I am not embarrassed to say that I always wanted to be a superhero. Whenever a video game comes out that allows me to exercise my fantasy, I have to play it. Unfortunately, the love children of comic books and video games tends to be pretty mediocre. However, every once in a while, a Spider-Man 2 or a Batman: Arkham Asylum arrives and proves quality superhero video games can be made. Going into Activision’s exclusive media hall at E3, I was hoping that X-Men: Destiny would be added to the list of great ones. Sadly, it does not look like that will happen. Here’s why:
Doug Herder, producer for X-Men: Destiny, introduced us to a slightly different homo-superior universe than the one currently published by Marvel Entertainment. Professor Xavier is dead and the current class of mutants that once called Winchester, New York their home now head to San Francisco to start anew. From this point, the player will choose one of three new mutants—Aimi, Adrian, or Grant—as their main character. Although we were not able to really experience much of the plot, Mike Carey, of current X-Men: Legacy fame—is penning the main plot, which gives a lot of potential to the story. Getting an actual comic writer to tell their stories is always a step in the right direction.
The most interesting gameplay feature will definitely be the X-Gene system. After pummeling enough enemies or upon discovery of a level up token, you will be able to upgrade your powers and gain access to new moves. Although this leveling mechanic is used in almost every action-adventure RPG, there is a second aspect to the system that brings some potential. Seemingly aware that three characters really does not give players a lot of room for customization, Activision included a gaming mechanic that lets you change your look and powers to make them your mutant tailor-made to your play style. You will be able to add up to three X-Genes from the cast of characters you encounter. I saw Surge, Juggernaut, Gambit, and few more recognizable names in the list. Moreover, if you can combine all three X-Genes from one mutant and wear their accompanying fan suit, you will get an even bigger power boost. We saw Aimi using Quicksilver’s fan suit and his three power traits to run circles around enemies. This mode definitely gives fans more choice as they develop a mutant that better reflects themselves.
Throughout the presentation, Herder’s main emphasis was that choices will affect your experience. However, when I pressed him if there would be more than one ending, he only said there will be “multiple choices and paths that lead you to different outcomes”. Unfortunately, that did not actually answer my question. What I believe will happen is that your decisions will determine whether you initially side with the Brotherhood or X-Men in your fight against the Purifiers. In the end, however, there will be a certain moment in the storyline that forces both mutant sides to align against their mutual human antagonist. This will give your character—boy or girl, Brotherhood or X-Men—the same ending no matter what your choices were before this inevitable climax.
This would be similar to Activision’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 where players could choose to register with or rebel against the government, but the ending was always the same. Although it was not a problem for that game, I could not help but feel cheated when this presentation ended. We already know that moral choices of your character should be crucial in guiding your story just like Sony’s InFamous. However, Cole’s adventure allowed you to move back and forth on your moral compass, and depending on what path you choose, your ending reflected your decisions. Herder’s lack of a concrete “yes or no” only hints at the inevitably “no”, but he just did not want to give the unfortunate news at E3.
Regardless of his answer, I was already disappointed by what was shown because the game looked so incredibly dated. While Aimi was running through Chinatown, her model was presented in adequate detail. Other than that, I witnessed a poorly rendered version of San Francisco. Even though this was a pre-alpha version, Destiny is scheduled to come out in September 2011. The developer’s only have three months to update the entire graphical world of Destiny if Activision wants to satisfy fans.
Along with poorly rendered environments, the enemies were dull and generic. Mob enemies in a given area are the exact same with an added weapon to create some originality, but it was the boss battle that really makes me question the look and feel of the game. John Sublime, of Morrison’s New X-Men run, injects himself with Colossus’s genes and transforms himself into an ugly mutant-human hybrid. It would be fine if he was hideous, gross, and all together terrifying, but what we actually saw was a pixelated, streaky, and poorly rendered boss that was too easy to beat. Dodge his attacks while he lashes around, wait for him to slam the ground and get stuck, then wail on him for a few seconds. Repeat this formula until he dies. It is just too predictable and really disappointing.
On the subject of fighting mechanics, Destiny proves that the theme of the game is not choice but rehashing proven concepts. When Activision released X-Men Legends video games in 2004, they used an engine similar to Baldur’s Gate, but added their own flare that made the game uniquely enjoyable. From what I saw, Destiny’s fighting system will require you to mix light and heavy attacks to inflict damage, and you activate one of three mutant powers by holding R2 and then press one of controller buttons. Sound familiar? It is the same formula action-adventure gamers already know with very little innovation to make the gameplay worth your time.
As much as I wanted to love X-Men: Destiny, it looks like it will join the ranks of the other generic comic book video games. It does not look or play well, and even though the “choices” system seems promising, InFamous 2 already does it better. I hope they can make the necessary changes to prove my first impression wrong, but with only a few months away, it seems this is more Mediocre X-Men than Astonishing X-Men.