REVIEW: X-Men: Destiny


I’m what people would refer to as a “X-Men fanboy”…I’ve been following their exploits on and off since I was about six years old. In fact, one of the brightest tattoos on my body is the Xavier School for Gifted Mutants logo.

Yes, I’m well aware it was permanent. And oddly enough I’m not living in my mother’s basement, and I somehow sidestepped being saddled with a lisp. But there it is. Marvel fanboy, quite literally dyed in the wool.

Slightly below that, I’m a Silicon Knights fanboy. Oh yes. I’ve been on the SK bandwagon since Legacy of Kain. Silicon Knights is the team that brought you the critically acclaimed Twin Snakes as well as the third-person game-changing Eternal Darkness, which is still one of the 5 best games I’ve ever played in my life.

But I digress.

So X-Men: Destiny gives me the chance to marry my love of Silicon Knights with my love of comics? Sign me up!

And let’s be honest: since X-Men: Legends (and to some degree, Marvel Ultimate Alliance), fans have been waiting for the be-all, end-all ORIGINAL Marvel game (IE, not riding a summer blockbuster’s coattails).

Well, X-Men: Destiny ain’t it.

In fact, after talking/gushing extensively to Denis Dyack back at Activision’s KICK ASS San Diego Comic Con event, I was squirming to pick this game up. And don’t kid yourself: I didn’t build myself up for something unrealistic. I’ve become the very definition of “jaded fan”, in fact, I’d even crown myself the reviewer equivalent of Statler and Waldorf.

"Did you say 'movie tie-in'?" "BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

That being said, I don’t hold a game to any more than is promised. Is it a new take on the X-Men license?

Hell yes.

Is that a good thing?

Not necessarily.

X-M:D has you jumping into the rather uncomfortable shoes of a mutant that’s both discovering themselves…and being discovered. You can pick Adrian Luca, a mutant-hating son of a Purifier (a violent anti-mutant, human supremacist group) that was “murdered”; Aimi Yoshida, the daughter of an Asian mutant that’s shipped to America to both avoid internment and discover herself; or Grant Alexander, a jock that shows up at the rally with high hopes of playing college football–and his friends are looking to score “mutant growth hormone” to help ‘em on the gridiron.

"This is WAY better than being a right tackle!"

From there, regardless of who you pick, you’ll have your powers manifest during an attack on a peaceful mutant gathering. Your power choices are “density control” (brawler), “energy projection” (ranged) or “shadow matter” (mid-range fighter). And let me just tell you: energy projection is a waste of time. Don’t do it. And it’s fairly obvious which power is supposed to go to which character: Aimi = energy projection, Grant = density control and Adrian = shadow matter.

And to be honest, it really doesn’t matter who you pick: some conversation elements will shift slightly, but it’s obvious that 85 percent or more of the conversations were designed to fit with any of the three. As Adrian, for example, mutants will be shitty towards you in one sentence, and warm and inviting the next.

If you read our interview with Denis, you know that the most bandied element of Destiny was “branching storyline”…and it does deliver that–just not in the capacity you’re expecting. Imagine if you begged your parents to take you to the zoo, and they ended up bringing you to a traveling carnival petting zoo instead.

There are animals, right? Then shut up and stop crying.

To be honest, that’s what X-M:D feels like. In the first 20 minutes of the game, you’ll encounter both Nightcrawler and Mystique: you’ll listen to them both, then you’ll choose what side to aid…and you can’t abstain your vote.

The problem is, no matter what you choose, it never really feels like you’re making a moral stand. I mean, the Brotherhood/Magneto are always going to come across shitty, and the X-Men/Cyclops are always going to come across as welcoming. I swear. I did two full playthroughs as both “bad” Aimi and “good” Grant, and without giving anything away…

Fuck it.

You still end  up fighting Magneto regardless of how “bad” you try to be. And when I played as Aimi, I TRIED to be the vilest villain out there…and everyone still loved me. For the most part.

At least it’s better than when I played as Adrian, and Cyclops made me into a tranny.

No joke.

I was being “good” the first go-round as Adrian: I figured I’d play the reformed supremacist, a la American History X. When I joined up with the X-Men, within 40 minutes, Cyclops says “if the Brotherhood see that tattoo, they’ll tear you apart. Here, put this on to cover it.”

He gave me Psylocke’s outfit.

So let this marinate for a second: I went from this:

Are they trying to tell me something?

…to this:

Behold! Tranny Adrian!

So, armless stretch purple spandex is LESS obvious than a t-shirt and jeans? Oh, wait, they tied a purple bandanna around the Purifier tattoo. That TOTALLY makes me less obvious.

