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Monday, May 18, 2009

In Which Wolverine Breaks Down, Cries, and Apologizes. (And I Forgive Him.)

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Mon, May 18, 2009 at 12:24 PM

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So. That Wolverine movie. Can we talk about that yet? I mean, really talk about it? Process it? Analyze how it made us feel? Really get into it, from a mature, nuanced perspective, detailing where exactly it went so wrong, and maybe we can form some warm, welcoming support groups, ones that will help us begin the healing process?

No? Okay, cool. 'Cause frankly, I'm perfectly content with rolling my eyes and making a wanking gesture every time the phrase X-Men Origins: Wolverine comes up, and I don't predict that I'll get sick of that anytime soon.

I realize a review of the X-Men Origins: Wolverine (roll, wank) videogame is pretty late at this point—the game was released alongside the movie, on May 1. My excuse for my tardiness is this: Despite hearing really good things about the game from a lot of people, I held off. I've been burned too many times in the past by crappy tie-in games based on good movies, so playing a tie-in game based on a terrible movie (which in turn is based on one of my favorite comic book characters), seemed entirely too masochistic of a way to spend a weekend. But then Activision sent along a review copy, and of course once I had it in my hands I couldn't resist, and it turns out the word on the street is right: As terrible as Wolverine's movie might be, his game is pretty great.

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First things first: This isn't anything new. X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn't try to reinvent the wheel or do anything that's too original. All it tries to do is be a very good brawler, and in that it succeeds. The gameplay here is simple and fast and fluid, and while it has a couple of none-too-subtle influences (*cough*GodofWar*cough*), the game's simple act of running along a path and beating the shit outta wherever comes your way is consistently satisfying, if repetitive.

The reason for that solid gameplay foundation is probably that the movie license was added after the game had started production, not before: Developers Raven Software were working on this Wolverine game before it was decided to tie the game into the movie. I would have loved to see a Wolverine game wholly separate from the film's storyline, and one catches glimpses of it throughout: Origins cuts between (A) levels that roughly follow the movie's lame-ass plot, and (B) other levels that offer more interesting environments and gameplay. The high points in the game are the ones that feel like the developers are just geeking out, building levels not around a movie but rather around whatever it is that Wolverine does best in the comics. (One battle, with a sentinel, starts off being vaguely reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus before spinning into fun, impressively epic boss battle.) And while we're talking about comics geekery: One can play the whole game running around in Hugh Jackman's preferred ensemble of a a wifebeater and jeans, but you can also unlock Wolverine's classic comic book costumes, a fact that makes me squeal like a little girl. I'm not sure what this says about me or why I'm even posting this sentence on the internet, but I'll go to my grave insisting that there's something pretty awesome about watching Wolverine jump, spin, and claw his way through levels while dressed in yellow-and-blue spandex.

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And then there's the blood: Unless it's directed toward mimes, I'm not a huge fan of violence for violence's sake, but the ribbons and splatters of blood that erupt whenever Wolverine lets loose with his claws adds an impressively visceral tone to Origins' proceedings. Rather than a bland, generic, kid-friendly beat-'em-up, the bloody Origins feels substantial and (a little bit) grown up—kind of like Ninja Gaiden, except you don't have to worry about dying whenever an enemy looks at you. (Probably the coolest element of the game's blood and gore is the character model of Wolverine. Wolverine sustains a lot of damage in fights, and watching his often-gaping wounds heal themselves after each battle is a pretty cool sight.)

There are a couple of complaints: Sometimes the game decides to be Tomb Raider for a little while, making Wolverine push around blocks, find missing gears, and deftly jump around sudden death traps. (If I want puzzle-solving and exploration, I'll call Lara Croft, not THE UNKILLABLE DUDE WITH GIANT STEAK KNIVES STICKING OUT OF HIS HANDS.) And it does get repetitive: Sure, you can modify Wolverine's powers and try out different attacks, but ultimately, it's very much a hack-and-slash-and-run-and-hack-and-slash experience. And—especially after the whole Resident Evil 5 controversy—whose idea was it to send Wolverine to Africa to chop up a lot of generic black dudes who shout at him in an incomprehensible foreign language? (I kind of wanted these enemies to just be called "The Other," but no luck.) And last but not least, Gambit shows up, and the dude spends pretty much an entire level taunting you in his Cajun accent and calling you "mon frere" and giggling, and fucking A, that asshole gets annoying. Go light up some more stupid crap with your goofy pink telekinesis powers, dude. I got better things to do.

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