The X-Men films are no stranger to tie-in video games: A few days before the original X-Men’s release date of July 14th, 2000 gamers were able to pick up the underrated PSOne fighting game X-Men: Mutant Academy from publisher Activision, and several weeks before the first weekend of May release of X2: X-Men United, a solo Wolverine game titled X2: Wolverine’s Revenge was launched to store shelves. Both games featured elements of the movies (Mutant Academy had unlockable costumes from X-Men as well as promotion material; Wolverine’s Revenge used Hugh Jackman’s likeness on the cover art and featured the voice of Patrick Stewart as Professor X) but neither were set in the time-line of the film series; something Activision remedied in 2006 with X-Men: The Official Game from developer Z-Axis.
Up until the release of more recent “X” films like 2011’s First Class and last year’s the Wolverine, X-Men: The Official Game could be considered canon to the first X-Men trilogy. Its story bridges X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand and introduces the Sentinels and Mastermold, the Silver Samurai, further expansion of the underused Lady Deathstrike character from X2, and the circumstances that lead fan favorite character Nightcrawler from being excluded (or saved depending on how you look at it) in the third film in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand.
The story in The Official Game is one of its high points and also one of the factors that will keep you playing through to the end of this rather short game, especially if you’re a fan of the films. One of the reasons for this is more than likely due to the writer, Chris Claremont, one of the most popular X-Men comic writers whose two issue story “Days of Future Past” inspired next week’s film, and talent from the movies cast including Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Shawn Ashmore as Iceman and Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler. Neither actor can be accused of phoning in their performance, and their addition adds authenticity to the word “Official” in the title.
The game features several cameos from other X-Men like Storm and Colossus, but the player will only play as three: Wolverine, Iceman and Nightcrawler, and not all characters are created equal. The majority of the game, much like the films, it taken up by Wolverine and he’s by far the weakest of the trio. Gameplay is your standard hack and slash, light and heavy attack combo fare but it’s made all the more difficult by the range of your attacks. A lot of the standard enemies you’ll face have automatic firearms and to get up close enough to attack basically means eating damage until you’re within range to strike. More than a few levels with Wolverine also take place in single room environments where the goal is to fight until the level is over, and in the sections where you can move around and explore, the camera is fixed in place and obscures the environment.
Playing as Iceman is a little cooler (pun intended) as it’s basically like playing StarFox 64’s open range and fixed rail levels, replacing a spaceship with Iceman’s ice sled. You’re constantly in motion and can brake, boost, and turn 180 degrees with the press of a button and can shield yourself with ice as well as shoot ice beams and missiles with a rudimentary lock-on mechanic. It’s nothing new or innovative mind you, and most of the levels objectives are either destroy so many enemies or power conduits, but levels like one where you’re racing through a power conduit avoiding obstacles against a clock are pretty fun, and far more interesting than anything found in the Wolverine sections.
The real star of the game is Nightcrawler, and I’ll go on record as saying that it’s worth playing this game for this character alone. Admittedly, Nightcrawler has been my favorite X-Man since I was a kid when I received the first Nightcrawler toy with suction cups to mimic sticking to a wall, but his powers are put to use in ways they weren’t in the past or even in future games featuring the character and it will make you wish that someone would make a fully realized game starring the character.
Nightcrawler can balance nimbly on poles, swing on them like a certain Persian prince and BAMF (teleport) to any platform within a short distance with the simply flick of a trigger. Some of the more satisfying combat applications of the characters powers are locking on to any enemy, BAMF-ing behind them and letting loose a flurry of punches and kicks and then zipping to another unsuspecting foe and doing the same, effectively taking them down before they even knew what hit them and teleporting to a Sentinels shoulder to guide a bomb that was tracking you. One of the complaints that I have here is that these levels are too few in numbers, and should have taken priority over the boring Wolverine sections.
Each of the three characters may have unique play styles and abilities, but one of the things they all have in common is that all have upgradeable skill trees that can be built up by collecting items within the levels. For those playing on the easy difficulty, you’ll not be able to collect any because they will not be present, normal will have some scattered about while playing on hard will net all of them for the collecting obsessed. The Official Game has a manageable difficulty so not to be heart attack inducing frustrating, though the Wolverine levels can test your patience at times, so I recommended playing on hard for the complete experience. Outside of upgrade collectibles, you also have access to two extra costumes for each mutant: one alternate film costume (an example being Wolverine in wife beater) and a comic outfit.
Despite being on the Xbox 360 hardware, The Official Game hardly takes advantage of the hardware, even for a game released in 2006 and I’m assuming that’s due to the fact that it’s an upgraded port of the game on the PS2, GC and Xbox. The in-between cut scenes are stylized fully voiced motion comic segments as opposed to full on movies and date themselves pretty horribly. I would still recommended playing the game on Xbox 360, if anything because you can get a full on 1,000 achievement points for simply finishing the game on and gathering the collectibles, oh and there’s the price.
X-Men: The Official game gives players three distinct characters and power sets to play around with, but the quality of the triad is not cohesive enough as an overall package. Perhaps if Z-Axis had focused more on the solid Nightcrawler levels and took more time away from Wolverine the game would be looked on fondly, but as far as the game stands it’s an interesting chapter in the X-Men film trilogy held back by an over indulgence on the wrong character.