For the first five hours Wolverine is brilliant. There’s nothing particularly original or inspiring about it – it’s just loads of vicious, bloody, stupid fun. It craps all over recent travesties such as Iron Man, Watchmen and The Incredible Hulk and proves that film spin-offs can be decent if the developers put the effort in. But then it starts repeating itself. The same enemies, puzzles and locations are wheeled out time and time again, meaning the excitement quickly gives way to familiarity and boredom. But those first five hours almost make it worth it, for a range of reasons that we’re about to explain.
Making things die in this game is a ridiculous amount of fun. The thrill of being a super-fast, super-strong, virtually indestructible mutant with retractable, razor-sharp claws is captured perfectly by the slick, dynamic combat. The simple God of War-style combos aren’t anything we haven’t seen before – heavy attacks, light attacks, throws – but it’s the sheer speed and brutality of Logan’s moves that make the game so appealing. He literally tears through enemies, slicing off their arms and legs, cutting them in half, driving them into walls and impaling them on surrounding scenery.
But it’s the lunge ability that we love the most. Lock onto a nearby enemy (or not-so-nearby, that’s the beauty of this attack) and then fling yourself towards them. Then, depending on what combo you use, you’ll either slash at them with your claws or pick them up and toss them – either into other enemies or handily-placed skewers. A light attack will enable you to repeatedly slam your claws into their chest, while a heavy attack sees Logan leap into the air and slam them into the goon’s face in slow-motion as he pleads for mercy. Like we said; this game is terrifyingly brutal.
In fact, it’s even rated higher than the movie. And it makes the most of its adult rating at every single opportunity, especially during the mid-level cutscenes. Occasionally, an action you perform such as jumping over a bridge or lunging at an enemy) will then segway seamlessly into a cutscene.
They’re like quick-time events without the brainless button-bashing and some of them are hilariously violent. For example, in an early level Wolverine leaps onto a helicopter, pulls the pilot out and shoves his head into the spinning rotors, jumping off at the last second as the helicopter spirals to the ground and crashes. In another, he impales an enemy on the end of a gun emplacement then turns it on the rest of his buddies, Rambo-style. These bits are a pleasure to watch rather than intrusive and they’ll have you punching the air and whooping with delight. They could have been a bit more interactive though.
But, as we mentioned earlier, the fun doesn’t last. The game tries to keep the combat varied by offering up enemies that have to be killed in certain ways. There are robot spiders that fire missiles you have to whack back with your claws to destroy, guards with shields you have to get behind to damage and giant rock monsters you have to lunge at and then attack before they swat you away like a tiny, hairy fly.
These foes make for entertaining battles the first few times you encounter them, but the developers insist on making you fight them over and over until all the fun is stripped away and you find yourself going through the motions. Same goes for the puzzles and level design. Again, they’re fine for the first few hours, but get repeated ad nauseam. It’s a long game, clocking in at about 12 hours, but we can’t help but feel there’s more game here than there are ideas to fill it.
But at least it looks consistently nice, with visuals way beyond what you’d expect from a blockbuster-accompanying, film tie-in. The majority of the game takes place in the African jungle, but you’ll also visit the snowy barrens of Canada and the secret underground Weapon X laboratory where Logan first gets his adamantium skeleton. Wolverine himself looks incredible with a spot-on Hugh Jackman likeness. But best of all, as you take damage or get shot at, your skin tears in real-time, revealing your metallic skeleton glinting below. Then, as your health restores, you see the wounds heal and regenerate. It’s a really impressive effect and also a useful visual indicator of how your health is faring. In one level an air strike tears so much meat from your body that you’re basically reduced to a skeleton. Although your jeans miraculously never seem to take any damage. Hmmm.
The levels may be linear and the action derivative of a million other games that have preceded it (God of War, Onimusha, Genji, Dynasty Warriors, Devil May Cry etc.), but a surprising amount of polish, bold visuals and a decent story make Wolverine well worth playing, regardless of any preconceptions you may have about licensed titles. It loses appeal about halfway through, thanks to an over-reliance on recycling puzzles and enemies, but for those first few hours it’s viciously entertaining. It may be one to rent rather than buy, although you should add a few extra points if you’re a rabid Wolverine/X-Men fan. This is the first of many games featuring Logan as the hero that really give you the feeling of ‘being’ the world’s angriest mutant. Just a shame it’s so short-lived.
May 1, 2009