Publisher: Activision / Developer: Silicon Knights / Platform: PS3, Xbox 360

Have you ever played X-Men Legends? How you answer this question will go a long way in determining what you’ll think of X-Men Destiny. If you answered “no,” chances are you’ll find X-Men Destiny to be a fairly solid though not spectacular modern beat-em-up/brawler. You might even enjoy it, and consider it a pretty decent comic book game.

But if you answered “yes” to the above question, you’re probably going to feel like you’re playing a third-person behind-view version of X-Men Legends with half the features removed. The absence of a four person team not only means the game lacks multiplayer, but also makes it feel like you’re playing a version of the beginning “tutorial” level from X-Men Legends that lasts for the entire game. Except without the option to play as an actual X-Man.

Add to that other slightly more subtle details that have gone missing—like the removal of the ability to break random objects in your environment—and you’ve got a game that feels inferior to a previous console generation game. This isn’t X-Men Legends III, this is X-Men Legends Lite.

I really can’t emphasize enough how much I was hoping to enjoy this game. Not just as an X-Men fan of over two decades, but also as a fan of Eternal Darkness who was really hoping for this to be Silicon Knights big comeback after Too Human‘s disappointing reception. So it’s incredibly frustrating to see them put out a game that seems, frankly, unfinished.

The decision to not let you play as any of the X-Men is a curious one, but I do get what they were going for. By throwing you into the role of a new mutant just discovering their powers, rather than an established character, the idea is that it would theoretically immerse you more in the game, giving you a taste of what it’d feel like to fight side-by-side with these characters in this universe.

Which I think is a fantastic idea. It probably would’ve worked, too, if Silicon Knights had included the ability to create your character from scratch, for you to personalize and really make your own. Instead, you get to choose from a diverse group of pre-made characters that consists of: the white guy, an Asian girl, and the other white guy. Each character also comes with their own pre-existing backstory and character arc, just to make extra sure that you will never feel like the character is you.

This isn’t to say that the game is completely devoid of customization. At the beginning you are given the choice of pursuing one of three possible ability trees, depending on how you want to go melee/tank, ranged, or a rogue/assassin. Additional abilities within the tree are gained at specific story points, where everything stops and you’re asked to make a choice on the spot. Thankfully, they do a decent job of describing your options.

You can also give your character additional abilities by equipping “X-Genes,” which give you the abilities of specific X-Men characters, on top of your normal abilities. Except that by becoming a strange mish-mash of multiple mutants, it sort of makes them feel even less unique and distinct as a character. However, if you collect all three “X-Genes” of a particular character and their unique costume variation, you’ll gain an additional power that transforms you into essentially a second-rate sidekick version of the character, the closest you’ll get to playing the game as an actual X-Man.

The idea of choice also extends into the story itself, where you’re required at several points to side with one character or the other. Depending on choice you made, your alignment will shift closer the X-Men or Brotherhood. Unfortunately, it turns out the bar is only for show; late in the game you’re asked directly whether you wish to join the X-Men or Brotherhood, and that choice is the only one that actually decides what side you end up on. Any indication that your choices have any actual impact on the story itself is similarly an illusion.

But at least the story must be pretty good, since it’s written by Mike Carey (X-Men: Legacy, Hellblazer), right? Strangely, no. Which makes me wonder if there were sections of his script that were rewritten, because I normally really like his work. That, or at some point he just stopped taking the story seriously. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for lines like a newscaster in the intro stating, “The economy collapsed because of all those natural disasters,” or a villain later on declaring that the reason he was trying to mind-control everyone was so he could bring peace to San Francisco…and from there, the world.

The problem is, not only is the writing complete rubbish, but the X-Men Legends-style dialogue trees are unskippable. After awhile, I found myself just clicking “Goodbye” instead of bothering with any of the other options, because it was mostly all just exposition and character background info anyways.

Also: why does Gambit suddenly have themed henchmen like some kind of Batman villain?

But for the scenes you do have to watch, I recommend turning on subtitles for a little additional entertainment, because they don’t always match up with the audio. My favorite is when my character shouted “Oh no!,” while the subtitle said, “That’s a lot of tin cans!” And if you think that sounds like a sign of an unfinished game, wait until you get to that one scene near the end where the frame rate suddenly plummets to single-digits.

And I haven’t even talked about the gameplay yet. Levels consist of fighting your way through increasingly larger waves of enemies, broken up by tedious boss battles that sometimes made me glad to get back to the repetitious waves of smaller enemies.

As harsh as I’m being on the game, I should stress that there are at least a few things I think X-Men Destiny did right. One even brought a smile to my face:

Right after I received a new power late in the game that allowed my character to turn into a large rocky golem for a limited amount of time (which made the game much more entertaining), I did a huge ground smash that resulted in an achievement popping up which declared: “This can’t be happening!” (A reference to Eternal Darkness.)

I also like the way that the lines of text like “Great Combo!” that appear actually float in place over the battle, as if existing in the same space. It’s a very dynamic and stylish effect, though kind of wasted by the way it usually only displays a message about how many enemies are left to defeat.

And I was pleasantly surprised by the end credits, which featured a mini-game that let me continue to beat up random enemies while the credits rolled. It became fairly boring quickly, but the general concept of an end credits mini-game is something I’d love to see show up in more games.

Unfortunately, none of this makes up for X-Men Destiny being an unfinished release that not only feels like a previous gen game, but is actually inferior to a particular related previous gen series. If you’re wanting some sort of X-Men videogame, I recommend spending your money on (or replaying) X-Men Legends instead. Your time (and money) will be better spent.