up for it.
Key to any decent hack 'n' slash is a satisfying combat system, which X-Men Origins: Wolverine just about manages to provide. Swift and responsive, the combat system provides enough variety in its moves to keep things interesting, while the ability to unlock extra special moves and upgrade them with points earned by experience, offers a rewarding sense of progress to the game. With auto-targeting, lunge, blocks, rolls, and special moves handled by shoulder buttons and triggers, the controls in Wolverine also feel sufficiently different to most other hack 'n' slash titles. Some things take a little time to get used to, but we found the variation to be pretty refreshing.
The combat system's strong point is the Lunge ability, which allows Wolverine to literally fly across the environment in a rabid search for the next kill. It provides a satisfying sense of fluidity and a fast tempo to the combat, and certainly beats walking to the various different military guards and mutants you'll come across. Thankfully a tight and responsive targeting mechanism ensures this dynamic is fully realised, and captures the intensity and ferocity that you'd expect to see from a fully unleashed Wolverine.
It's testimony to the combat system that Wolverine still manages to remain enjoyable, despite hour after hour of decapitations and eviscerations. Larger Leviathans are thrown quite quickly into the mix at specific sections, and whilst these provide a change of pace - particularly when you're dealing with more than one - the fact that they utilise the same technique means that they're impact is quickly diminished. The direction behind the action is also commendable, with liberal use of alternative camera angles and slow-mo effects showcasing Wolverine's deadly intent admirably.
A handful of sequences also manage to linger in the memory, such as Wolverine disposing of enemy helicopters in the usual exaggerated fashion; clearing out enemy troops from the viewpoint of Agent Zero's sniper scope; and realising that you don't necessarily have to defeat all four leviathans packed in a closed environment to progress. Perhaps the game could do with even more larger, grandiose sequences to offset the sheer amount of combat on offer, but it's a small complaint.
Of course, Wolverine isn't just about his claws however with his regenerative powers fully featured in the game. Recharging over time, the setup captures Wolverine's sense of invulnerability well, but comes at the cost of making things a tad too easy. We never died during combat throughout the entire game, and while there's a nice sense of the invulnerability that Wolverine possesses, the feeling this gives on you as a player probably isn't the smartest trick in videogame design - Kratos was hard as nails in God of War, but you still felt susceptible in combat. Unfortunately if you're looking for a challenge the game's harder difficulty is locked until completion, which seems a bit strange considering the appeal of replaying the game for a more appropriate challenge is questionable. That said the visual effect that shows Wolverine's badly scarred body healing over time is the one highlight in an otherwise pretty unremarkable title; certainly it seems Raven's ambition has been hampered by the fact that a Wii and PS2 version also had to appear.
Wolverine's feral senses also make an appearance, allowing him to see key objects, invisible opponents, and highlight where to head to next simply by hitting up on the d-pad. At the very least it means there's no wandering around aimlessly trying to work out where to head next, and makes the solution to the occasional puzzle that little bit simpler, although given this is a Wolverine game they're wisely kept to a minimum and rarely involve anything more than moving blocks or teleporters.
While Wolverine just about manages to keep things entertaining through the wave after wave of fast and furious combat, it slips up whenever the platforming elements come into play. Wolverine simply shouldn't be shimmying along cliff edges or jumping over pools of water, especially when the jump mechanic is less then capable. The only time we died during the game was when platforming came into play, but then again we don't expect Wolverine's a great swimmer with that adamantium skeleton weighing him down.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the game's length, which comes in at around 10 hours. Further replay value is handled well with the introduction of different challenges, unlocked by collecting different figurines in the main game - it certainly beats the typical artwork or making of movies.
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