Marvel's merry band of mutants has a lot to prove. With superhero franchises soaring onto the Xbox 360 from every direction, the X-Men are only the first in a long line of comic-book-sourced videogames landing this year. And the fact that King Kong has already set a high standard for movie tieins lends added weight to fanboy expectation.
With both the summer blockbuster movie and videogame adaptation released now, it's not surprising that Activision wants to spread the game's release across as many consoles as possible. While assigning the game's development over eight consoles to five separate teams, the Xbox 360 version has falllen into the same batch as the PS2 and GameCube versions - and this has created an experience that looks and feels shackled by last-gen hardware.
The graphics of this third-person action adventure seldom rise above the levels of early multiformat launch games, and they only manage to impress during the game's closing stages. Even the occasional cut scene, sparkling with comic book styling and quality voice acting can't raise excitement.
Fans should note that the game serves as a narrative bridge between the second and final act of the cinematic trilogy, thankfully side-stepping any issues we had over it being the confusing mess of Enter The Matrix.
Despite rumours to the contrary, it isn't necessary to avoid this game before going to see the new film, as it manages to shirk spoiler-threatening plot reveals by introducing an entirely new storyline that follows directly on from the action depicted in X-Men 2. Familiarity with the second film is assumed and the script feels more like a way to wrap up dangling plot threads than anything else.
Developer Z-Axis has given each of the game's three main characters - Logan, Iceman and Nightcrawler - a radically different control method. Each of their sections also vary dramatically in style - keeping the action fresh. Where other titles may be built around a single gaming style - platformer, extreme sports or beat 'em up - at least here, there is good reason for it, as the three distinct game styles are attributed to each of the mutants' special powers.
Twelve of the levels will have you assuming the role of Wolverine, the toughtalking feral Canadian with three adamantium claws protruding from each hand. As benefits his character, the missions revolve around slicing through countless hordes of Hydra Troops, Dynasty Warriors-style, with some exploration thrown in for good measure.
The idea here is not in mindlessly racking up multiple-hit combos, but to take out all your enemies as efficiently as possible. One level set in a Japanese Dojo pitted us against over sixty foes in rapid succession. The Dojo level encapsulated all the best and worst aspects of Logan's missions - battling seemingly endless troops quickly descended from an initial sense of nostalgic button bashing into a never-ending chore of finger numbing boredom. The final boss fight cements the fact that these levels are a stylistic throwback to the gaming values of yesteryear with players having to learn attack patterns and jump in when their enemy's character animation finishes. It becomes predictable fast and dates the action terribly.
But thankfully, including a multi branching storyline means that particular feeling doesn't last for long as you are able to quickly flip between characters.
The remaining sixteen levels are equally split between X-Man-in-training Iceman and blue-skinned teleporter Nightcrawler aka Kurt Wagner. The marked difference between them is one of the game's better traits, keeping the experience consistently stimulating. It's also while playing with these other two characters that the action resonates with a more modern gaming style. Never setting foot off of his self created ice bridge, Iceman slides around levels that revolve around two themes, either chasing or escaping a threat while dashing from point A to point B, or destroying a set number of targets within a large open area - both usually within a strict time limit. There are moments when you feel genuinely excited - during a taut race along a security access tunnel, for example, as you weave between bombs, lasers and killer robots. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between, sandwiched between other simplistic sections that are a lot less challenging.