Yesterday Activision held a playable demo session for X-Men Origins: Wolverine hosted by Dan Vondrak, the project lead for the dev team at Raven Software. After my hands on time, I have to borrow a phrase form Jigsaw, “Oh yes, there will be blood.”
If you’re a fan of Marvel Comics’ Wolverine (like me) you probably got a little bothered by all the previous video-game and film incarnations of the character. Old-schoolers might remember Adamantium Rage for the Sega Genesis from Acclaim or the more recent attempt X-2: Wolverine’s Revenge from Activision for the last generation of consoles. I’ll tell you now; I didn’t play either of those games. The one that stuck in my craw the most was Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of the Super Heroes. It just didn’t make sense. You’ve got a guy with six machetes coming out of his fists yet Chun-Li and Zangief and the rest of those meatsticks can just pull off a parry attack? It goes against the grain of the whole "Wolverine’s adamantium claws can cut through anything" myth.
Vondrak and the rest of the team at Raven threw the shiny-happy Wolvies of old that “punched” with his claws out the window. “We wanted to blow this game out, and make the best and most realistic Wolverine game to date. We wanted to put the Wolverine character in the real world, make it true and gritty. The blood, violence and brutality came with it.” Basically gamers will finally see what would happen if an army of men and the occasional mutant boss-character got in front of Wolverine’s claws. (They get cut into hamburger.) Given the movie tie-in to X-Men Origins: Wolverine from Fox and the nature of licensed characters (look no further than the namby-pamby finishing moves in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe) you would expect someone to pull the plug on the over-the-top dismemberment. According to Vondrak, “Some people were a little squeamish, but Marvel was into it. And we weren’t going to compromise on our vision.”
The gameplay reflects the Raven dev team’s resolve. The story picks up directly after the Weapon X program turned the man known as Logan into Wolverine by lacing his skeleton with adamantium. Thus the character hasn’t gone to Japan for his samurai finishing school or spent years with the X-Men trying to control his killer instinct. In this game Wolverine is a very, very rude man, and it shows.
The third-person action title kicks off in Africa. Wolverine is part of a strike team that includesVictor Creed (Sabretooth), Wade Wilson (Deadpool) and John Wraith (Kestrel). Gameplay begins as soon as a missile hits the strike team’s chopper, literally dropping you into the fray. From there it’s pretty much Ninja Gaiden-style hack and slash (only with much cleaner and brighter environments and a much better camera system). Multiple enemies armed with either melee or ranged weapons attack at regular intervals and inevitably get butchered. The combat features standard and heavy attacks combined with grabs that allow you to pick an opponent off his feet for a throw or snatch them out of the air and skewer them through the guts. Jumping into the midst of two or more enemies triggers multi-attacks that make sense within the context of the game. If Wolverine finds himself standing in a crowd, why wouldn’t he start sticking more than one person?
The "lunge attack" serves as Wolverine’s ranged weapon, allowing you to target enemies at various distances and elevations and traverse ravines and obstacles at the same time. Raven threw in four "fury" attacks -- basically Wolverine goes claws out and spastic -- to clear the room any time things get too hairy. You simply have to collect enough rage points, which are automatically absorbed from dead enemies by Wolverine, and then let it rip.
Wolverine’s regenerative powers come into play. You can clearly see the muscle and flesh growing back after you get hit by a shotgun blast or fall into the spinning rotors of a helicopter. The damages to his costume remain intact until you level up, gaining new attacks or abilities. For some reason his clothes fully regenerate at that point. You can bicker about “realism” all you want; the alternative is staring at a swinging dick for the remainder of the 12-15 hours of gameplay.
Wolverine’s vaunted sense of smell doesn’t really come into play but his feral senses help point gamers in the right direction -- hinting at walls to climb or objects to interact with in order to move the action along. And a nifty timing mechanic allows you to block projectiles and reflect them back on your enemies.
Probably one of the most interesting aspects about the game is its own origin. The developers at Raven started production before even getting approval, or even notifying Marvel. “It was something we believed that if we did it and we did it right, that everyone would just sign on,” said Vondrak. Raven did have a slight hedge on their bet admits Vondrak, “The success of the X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance series helped a little.” Raven’s gamble paid off handsomely when the Fox asked to have the game attached.
Vondrak wouldn’t reveal too much about the unlockables and characters appearing in the game other than the Blob, Gambit, Wade Wilson and Victor Creed. The demo featured Wolverine’s classic blue-and-gold costume and Vondrak said one boss battle will pit you against a 200-foot tall sentinel robot. How does Wolverine reach to top of a giant sentinel? With a patented "fastball special" maybe? “I cannot confirm nor deny the appearance of Colossus in the game, but I will say that Wolverine does not need help getting up a Sentinel,” said Vondrak.
The overall result is a game that will please action junkies and fans of the comic who want to see Wolverine really go to work for the first time. “This isn’t a candy-coated comic thing like Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Mr. Freeze. This is brutal. Nothing gets in Wolverine’s way.”