Singularity

Sam reviews… Wolverine Origins

Oct.18, 2009, filed under games, Miscellany, Reviews

Wolverine: Origins, Uncaged Edition

It’s not usual for me to review a game before I’ve finished it, but I’ll make an exception today because Frood is busy with Quantum of Solace (which is just Mace Griffin with an English accent).

First of all, let’s just do the wibbly-wobbly flashback thing. Imagine everything going a bit blurry like the teleporter effect from Blake’s Seven. You still with me?


Back in 2003 Marvel and Activision released Wolverine’s Revenge to coincide with the release of the second X-Men film — a blatant bit of Wolverine publicity if ever there was one, which made Magneto’s comment to Logan (“Once again, you think it’s all about you.”) even more lulz-worthy.

As it happened, this was a great game. It really was. The stealth kills and smell-o-vision were very well done, and made sense in terms of characterisation. I really enjoyed this game until it got a bit too frenetic for fun right up at the end. As I’ve said before and probably will do again, Activision do have previous for decent games based on the Marvel universe.

The new Origins game is an 18, so immediately you can tell that there is going to be gore. And there is. Lots of it. Which is kind of groovy. I don’t know about you but I get really ticked off with slicing and dicing and people falling over like rag dolls. If I’m kicking the living shit out of something I want see evidence. This game has it in spades.

Wolverine Origins PS3 version

It is also of the button mashy school, where chaining comboes means hitting the square button three zillion times before punctuating with triangle. This is, to be fair, reasonably similar to the previous Wolverine game, so I can’t complain about that too much. I just find it difficult to keep track of how many times I’ve pressed the square button when I’m being assaulted by three mutant wendigoes the size of Methodist churches, 10 killer robots and about 50 machine gunners.

You see, this game has decided that “increased difficulty” means “send more goons in to shoot him”. I’m not a huge fan of this. Indeed, it pisses me off to the point where, several times, I have been swearing at the screen, my controller slippery with sweat and my hand cramping as I try to dodge, block, roll, counter and pull off a berserker fury all at the same time while being shot to shit by an entire army of mooks who are all yelling “He’s hurt, he’s hurt, keep up the pressure!” It’s just not fun. It’s merely frustrating.

There are some really weird gaming decisions, too, like the scene in which you have to dodge the bullets from a sniper and fight off the inevitable goons while you are looking at yourself through the sniper’s sights. WTF? It’s hard enough dealing with a squad of machine guns at the best of times, but when you can’t see half of them because there are trees between the sniper who’s trying to kill you and both you and them, it’s impossible.

Which leads me to the dodgy camera angles. The camera appears to have a mind of its own and a sense of humour akin to that of GLaDOS. Why yes, thank you, I do so enjoy trying to fight off one of the stronger bad guys while my view is entirely obstructed by the freakin’ CEILING. Or the FLOOR. When fighting the camera follows Logan around like a slavish puppy, despite the supposed right stick control, so most of the time you’re staring at his arse while some giant robot pounds on him with RPGs you can’t see until they hit you because they’re coming from off-camera. This is unfortunate, because you’re supposed to counter projectiles by hitting them back at the source.

Ah yes. Countering. Hit L2 at just the right time to enable a bullet-time segment where you can hit square and perform a special attack. But “the right time” has to be precise to the millisecond, as far as I can tell. Too soon and he merely blocks, and that’s about as exciting and helpful as a dairy cow in the dressage ring.

The power-up bar in this game is rage, and Logan can accumulate rage by killing things or destroying certain items in the landscape. Once enough rage has been accumulated he has access to his superpowers of claw drill, claw cyclone, claw spin or, my personal favourite, berserker mode. He can tell which ones will give him rage because in this game smell-o-vision is a false-colour heat haze affair in which important things have certain colours. Red things are dangerous, yellow things can be destroyed for rage orbs and green things are useful in some way. Rather than the scent trails of the previous game, which made sense, and allowed you to sneak up on unseen enemies and spit them like a pig, this one has funny colours and sort of a blue breeze that indicates where you should go next. Not that you need to be told where to go next because it’s so linear you can’t even go exploring in the scenery a couple of feet from the path. No wandering about for you!

Yes, once more Activision have given us a game in which the scenery really is only scenery. This means it’s not much of a challenge to pick up the bonus items like the figurines that open up the costumes, which is presumably why you then have to complete a near-impossible bonus challenge in order to unlock said costume. Much as I’d like to unlock said costumes, I’m not sure I have the patience or the thumb stamina to fight a version of the character who has unlimited rage and all the combat reflexes of a highly trained cyborg ninja while mine has enough angry to shout at a used teabag and the reflexes of an asthmatic slug.

The gameplay is, thankfully, more varied than Ultimate Alliance 2, in that there are traps to avoid and jumping tests and the occasional puzzle. You can see where they’ve taken some hints and tips from Prince of Persia. The underlying God of War engine is also fairly obvious in the methods of dispatch for the larger, tougher enemies, especially the mutant wendigoes. These are not bad things. I like a bit of variety in my gameplay, which is why I find it so utterly bizarre and frustrating that they should have given us that and yet their combat difficulty is just throwing more and more and more things at Wolverine so he is forced to spend more time dodging and running around looking for a space to allow his healing factor to kick in before his guts spill out.

Generally the difficulty curve goes like this: start a section with a few standard grunts. Meet a whole bunch of grunts with a few of the special elite grunts who are harder to kill. Find yourself in a room with even more of them, plus some of the bastards that need a special move to kill. Fight until your hand aches. Move into a big, empty room where suddenly some new extra-difficult bad guy turns up and says “HAI!” Kill him and three more turn up and all attack at once. Swear a lot. Finally make it through that only to discover that now you’re fair game for all previous bad guys plus the new extra tough bad guys to throw down on you in vast numbers all at the same time. Rinse and repeat.

Frankly this game makes me go “GRRRRRR!” at the telly almost as much as Logan does on it. This is an adult’s game with childishly repetitive combat.

That said, you know, it’s not all bad. The feral senses could have — and should have — been done a lot better but, if you were a bad guy and had the crazy Canucklehead coming after you, would you send just one or two grunts? No. At the end of the day, if you’ve got Wolverine on your territory you send every man you have, armed to the teeth, and tell them not to stop firing until they run out of bullets or are dead.

And they will, trust me, end up dead. For while there are times when I have been reduced to screaming “FOR FUCK’S SAKE JUST DIE, WILL YOU?!” there is something deeply satisfying about going from a room full of mooks to a room full of dismembered mooks. Especially when, as occasionally happens, Logan moves in the blink of any eye from ripping some guy to shreds to answering his phone as if his mum has just called to ask if he’s coming round for dinner.

Ideally this would have had the stealth and the sneaking of the first Wolverine game combined with the potential for wholesale death and destruction on offer here. I should have been able to choose between sneaking up a scent trail for a silent claw through the gut or the incredibly useful lunge (the lunge is, at least while I’m playing, Wolverine’s primary mode of travel). As it is we have a gore-fest blender of a game with occasional challenges based mostly on being fast enough and pressing the right button at the right time. This isn’t a game you can get through without dying, frequently, unlike MUA2: it’s giving me RSI and blisters and is occasionally chuck-the-controller-at-the-telly frustrating. For all its flaws, however, it hasn’t given me the same sense of shocked betrayal that the film did.

It hasn’t, at least not yet, made me cry. Still, I suppose there’s plenty of time.

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