I mean, I get it: the X-Genes/costumes that you find around are random…but couldn’t ONE be scripted? Sheesh.

So anyway, after Adrian’s transvestitic adventures, I REALLY decided to test the system. Remember how I said any of the three powers is available for any character, so I decided to make Aimi the most low-down, black-hearted brawler that the Marvel universe has ever seen. And, well, it rather worked out. Of course, watching a 75-80 pound teenager spin around with Hulk-sized fists was hilarious.

No matter how much of a prick I played, I was shit on by the Brotherhood (despite being praised during cutscenes as “a strong warrior”). And even though you can consciously choose to side with the Brotherhood, anyone capable of reasoning will choose the X-Men, because the Brotherhood never give a truly compelling argument for being bad…they just come across as a pack of assholes. Literally, you feel a little dumber every time you side with them…and that just comes across as lazy storytelling.

Oh! A new mission from Cyclops! "Destroy 30 enemies." Aww man! Again!?!

On top of that, there are scenarios that are just ridiculous. So you discover your latent and awesome mutant powers literally hours before…and now Cyclops (or Magneto) is sending you into battle against enemies and bosses that the “seasoned” mutants are having trouble with.

Excuse me, Mr. Leader of the Good Guys: isn’t that presumptuous at best, and completely irresponsible at worst?

Note the confused look on Juggernaut's face? Yeah. I'm confused too.

A perfect example: Juggernaut will hammer your ultra-super-powered face flat in ~4 hits when you have to fight him in the boss battle, but when he’s acting as your AI-controlled backup, it’ll take him three passes to take down a single, unarmored Purifier.


And the game is riddled with AI/plot holes like this. Initially, you’ll be fighting against the mutant-hating Purifiers, but later you learn they’ve hooked up with the U-Men: humans that have synthesized mutant DNA into an injectable steroid.

This is John Sublime. Look familiar? No? It's because Sublime is a "businessman" in the comics. Ok, he's a symbiotic bacteria aimed at destroying mutants on the molecular level. Close though.

This isn’t an episode of Oz…and they certainly didn’t paint the Purifiers as anything less than two-dimensional supremacists…so why the change of heart? Oh yeah, they want to get rid of mutants too, right? Oh wait, they DON’T want to get completely rid of mutants, because they’re gonna synthesize more DNA? Got it.

Let’s talk for a moment about the Purifiers: they’re Tazer-sporting, Stormshadow/Cobra-lookin’ hooded “vigilantes” that are out for mutant blood. Okay. Got it. But how can they be completely identical? And more than that, how the fuck can there be so goddamned many of them? You will literally run into 5 enemy types throughout the game: Purifiers (tazer, rpg/molotov, and giant flamethrower), lumpy U-Men, the eXternals (briefly…and the fact that they’re reduced to Gambit’s brainless retainers is a damn shame) and miniboss-like giant robots that either look like humanoid, Gundam knockoffs (and one of the final fights is against a purple one that looks like Starscream) OR a cross between giant TMNT Mausers and ED-209.  That’s it. And the MOBS of Purifiers are almost laughable, because they’re identically dressed and trained. Like, if you’re not in the area of a ranged enemy, they’ll hang back behind cover until you pass their invisible trigger. U-Men and the taser Purifiers, on the other hand, will mob you in battle and slowly chip away at your health bar. Every. Single. Time.  But knowing that you have a bunch of faceless grunts to mow through in every battle can be nice, since it gives you a chance to create combos with your powers.


Or, rather, would be…if the fucking frame rate didn’t hover around 5-10fps whenever there are more than six enemies on the damn screen. Oh yes. You’ll hit a room with a mob of enemies, and when you start your combo, the frame rate will slow to a crawl. It makes gauging your button presses nearly impossible, and hit recognition goes right out the window. For example, I was fighting a room of Purifiers in a challenge mode and was so concerned with combo-ing them out quickly that I didn’t notice that my life bar was steadily draining. Turns out, just off camera, a flamethrower Purifier was pouring it on, and the flames never registered…but the damage sure did.

But the thing that makes me the most mad; the thing that REALLY frosts my cookies?

The combat system and the X-gene system are AWESOME.


X-genes are hidden throughout levels and/or can be acquired by completing in-game challenges. They allow you to socket an offensive, defensive and utility (and costume). If you get a full suite of X-genes and the costume for a single hero/villain, you can activate X-mode, where you’ll do character specific damage. For example,  if you have a suite of Wolverine’s X-genes, you’ll do more damage and get a healing bonus for the amount of time it’s active.

