Unresponsive combat controls. Inattentive camera. Overly long and complicated levels. No save points. Mysterious, sudden deaths.
That's the recipe for a crap game, and X2: Wolverine's Revenge has all that tucked inside one of the nicest presentations possible. It's like one of those big jungle plants that lure in small animals with a sweet scent but then boil them alive in jungle plant acid.
First of all, understand that I don't play bad games. So if this comes off harsh, it's because I'm comparing Wolverine's Revenge to bona fide GameCube hits like Super Mario Sunshine and Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I'm sure this game would look great compared to one of those $10 PS1 titles. But I don't have the luxury of buying crap.
Fun Fact #1: X2: Wolverine's Revenge has nothing to do with the movie X2: X-Men United, despite using "X2" in the title and featuring Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman on the cover! Consider that your off-the-shelf warning that the game's developers are trying to pull one over on you!
Wolverine's Revenge has Wolverine tracking down the antidote for the Shiva Virus, which - according to the Beast's scientific calculations - is going to kill Wolverine on his birthday. I'm serious. So Wolvie must infiltrate and investigate the Weapon X facility, the Void prison complex, and other locations straight from Marvel Comics. Along the way, he gets help from his X-pals Beast, Colossus and Professor X; has boss fights against villains like Sabretooth, Wendigo, Juggernaut, Magneto; and mercilessly kills hundreds of low-level near-identical human sentries.
As a comics fan, you can't ask for more adherance to the source material. Even Wolverine's character model looks right out of a comics panel. The coolest unlockable bonus is alternate Wolverine costumes, including the original yellow-and-blue, orange-and-tan, and the modern Ultimate version. Although having the phrase "Pleased Comic Book Fans" on your tombstone probably isn't going to mean much in the end.
Because Wolverine's Revenge is a frustrating mess of a game. It's all the more frustrating because there is some genuine great moments and some cool ideas... just implemented horribly.
Wolverine himself is tailor made for video game stardom. And on the surface, X2 does a fine job of utilizing his mutant powers. Healing factor... Wolverine continually heals when his claws are sheathed. Enhanced senses... holding down L enters stealth mode, where Wolverine can see farther, track thermal footprints, and locate enemies by scent. Acrobatic fighting skills... combat includes several attack combos plus a randomized series of STRIKE! moves that showcase particularly gruesome and stylized super-heroic kills. Uncontrollable berserker rage... a rage meter fills as you take hits; when it tops off, the screen goes into a motion-blur and your speed and attack power briefly increases. Adamantium claws... obviously, although they come down to nothing more than a stronger punch attack.
Looking back, it was the stealth stuff that convinced me to pick up the game. And it certainly is a well-executed feature. (Perhaps the only one.) To simulate Wolvie's abilities, stealth mode puts the entire level through a blurry orange filter. The orange lightens everything, so you can actually see more while in stealth... and that excuses some of the terribly over-darkened levels present in the game. Like infrared, you'll see enemies as dark figures so they really stand out against the orange. You can indeed track the thermal signatures of footprints, so you can see enemy walking patterns... and the game uses the footprint trick to lead you down particular paths if you're looking for a specific item or person. Each human also gives off a scent, visible in stealth mode as a green haze, so you can follow the stink to find guys hiding around corners or inside any maze-like levels.
To encourage use of this mode, Wolverine can perform special stealth kills. A stealth kill - usually prompted by a STRIKE! notice or an odd Wolverine shadow previewing the kill - will net you the victim's dog tag. Collecting dog tags is the only way to unlock the more advanced STRIKE! moves for use in normal combat. Stealth kills are usually performed when an enemy has his back to you or by leaping out from around a corner. There's quite a bit of Metal Gear homage going on there.
STRIKE! moves initially come off as a pointless (but cool looking) distraction, but the successful use of STRIKE! moves will make or break you late in the game. In order to STRIKE!, you have to hit the X button when you are in a STRIKE! position. You'll know when you are because the word STRIKE! will appear on the bottom of the screen, plus little arrows will appear on the floor to illustrate the enemies you're intended to attack. The four unlockable levels of STRIKE! moves all begin with the X button but chain with the Y button (X-Y, X-Y-X, X-Y-X-Y) to choose moves from a different level. You only choose the level however, and the actual move performed is chosen randomly from the four attacks associated with each level.
The combat, and the STRIKE! moves, is at the heart of this game's problems. Wolverine is extremely unresponsive, partly because his animations are so long. Hammer the kick button six times and you're likely to only get three kicks in. Both kicks and punches have that annoying habit of inching Wolverine forward, so you have to constantly correct yourself from getting surrounded. That, plus the enemies ability to shove you around with their own attacks, means that your window to trigger the STRIKE! move can be ridiculously small as Wolverine moves in and out of the magical STRIKE! position. It's very easy to miss that window but still be attempting the STRIKE! X-Y-X-Y combo, meaning that Wolverine just jumps up and down in place while getting beat on.
Fun Fact #2: Although Patrick "Movie Professor X" Stewart is the voice of Professor X, Mark "Not in the Movie" Hamill is the voice of Wolverine! He does a fine job, adding a mature, philosophical bent to the typically gravelly Wolverine oeuvre.
