E3 2011: X-Men Destiny preview – can customizable super powers make this a first class mutant mash-up?

Though various members of the X-Men have appeared in several games over the past few years, it’s rare for an X-game to show real ambition and experimentation – they tend to be more mid-budget, mass market fare. But with X-Men Destiny, developer Silicon Knights (Eternal Darkness, Too Human) is looking to up the ante and deliver a unique experience in both narrative and gameplay, with a story penned by X-Men Legacy writer Mike Carey and a design that bridges the gap between straight action and RPG elements. And while the game perhaps isn’t as lofty a project as, say, Too Human, the potential for an interesting take on the X-Men mythos is certainly present.

One of three new characters created exclusively for the game is a fifteen year old Japanese mutant named Aimi Yoshida. At the beginning of the demo, Aimi was chasing a courier who was racing through San Francisco’s Chinatown carrying an important cargo. Naturally, it ended in a physical confrontation. X-Men Destiny’s combat is what you might expect: using a range of fighting combos and light, medium and heavy attacks, it appears as simple as fighting your way through hordes of enemies.

At a glance, the brawling mechanics don’t appear terribly complex. However, there’s more going on here than you might initially realize. Rather than simply unlocking new moves as you gain experience, Destiny actually enables you to equip mutant powers from various X-Men you encounter in the game. This obviously produces different results in combat. Equip Quicksilver’s moves (X-Genes, as the game calls them) and you can speed around; take on, say, Surge’s abilities, and you’ll gain dominion over electricity.

Before you ask, although we know that the game takes place during the current X-Men continuity (in which the noble Professor X is dead), we’re not sure what’s happening in the story to make all of this gene injestion and power borrowing possible. But it’s an interesting idea that could keep the fighting from becoming to repetitive. For instance, at one point in the demo Aimi had to fight a scientist boss character who had injected himself with the extracted X-Genes of Colossus, Surge and Quicksilver, with monstrous results.

Of course, playing an X-Men game without seeing and interacting with the wide range of characters in the universe wouldn’t make sense, either. And the benefit here is that you can get more than their autograph. Meeting or rescuing certain X-Men throughout the game will often unlock access to their abilities, and certain mutants will also fight alongside you as allies in battle from time to time. The developers also alluded to conversational trees and further interactions with your mutant allies, though it remains to be seen how deep that element of gameplay is.

Your choices in the game culminate with what the developers are calling Destiny moments, which basically borrow a page from InFamous by enabling you to choose whether to align yourself with the cause of the benevolent X-Men or the more incendiary Brotherhood of Mutants. The choice shown in the demo had Aimi deciding what to do with an item that could help the Brotherhood create new genetically altered recruits for their mutant army. Gambit (who is currently working for the bad guys) wanted us to use it, and the morally-bound Colossus wanted it destroyed. When we chose Gambit, Colossus chided Aimi that there should be a difference between the good guys and the bad guys, and the developers assured us that whatever path you take will affect the branching paths of the larger narrative. In short, multiple playthroughs will yield different consequences, including the enemies you’re up against.

Destiny doesn’t hit stores until late this year, and it’s easy to see which bits are still under construction. The combat had some rough edges, with cookie cutter enemy swarms and little dynamic action aside from the comic book text that appeared on-screen during combo attacks. Environments also looked bland, and character models looked suspiciously similar to those in Wolverine’s movie tie-in game. Still, the X-Gene system is an interesting wrinkle on standard upgradable move sets. If the right balance between story, fan service, and action can be found, and if your in-game interactions with fellow X-Men are beefed up (side by side combat at the very least seems like a natural fit) there’s a real chance for Destiny to be something special.

Jun 9, 2011