I’m constantly dismayed that the more popular Wolverine gets, the farther he moves from his original concept. Don’t get me wrong, now – yellow and brown spandex can never return and I won’t shed tear one – but Logan’s character used to be different. He was feral, primal, animalistic, and raw; the sort of guy that would just as soon tear a man’s head off with his own teeth as his handy claws. The latest X-Men movie certainly made overtones in this regard but we see how well that turned out. X-Men Origins: Wolverine rectifies these years of Wolverine’s absence with a splendid return to form. While the game has pacing and repetition issues, it’s a great beat-em-up thanks to old fashioned jaw-dropping cry-of-disgust-inducing violence.
I’m not kidding about that violence either. Here’s an example – Wolverine jumps on a helicopter, punches out the windshield, hurls the driver out, and instead of merely tossing the guy to the ground, he shoves his head up into the helicopter blades. It’s so unnecessary but so, so enjoyable. Fighting on the ground is just as brutal, as Wolverine will gladly tear off a man’s arm and use it to club his head off at player’s behest. Don’t take that to mean you’ll be tearing off appendages with ease from the get-go however. Wolverine’s controls are complicated. Performing a basic dodge requires holding the left and right triggers and pressing a direction on the control stick, while lunging at an enemy (an important action – more on that later) requires first locking on with the left bumper, then pressing the right. Players will dash when they want to block, and bring up a special skill menu when they want to dodge. This makes the first few hours of Wolverine clumsy and confusing.
Though they take a bit of practice, mastered controls do a great job enabling the player to become Wolverine. The lunge is instrumental, which allows players to lock on to an enemy and then dive at them across great distances. Most fights revolve around lunging at an enemy, doing something really terrible to him, and then lunging to the next poor sucker. This creates a series of terrifically one-sided fights with Wolverine dashing around, reducing enemies to piles of organic stuff. The flip-side is that most of the fights are incredibly easy – creating an experience similar to Dynasty Warriors or Diablo. You’ll feel powerful and badass, but after a while dispatching enemies takes on all the splendor of folding laundry. It’s still fun due to the violence and sensation of power but not fresh or mentally challenging.
The game’s enemies and environments don’t liven things up either. There are about as many enemies in the game as you have fingers on your hands, and half as many environments. Add to this that the game is long for a beat-em-up – about 10-12 hours – and most environments wear out their welcome before the game moves on. At least players won’t artificially extend their stays by getting stuck. Wolverine has "feral senses" which highlight intractable objects and provide a pointer to the next objective. Additionally, his health recovers quickly (duh), so players will only die when they do something exceptionally stupid.
Unless the point hasn’t been driven home yet, the game’s best visuals are in its gore. Claw strikes leave ribbons of blood and enemies dismember terrifically. Special mention needs to be made of Wolverine’s character model. Damage is represented real-time on the mutant – bullets leave actual holes, explosions shred off flesh, and swords expose bone and muscle as it happens. As you’d expect, the skin heals back over time, but seeing Wolverine’s ribs and skull poking out while he claws a poor sucker’s head off is a video game first. Environments range from normal to great but undeniably feature Unreal Engine 3 softness.
As special mention needs to be made of Wolverine’s damage modeling, I must also call out the hilariously awful story. The problem here doesn’t lie with the source material (I mean it does but that’s a job for another reviewer). Only a few scenes in the game tangentially refer to the movie, while the rest is very loosely based around some of the movie’s quotable lines. Obviously Raven got a few notes about the movie in advance and had to hastily tie it in as quickly as possible once the movie’s story solidified. What results is a plot that is entirely unintelligible without knowledge of the movie and equally bad having seen it. That being said, this is a game where you shove a man’s head into a rotating ventilation fan, so obviously the game wasn’t looking at developing a strong fan fiction community.
The game’s timed release with the movie has another consequence. Wolverine has several glitches, though few of them are game-breaking. Occasionally the camera will pop through a wall and show nothing but sheet metal, or an enemy will glitch through a wall and be unkillable (preventing player progress). Nothing prevented me from sailing through the game, but little reminders here and there show that the game shipped a month or two too early.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is just like its titular character – brawny, brutal, and devoid of intelligence. This game won’t increase your IQ, flex your tactical muscles, touch you emotionally, or challenge your perceptions of life and love. It will, however, make you recoil and shout "AWWW" when Wolverine slices a man from head to toe, filleting him like a trout. Players that want to become Wolverine – that want to rip through enemies with ease with all the power and fury of an animal – will finally realize their dream. The Beasts and Xaviers out there looking for an intelligent challenge – keep looking.