Welcome to the first installment of "Into the Red", a feature where a DarkStation writer will jump into a poorly reviewed game and try to find the good underneath the muck. My intentions for doing this are twofold; first, I truly believe that you can't appreciate the great works without being able to see how badly the same form of media can turn out and secondly, I want to try and find out what was so bad about the game and if those complaints still hold up today. For the most part we'll be sticking to current generation titles to keep things simple. In a world where critically acclaimed games like Bioshock: Infinite, Uncharted 3 and X-Com: Enemy Unknown exist there are also those titles we shun and try to not even wish upon our worst enemies. Was it the PR hype that made these games such flops? Are they simply broken? Or perhaps it's a culmination of all the little things, all working together to create something we just can't stand to play. For our first game I'd like to focus on one that received nearly universal dislike from the gaming world, X-Men: Destiny for the Xbox 360. X-Men: Destiny comes to us from the now non-existent studio Silicon Knights, makers of Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes and Eternal Darkness. The game currently holds a Metacritic score of 47. As a side note, I don't think Metacritic is the perfect system for seeing if a game is good or bad, hence this feature, but I do believe it gives a basic indication about how a group of reviewers feel about a game. Clearly, X-Men: Destiny is not a well liked game. Let's get into it.
In X-Men: Destiny you play as a brand new mutant who has discovered their abilities on the very day a horrible fight has broken out within the city. Player's have a choice of three characters; a jock, a shy immigrant, or a confident son of a Purifier (the bad guys). After picking your character, this is simply for dialogue and cosmetic reasons as there are no stat differences, you find yourself in a bit of trouble. It's here that you select one of three powers to help you bash your way through the game. The powers boil down to punching stuff, shooting energy, or controlling the shadows ala Prototype-like abilities. That's the basic setup for X-Men: Destiny, now let's get into what went wrong.
1) Hurry it up!
There has been a ton of news since the day of its release back in 2011 all the way through mid 2013 that X-Men: Destiny was a rushed project. I can't speculate or report about that being true or not, but the game sure as hell feels that way. There are a lot of moments that feel as though they should be so much more but instead the game falls flat on its face. For instance, the first scene where your character is in action almost has a cool cell-shaded effect going on, yet this effect appears nowhere else that I could see. It's as though the rest of the game lacks the one interesting look from a scene I actually found pretty enjoyable. This problem lends itself to a lot of the gameplay as well, it always felt as though I was being rushed from spot to spot in order to finish the next object ASAP.
2) Skeleton Story
Marvel has created an amazing universe with the X-Men, and it's one that is fleshed out through its character's interactions and back stories. Sadly, X-Men: Destiny refuses to acknowledge that amazing characterization that I've come to enjoy in the X-Men universe. My character, the Purifier's son with mutant powers, should have been twisted and uncertain about where he belongs in the world. He's this young kid who has been told by his father, day in and day out, that mutants are scum and to exterminate them is to clean the world of their mess. All of a sudden the kid has shadow blades shooting from his arms and within a few hours he's teaming up with Cyclops to help save the world. That really rubbed me the wrong way as the character had so much potential but instead he acts as though he's, well, in a videogame.
3)X X X Y
If there is one complaint that sores above the rest when it comes to X-Men: Destiny it's that the gameplay is completely shallow. Games like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance have set a precedent for making button-mashing combat fun and variable as the game goes on, X-Men: Destiny takes none of these lessons to heart and instead makes the same basic combos your go to moves all the way through. To their credit, there are some cool moments when you learn new abilities but the moments only happen 3 times throughout the game and the powers are not that big of a game changer.
As I said at the start, I am not here to bash this game and say that the review scores should be lower or more cruel or any of that. I actually think X-Men: Destiny has quite a few redeeming qualities going for it. First and foremost is the game's excellent voice-over cast and voice-over work. Character actors litter the credits and everyone from Nightcrawler to Cyclops to Caliban sounds pretty darn good. I enjoyed a lot of the voice work and it was one of the few times I was happy to let the characters talk and not skip through the cutscenes, even if they weren't saying anything important half the time. As mentioned earlier, the moments where you gain new abilities are done in interesting ways. Typically the fight seems to be turning in the enemy's favor when the action slows down and you're given a choice between two new abilities. This leads to a simple button press and you gain that ability. It's a neat touch that I found to be fun, although it happened far too rarely. The game is oozing with potential and that's what hurts so badly as I played through it. The story is very cookie cutter but it had the potential to be filled with twists and turns in a "who's good who's bad" kind of way. The same goes for the combat and character development as well, all missed opportunities.
The Final Verdict
I don't think it's possible to say that X-Men: Destiny is a good game, by any standards. It has a lot of potential and it realizes the X-Men universe to a certain degree but other than that it falls flat where it matters most. The combat is repetitive, the story forgettable and the character development non-existent. My time with the game was brief, I finished the main story in around 5 hours, and I think that's for the best. If I were to recommend this game I would do so in a two part prescription. First I'd recommend playing X-Men: Destiny from start to finish as it is a quick play and the game costs around $15 now on Amazon. This would be the pallet cleanser, a way to lower expectations down. The second part of the prescription would be Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, yes this game was released in 2006 but I'll be damned if it doesn't hold up exceptionally well. It gets all the combat right and has a ton of characters to play and customize. Playing low-scoring games can help you appreciate what else is out there even more. We have a truly large surplus of great games coming to us each year and taking the time to try the ones that didn't score so high can be an excellent way to reset your expectations and enjoy a great title all over again.