Ever since Activision released their movie-based Spider-Man game in 2002, there has been an upswing in the quality of superhero games on both console and pc. Even the few that have not lived up to expectations – such as the recent Batman: Dark Tomorrow & Superman: Shadow of Apokolips - have at least attempted to go beyond the beat-em up attitude so prevalent in past years and inject both a plot and some puzzles beyond pushing and pulling boxes. While the recently released X2: Wolverine’s Revengeand Hulk are by no means flawless, they are still proof positive – even though they are both far from perfect - that action/adventure games have come a long way in the past few years.
Now understand that when it comes to superhero games, I’m relatively easy to please. I purchased an Atari 2600 just so I could own the Spider-Man cartridge. It was the height of graphic realism as my red blob (Spider-Man) climbed up the side of a skyscraper to fight the green blob (Green Goblin). Then in 1984 Scott Adams’Questprobe 1: The Incredible Hulk – and later Spider-Man & then the Human Torch - monopolized my Commodore 64. Imagine, a text adventure game with still pictures of your favorite superheroes. Okay, so maybe it’s time to raise my expectations.
So after years of suffering through poorly realized punch-and-kick superhero games on the various console systems, developers have finally realized – much like Stan Lee – that superheroes are about much more than bashing heads.
After reading the lukewarm reviews in the action-orientated console magazines – too slow, too many puzzles, not enough fighting – I suspected X2: Wolverine’s Revenge was most likely a game that would appeal to the more patient adventure gamer who enjoys an even balance of action and adventure elements. Granted, if you don’t enjoy superhero games and if you are put off by end-level boss fights, then this game is not for you. But, if the idea of sneaking past guards and security systems with occasional feral rage thrown in for good measure sounds appealing, then read on true believer.
Inspired by the X2 blockbuster film, Wolverine’s Revenge allows you to assume the role of Wolverine in a race against time to find an antidote to a viral time bomb planted years ago, but only recently discovered, in his system. Now something or someone has activated the virus and Wolverine has only 48 hours to live. He must now return to the Department H facility in the Canadian wilderness and attempt to uncover the secrets behind the Weapon X laboratory experiments that turned him into a killing machine.
This backstory is nicely established at the beginning of the game – during which you must escape from the facility during the year 1968 – and that the plot unfolds slowly and satisfactorily can be attributed to the talents of comic’s writer Larry Hama. There is a good bit of foreshadowing and flashbacks to advance the plot that is uncommon in too many games, not just action/adventures But he is not the only professional to grace the game as the voices of Mark Hamill as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Professor X immediately put this game above others of its ilk. Just for good measure, Beast, Colossus, Sabertooth, Wendigo, Juggernaut and Magneto all make guest appearances to add to the mayhem.
The fighting aspects are adeptly handled and while they don’t impart the same feeling of satisfaction as the fisticuffs in the recent Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb, there is still something to be said for possessing the mutant ability to unsheathe your claws and shred a foe. Wolverine’s mutant ability to heal himself when his claws are retracted is a nice alternative to a game world that too often has power pellets and healing kits scattered about the landscape. The downside is that you often find yourself loitering in shadowy areas waiting for your health bar to replenish. Kudos though for end bosses that require more than a pummeling as actual deliberation and planning is necessary to overcome their brute force.
But Wolverine’s Revenge is about much more than claw marks as stealth and exploration often take front stage. As Wolverine infiltrates his way through the high-security facility where he was ‘created’ there are many scenarios that recall, but never quite reach the excellence of, the stealth of the acclaimed Thiefseries. Possibly though, a steady diet of Marvel comics as a teenager allowed me to enjoy playing as Wolverine much more than had it been some arbitrary character with which I have little emotional involvement.
The puzzles are not such that pure action gamers will be running from the room holding their throbbing temples, but nor are they brain busters - after all, this is a game about having fun and making progress. Cracking security codes, activating – or deactivating – power switches, planning escape routes – it’s mostly garden variety stuff that utilizes the surrounding environment.
The graphics and control are both well-done and non-intrusive. Nothing exceptional, but nor did I ever find myself caught between walls or battling a poor camera angle. If anything, there are way too many scenarios that occur in drab, unimaginative corridors.
Still, this game is an almost perfect mixture of puzzles, stealth and action that make it a nice light, summer play for the superhero action/adventure aficionado. X2: Wolverine’s Revenge is much like playing a Marvel comic rather than reading it and I really can’t think of any higher praise.