But the real fun is mixing and matching X-genes. For example, I took the offensive bonus of Toad (hits do extra poison damage), the defensive bonus of Surge (dash becomes an electrified attack to stun enemies) and the utility bonus of Pyro (R2+X = a neverending line of flames behind me that damage enemies). You can literally gather til your heart’s content and customize the shit out of your character. And that’s INCREDIBLY fun…just to find out what bonuses work best with what power.

That being said, finding or winning X-genes can be problematic…and that’s putting it lightly. Oftentimes, you’ll see the X-gene just out of reach during a cut-scene, and you won’t be able to grab it without restarting the entire chapter. Lame. And the challenges? Ha. They start out easy enough, but there comes a point (underground, shortly after the prison break) where you have a certain number of enemies to kill in a certain amount of time.


But they’ll saunter out at their own pace, and you’ll find yourself waiting in front of the gate they materialize in front of, just to try to make the damn number in time. Of course, then they throw a giant mech to all but ensure you won’t be able to finish before the timer runs out. That’s nice.

"Hope you didn't want that X-Gene TOO badly…"

You’ll find that X-M:D is littered with moments like these–there will be something cool that happens (Nice! I discovered a challenge room!), but then it will be completely overshadowed by something irreparably stupid (didn’t “win” the challenge, and I have to restart the whole level over to get back to it).

Oh, and I should mention the CGI segments. They’ll alternate between REALLY pretty and REALLY bland when switching between CG and the in-game engine…but not how you’d think. Sometimes, the in-game engine is dazzling and the CG looks bland and washed out, and vice-versa. Oh, and you can’t skip any of the conversations. Ever. So if there’s a cut scene or conversation between the save point and where you died, you have to sit through it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. It just adds more “punishment” time on to the already overdone loading times (~30-40 seconds).

I never understand “loading time” when you’re on a PS3…there’s a 8-10 minute install time when you first get X-M:D. How can the load times be SOOO long!?

Lastly, the NPC’s. You’ll encounter a suite of lesser-known characters from the X-Universe, including Pixie, Forge, Caliban, Pyro, (John) Sublime, Surge and Northstar. Of course, you’ll hit the fan-favorites: Magneto, Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Iceman, Colossus, Juggernaut and others.


They never really move beyond “go here and do this” as far as interaction. Sure, you can talk to them about their set conversation points, but it doesn’t ever “branch” in the traditional sense. You’ll ask about Purifiers and it’ll “branch” to a single, additional point (i.e. Purifiers –> Rally). But that’s it. You can actually bypass the conversations, unless they say “_________’s mission”…so they’re basically filler. I went above and beyond to side with the Brotherhood as Aimi, and I was dismissed for the most part.

It’s a bummer, because so many of the characters are so multifaceted, that seeing them reduced to two-dimensional talking heads seems like a waste. Sure, the dialogue in Marvel Ultimate Alliance was drawn out, but it was definitely added solid plot exposition.


+   Extremely well done mutant customization with the X-genes. It’s like dress-up for geeks!

+  The audio is FANTASTIC…when it’s not hiccuping

+   In game engine LOOKS really nice

+   Character models, overall, look really good (with a few exceptions, Emma: Quicksilver and Mystique)

+   Good variety of known and lesser-known people from the Marvel universe


-    Frame rate that goes from beautiful to slo-mo without warning

-    Unfinished textures and pop-ups on models and throughout the level

-   Forgettable characters and storyline

-   Excessive load time

-   Cheap “challenge” filler can make X-Gene acquisition painful

-    Collision detection bugs

-    Wonky camera

-   SEVERELY underpowered “range” attack is almost useless in swarms

Yup. Wielding Shadow Matter IS as cool as it looks…

Overall: 5.5

I wanted to champion X-Men: Destiny from the minute it was announced…but I just can’t. The whole experience feels rushed, incomplete and at 5-6 hours, it’s too damn short for an “action RPG”. On my first play through, I was wondering what would change when I decided to play as the “uber-good (prospective) X-man” in my second play…turns out, not much. Minor dialogue shifts and some new X-genes (because of the random placement) and a brightly colored suit. That’s it. There’s the old “look for unlock flags” replayability which will give you brief dossiers on all the mutants in the game, but between that and the hidden X-Genes, that’s all you really have to look forward to the second time around.

If you’re a diehard X-fan like I am, definitely give it a rent, if only for the mixing and matching of X-genes. Unfortunately, a six hour dress-up session doesn’t save what’s ultimately a flawed product. And that KILLS me, because I believe in Silicon Knights, and I was screaming from the mountain top that this was going to be their triumphant return. Hopefully, next time, I’ll be right.



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Author: Mick View all posts by

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