After years of rushed movie-based games it's impossible not to feel a little like Pavlov's dogs: we hear 'film tie-in' and immediately think 'generic cash-in'. It's a natural reaction. Such stereotypes are always ignored come review day of course - every game is judged on its own merits after all - but invariably they turn out to be pretty close to the mark.
Wolverine's different. With the game first uncaged only when retail copies arrived we expected otherwise, especially when early frame rate and freezing issues marred the opening act. Initially it just further enforced what a rarity cover game Batman: Arkham Asylum is - a licensed product which can stand next to the likes of Gears 2 and hold its own. What Wolverine eventually did, however, is prove that licensed games needn't always equal this Grade A standard to fulfil their potential.
For the majority of its generous length Wolverine's a combat-heavy action game. A few disparate features are pulled into the mix - mounted turrets, Crash Bandicoot platforming and basic puzzles - but X-Men Origins: Wolverine's main premise is simple: you versus swathes of enemy fodder and the odd unimaginative, repetitive boss. The hallmarks of the usual tie-in rush job are ever-present.
Thanks to a fair few invisible ledge extensions Wolverine's never quite one with his surroundings, the frame rate's choppier than a North Sea crossing and certain levels suffer heavily from cut-'n'-paste syndrome.
But the unflinching combat and superlative presentation rescues Logan's feral jaunt through jungles and secret laboratories. Light attacks, heavy attacks and grabs are all dealt out by the face buttons, with new moves made available every few minutes thanks to a fast-paced experience tree. Block before a hit strikes and the action will slow to a crawl, letting you slice your opponent's limbs clean off. Grabbing and unleashing a couple of precision-timed heavy attacks, meanwhile, will result in eviscerating moves and a gore-splattered screen.
It's the injection of pace granted by Wolverine's leaps which propel combat above that of most other bash-'n'-slashers. With a simple lock-on and jump-to mechanic kills can be chained with ease. Chop a head off here, toss a body off a chasm there, leap and toss one body while preparing to clawspin into the soldier standing next to the lump of meat you're currently mauling... rooms of goons can be robbed of their pulses within seconds once Logan's combat skills are mastered.
All the while, the camera spins and zooms for the goriest fatalities. Grab an enemy near one of the many interactive environmental objects and it'll pull in close as Logan tosses the body into the air and slams it down onto a metal spike. Better yet, during select sequences, action will seamlessly hop between cut-scene and the game - a jeep-top scrap through a spillway jumped between on-rails and action sequences while a wall of water approached with frightening speed. If any game has truly mastered the effect of cinematography it is, incredibly and in spite of its other shortcomings, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Yes, it's true that Raven's game shares none of the polish of Arkham Asylum. The world is a shadow of that created by Rocksteady, the lead character has less of a presence, the enemies are there to be cut down not hunted, and so on. Instead Wolverine relies on a couple of key ingredients to linchpin the adventure (similar to Wanted, although here Logan actually stays his welcome), elements which are so gripping Wolverine doesn't really need much else to be called a success. Spread the word: with four good tie-ins in two months, 2009 is the year of the licensed game. Now time to roll on the Aliens titles...
Forget the censored movies, this is the real Wolverine: gore, guts, blood and huge great sideburns.
- Admirably Visceral
- Madworld brutality
- Frame rate and freezing issues