But combat's biggest failing is the lock-on. If you attack an enemy, you automatically lock-on. In a one-on-one fight, this is usually fine, but when you're facing two, three or six guys at once, it's a gigantic failure. Breaking the lock is almost impossible, forcing you in combat with one unarmed baddie while five guys with laser guns shoot you. No healing factor can get you out of that situation. Clicking L is supposed to break the lock - and it does - but if the enemy attacks you before you can get clear of him, the lock is instantly re-established.
One of the first things you learn about the grunts of Wolverine's Revenge is that you need to get them to drop their weapons as soon as possible. Wolverine can easily hold his own in hand-to-hand, but he dies right away when three guys are shooting at him. So whenever you meet a knot of baddies, your first priority is to disarm them with a single punch or kick. This leads to lots of frustration as you rush one guy to make him drop his gun, attempt to break the lock so you can kick another guy... but fail, and end up locked back on to the first guy while his partners empty G.I. Joe laser bullets into your hide. Any situation with three or more enemies is a possible level-ender thanks to this craptacular lock-on problem.
The way out of those situations is threefold. You could hope you get lucky and you can break your lock easily. You could use the hit-and-run strategy, where you kick one guy and then run back to a safer area, because the guy you kicked will follow you. Or you could get good at the STRIKE! moves, because they are tailored to take out several guys at once. I think the game intends you to do the latter, but the unreliable nature of the STRIKE! sweet spot makes it difficult.
Boss fights are another victim to the floating STRIKE! position. All the bosses are nigh unbeatable, except for one special angle where you can trigger a specialized STRIKE! move. But as you can imagine, it's tough to find, and the game doesn't help you out at all. One standout disaster is the final STRIKE! kill in the second Sabretooth boss fight. When Sabretooth gets down to his last sliver of life, he starts jumping into the air and creating fireball rings when he lands. (Uh, what?) You have to get directly under his landing to hit the STRIKE!, but if you're off by a smidge in any 360 degree direction, you get no STRIKE! and instead receive a fireball in the face. Believe me when I say that I got incredibly lucky on that one.
And in just about every boss fight, the STRIKE! will screw you as much as it helps you. You'll get into STRIKE! position against Wendigo and miss the split second timing. You'll rush Juggernaut but get caught up in freaking useless slashing animations and miss your STRIKE! spot. And then there will be times when you will be in STRIKE! position, you'll hit the X button, and the game still won't give you the attack. DIE BLOODY DEATH $&*!ING GAME DIE DIE DIE.
Of course, Wolverine's healing factor is the ultimate balancer for cheap hits and slow controls... because if you can hide, you can heal all the way back up. Sounds great, but it has two ill effects. It completely ruins the game's fast action pace. And it makes long levels even longer as you attack, wait/heal, attack, wait/heal.
And boy are these levels long. Far too long. You can spend an hour on some levels, particularly if you're trying to be stealthy and/or spending a lot of time healing.
The levels have some serious design problems that can cause instant deaths to the unwary. Like the open elevator shaft you can fall down. Dead. Or accidently killing the helpful scientist. Failure. Or even just walking into an area where the enemies are all hiding above you unseen. Take three steps, get lit up by four turret blasts, and you're dead. Now you must re-do the entire level. And no, the in-level cutscenes are not skippable. In most cases, you have absolutely no warning. You just die. RESTART LEVEL? YES/NO Wolverine howls in agony when he dies, and so will you. Having to replay a forty-five minute level ten times because of cheap enemy attacks and instant misstep deaths sucks beyond all reason.
Each level is just one disaster after another: you'll go from controlling a ridiculously low-shielded robot down a corridor of highly talented enemies (and if your robot dies, you might as well turn off the game), to a room with a locked door and no keycard in sight (and never in sight, Wolvie just randomly gets it for no reason whatsoever), to a fight against Juggernaut where you can die while in standing-up-from-a-fall-animation, to a shooter level where soldier laser guns are more devastating than a helicopter missile (and the soldiers are exactly the same color as the background: black), to fighting Magneto in a massive arena with no STRIKE!s, no radar, no healing, no powerups, and Magneto's newfound ability to kill you while he is on the other side of the room picking his ass.
This game could have been 300x better with one simple inclusion: save points. Position a save point after every other level objective. Or add in a menu to contact goddamn Professor X for a save. You could put up with the lousy controls, long levels, the flighty camera, and nearly everything else if only you didn't have to repeat entire levels so often and so unnecessarily.
Oh yeah, the camera. I'll leave it at this: Most of the time, especially in close quarters, the camera has no idea where you are headed and no interest in finding out. You can rotate it manually, but it is slow and backwards. It is particularly painful manipulating this camera after coming from the wonderful camera of Wind Waker. But again, there I go comparing a mediocre $50 game to a near-perfect $50 game.
Fun Fact #3: There's some hidden items to collect, including Cerebro audio files, the aforementioned costumes, and stealth kill dog tags. I'm sure you get some GREAT reward for finding everything, but I would rather bury the game in the backyard than subject myself to multiple playings.
This is a very difficult game, but it isn't due to challenging level design. It's due to crappy level design, cheap enemy attacks and a general sense of confusion. When the combat and the camera both work against you, you have a game with severe issues. It should be full of fast action, but instead you get dicey controls, too long levels, and drawn-out fights against even the lowest of enemies.
It's been a long time since I was this mad at a game. Stay away from it.