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X-Men Origins: Wolverine Hands-On

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We've been anxious to get our hands on Raven Software's upcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine game since getting the rundown on the promising game from our Australian compadres. As longtime comic-book fans, we've pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that Wolverine would likely always be neutered in some fashion as far as games were concerned. A slightly mental Canadian killing machine with a short temper, an indestructible metal skeleton with matching claws, and the ability to heal just about any wound doesn't fit into your standard game archetype. That said, Raven seems to be finding its way with its upcoming take on the mighty mutant. We had the chance to get our hands on a few levels of the Xbox 360 version of the game and were very happy with where Raven's going with the game.

We had the chance to try out four levels--Jungle, Alkali, Spillway, and Agent Zero--that let us get a proper feel for the upcoming M-rated action game. As we noted in our last look, Raven isn't shying away from Wolvie's penchant for slicing, dicing, and general goring. The jungle level was, wait for it, set in a jungle filled with mercenary types eager to perforate everyone's favorite Canadian mutant. The level is essentially the start of the adventure and featured the expected tutorial messages to walk you through Wolverine's move list. Although the game features an experience and leveling system that will amp up your various attacks and abilities, we're pleased to report that Logan doesn't feel neutered at the start of the game. You'll be able to kick butt with a respectable amount of bad assery using normal and heavy attacks, grabs, and, what is easily our favorite move, the pounce attack. The level kicks off with a cinematic that shows our boy heading off to a mission in a helicopter that is eventually shot down. At that point you take control of Wolverine as he falls to the ground in a pseudo-skydiving sequence, sans parachute. Thankfully, if you're able to aim your fall properly, your landing will be cushioned by an unfortunate merc who definitely should have stayed in bed that day. Once you're on the ground, you'll guide the clawed Canuck through the jungle, slicing and dicing your way through the enemy forces like a hot knife through butter. The action varies from down-and-dirty combat--which finds you facing mobs of foes that you deal with by using attacks, grabs, throws, and the environment (such as throwable or exploding objects as well as unique kill spots)--to stealthier bits in which you sneak up behind unsuspecting saps and gut them up close and personal.

The level also let us try out the incredibly satisfying finishing moves that reward timed button presses with shudder-inducing cinematics of gory death. Aside from the basics, the game features dodge and counter systems to let you avoid or reverse attacks. As if that wasn't enough, Wolverine's healing factor and enhanced senses are used very smartly. The healing factor does what you'd expect and heals a fair amount of the damage that you receive, letting you go toe to toe with some heavily armed enemies. That said, there are some limits to how much it can save you, and an onscreen bar will let you know if you've taken too much damage and have to hide for a bit to heal up. Once your healing-factor bar is whittled down, your proper health starts to go rather quickly when you're attacked, which can lead to death if you're not careful. Wolverine's enhanced senses, triggered by hitting up on the D pad, show you the world through a blue filter and let you see useful areas to climb, direct you where to go next, and even let you spot hidden or cloaked enemies. Honestly, we can't go on enough about how well all of the systems capture Wolverine's abilities. Unlike other games that have taken a stab, pun intended, at capturing the mutant, this one doesn't feel like it has compromised much for the sake of a game formula.

As you take out enemies in the various creative ways that the game affords you, you'll earn experience that will enhance different attacks, abilities, and attributes for the surly antihero. In the work-in-progress version of the game that we played, this also meant that Wolvie would spontaneously sprout a spanking-clean tank top every time he leveled, which was a funny sight to see. Given how much punishment he takes, Wolverine's clothes take a pretty hefty beating. As much of a badass as Wolvie is, gaining levels is essential because the enemies that you face become smarter and much more powerful, and some even have superpowers, which forces you to fight smartly as the game progresses.

The Alkali level found our boy punching his way out of a military installation (which is something he seems to do awfully frequently) and facing off against assorted soldiers determined to keep him in. The level is a bit further into the game and showed off the enhanced combo attacks that Wolvie can do. We have to say that we were really pleased by the flexibility of the combat system and the different death-dealing options available to the creative player. Timed deflection of bullets and unique pounce combos are very cool things that we discovered while playing.

The deflection mechanic is key for the Spillway level, which follows Wolverine as he tries to beat an oncoming rush of water by leaping onto moving jeeps that are also trying to get out of the rush of liquid. Pouncing your way from car to car is essential, but after a few cars your foes take to shooting rockets at you. Although the incoming projectiles are almost impossible to dodge, especially if you're in midpounce, you can clear your way through without much fuss if you wait until you're shot at and then simply deflect them back at your enemies. The timing on the deflection takes some getting used to, but it's a breeze once you master it.

The Agent Zero level plays a bit with the skydiving section that we saw at the start of the game and has you leaping in the air between moving helicopters. Though the concept is somewhat similar in spirit to the Spillway level, the gameplay is very different and fun. Once you make it onto a helicopter, you'll have to dodge gunfire from the pilots, who can pretty much guess what's coming once you land on their copter, and do enough damage to fell the vehicle. As the helicopter you're currently on goes down, you'll have to leap and control your fall to the next one. Pro tip for prospective players: avoid the rotors while landing, trust us. The last helicopter that you land on, with Agent Zero on it, changes up the mechanic some and has you shoving Wolvie's claws into the moving rotors to jack them up. The sequence is tricky but very satisfying when over.

As far as the story goes, the game has some ties to the movie but does its own thing in a number of places. The action is a mix of flashback and present-day events that follow chunks of Wolverine's unique life. Although we weren't able to get a full grip on what was going on because we jumped around a bit in the game for the various levels, suffice it to say that our boy has led a rough life. The dedicated CG cinematic sequences as well as the interactive cinematics in which you take control of Logan are looking quite good and should please comic and movie fans.

In terms of the game's look, the visuals are coming together greatly, with Wolvie looking very much like Hugh Jackman. This is especially true in the sweet cinematics done by Blur, the same group responsible for the movies in the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The environments and effects are all looking very sharp. We like the effects used for his enhanced-senses vision, and we can't go on enough about the inventive displays of gore, especially the finishers. The lovefest also extends to the way that the game shows off Logan's healing factor. Raven is using a procedural effect for how it displays on his body; you'll see him get progressively perforated, even to the point where there's some decent-sized holes in his skin that you can see through, exposing the adamantium skeleton. Once he starts to heal, the various wounds and holes will slowly close, shifting to gashes, then bruises, and then returning to normal. Not only does it look cool, but it also nails the way that his abilities have been shown in the comics. Key to our enjoyment of all of this has been the game's frame rate, which is fast and smooth. There's nothing worse than getting your killing groove on only to be brought to an awkward stutter by a choppy frame rate. That said, there are definitely some issues with the game's camera, which, if you go on a pouncing and killing frenzy, can make it tough to follow the action.

The audio is coming along well and serves as a good complement to the action. You'll hear plenty of satisfying snikts and claw effects as you go about your business. The same is true for weapon fire and ambient effects, such as grown men dying and some shouting of orders tossed in. The game's score definitely has a sweeping feel to it in spots, which is perfect for setting tone and harkens to the film. Hugh Jackman is on hand to voice Wolverine, which helps give the game that extra layer of cred.

Based on what we played, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the closest that we've ever seen a game come to delivering the Wolverine experience that we've wanted. The combat is brutal and fast, and his powers are represented authentically. Although we're hoping that the problematic camera can be tightened up, the sheer fun of gutting fools is there. Movie and comic-book fans will most definitely want to check out Wolverine when it ships this May for the Nintendo DS, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PSP, and Wii in time with the movie. Look for more on the game in the coming months.


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