Very well, I forgive you. I forgive you because of the sheer joy of sticking one of the annoying Assassin girlies in a cement mixer.
I wanna do that again.
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.
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.
I’m warning you now, there will be spoilers. Just one or two. The problem is that I can’t think of any way to tell you what I really feel without revealing a couple of things that would otherwise come as a complete surprise, especially to the fellow Marvel fans out there. What I’m hoping is that all the fans who are as sad as I am will already have seen it and everyone else won’t give a crap.
However, here’s your chance to look away. Look away now if spoilers concern you.
I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I heard it was being made, which is probably not the best way to approach a film. Marvel’s track record with movie adaptations is fairly hit and miss. The first two X-Men movies were great; the third one was a great big wobbly pile of shite. Iron Man rocked; Spider-Man was emo even before Venom got in on the act. There are two Hulks. Fans disagree which of them was better (me, I go with Edward Norton, in case that makes a difference to you). The less said about Ghost Rider the better, but then the Fantastic Four films were actually not too bad at all.
I’ve seen them all. Mostly opening night, at the cinema. The sight of the Marvel flicker-flack on the big screen puts a grin on my face that would make an orang-utan proud.
I’m not just a Marvel fan girl. I’m a Wolverine fan girl. So for this movie I didn’t even wait for opening night. I went to the special preview advance showing before the official opening, dragging Frood along with me. I take no blame for Rev Will’s attendance. He said he wanted to come. That’s him on the right.
The opening section appeared, initially, to have been lifted from the Origin story arc by Bill Jemas. So far so good. But then, um. WHAT? Say WHAT? Since when was Sabretooth Logan’s brother? Chris Claremont originally intended Sabretooth to be his father, and the source of the long-term enmity the simple fact that Victor didn’t think Logan measured up to the standard he’d set. Canon has since made it clear that Creed isn’t Logan’s father, but he sure as hell ain’t his brother.
Then follows a quick timelapse special of the two boys fighting through various wars (invariably for the Americans, despite Logan fighting for the Canadian army, but whatever, this is Hollywood). I already knew Liev Schreiber had been given the Sabretooth role, despite being about as non-Sabretooth as you can get. The only way they could have cast someone less like Sabretooth would have been to ask Will Smith to do it. Having said that, Schreiber wasn’t as bad as I expected him to be, but I still think they should have gone to the WWE for their casting.
I found Creed’s continual use of “Jimmy” to refer to Logan intensely irritating and totally out of character for both of them. Just, you know, as a by the by.
We come to Vietnam and Creed’s bestiality has been fed by decades of fighting, and yet Logan is still the noble warrior. When Creed attempts to rape a Vietnamese woman his officer tells him to stop. A fight ensues, in which Logan initially tries to protect the woman and then ends up protecting his brother. This theme arises again and again throughout the film: the notion of brotherly loyalty between Wolverine and Sabretooth. I found it totally unbelievable. Sabretooth is the character who takes great delight in the annual Wolverine birthday bash. By which I mean he bashes Wolverine on his birthday. That was the whole Silver Fox thing and… I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Full Metal Jacket this is not. Watchmen this is not. Where the Comedian shoots a pregnant woman in the head and walks away, here our two brothers find themselves in front of a firing squad for assaulting an officer. I wasn’t aware they did that in Vietnam. But still. Whatever.
Apparently it tickled.
They are then recruited by our old friend Stryker, although Brian Cox had the sense to turn down this one. He’s still in military rather than religious guise, so I can’t complain about continuity there. They join an elite group of soldiers, all of whom are mutants, for some purpose that isn’t made clear, although by the end it’s obvious that this was the start of the Weapon X project.
There are three characters in the Marvel universe I follow with any degree of consistency. Wolverine, X23 and Deadpool. The merc with the mouth is simply one of Marvel’s finest creations, and it’s all thanks to Fabian.
I have no idea who the rest of them are. I don’t care. Deadpool! Squee!
There follows an infiltration exercise designed primarily to show off the various powers of these mutants to the audience, and towards the end of this short sequence Ryan Reynolds shows a glimmer of promise. I begin to think that yes, yes, he really could do it. I mean, he’s not horribly mutilated with a face that looks like the inside of a tin of dog food and a voice that sounds like Demi Moore on gravel, and there’s no sign of him recognising the fourth wall, never mind breaking it, but this is pre-Weapon X, right? There’s still time.
But that’s it. That’s your lot. Not even two minutes of a chance to shine. Then our boy Logan takes exception to a bit of violence and walks away to find a new life in the Canadian rockies as a lumberjack with a beautiful schoolteacher girlfriend (who isn’t called Silver Fox). Next thing we know his old squad is dead, and the implication is that Sabretooth is doing it.
What? But I thought… Deadpool? Deadpool? Noes!!!!11!11! He can’t die! Wake up, Deadpool, please wake up!
He does. Eventually. But you’ll wish he hadn’t. It’s just too painful.
Anyway. Then follows a standard Marvel bit of manipulation to get Wolverine back into the Weapon X programme involving murder of loved ones and revenge and all the usual stuff to bring out the animal in him. Yada yada. I’m not going to bother describing it all in detail because it’s all rather predictable. He gets his adamantium — I was disappointed that they toned it down from the stark brutality of Barry Windsor-Smith — and escapes before they can wipe his memory, leaving a trail of bodies as he seeks revenge on his brother.
The plot seems to have taken a pick-n-mix selection from the various story arcs. The Weapon X programme is sort of classic, but mostly Ultimate. In this one the familiar characters from the X-Men films are kids, as they are in the Ultimate series, being used as the basis for experimentation… Sorry. My brain veered dangerously close to what they did to Deadpool and I had to stop and take a few deep breaths or else I’d have been reduced to a quivering heap on the floor, screaming to the heavens “WHY? FOR THE LOVE OF THE LITTLE BABY JEBUS, WHY???!!”
The Blob, usually nothing more than the butt of jokes and someone too foul to generate sympathy, was really nicely done in this film, and for me was one of the high points. Kevin Durand did a very good job with him. I think, basically, that’s one of the reasons this film was so disappointing. The actors all did a remarkable job with the material they were given (apart from Danny Huston as Stryker, who appeared to believe he was working in a straight to TV flick, or was asleep). But the plot was full of holes and inconsistencies; the characters were forced into actions that were simply not like them for anyone at all familiar with canon; the dialogue was at times trite, melodramatic and downright cheesy (that Wolverine and Moon thing was almost enough to make me gag); the fight scenes were often shot unsympathetically and there was just far too much CGI. Especially that bit at the end when Professor Xavier in a Dale Winton tan turned up in Airwolf. The power effects seem to have been taken straight out of Ultimate Alliance (“XXXOO overhead spin kick!”), although that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it worked very well for Gambit and both Frood and I were move-spotting throughout.
I could see where they had levered in bits to “please the fans” but you can’t just take something out of a story arc and drop it into a context that is held together by the araldite and cable-ties of retcon and expect it to work. You can take ideas, principles, tropes or themes and use those, but not plot points. It was obvious and necessary to focus on Wolverine’s battle to be human rather than animal, because that’s the character’s main conflict throughout his various incarnations. It’s fine, even better, to deal with the memory loss in a completely different way because the Weapon X programme isn’t being played out the way it does in the comics. It’s not fine to dump the future complement of the X-Men into cells and then randomly make the White Queen Logan’s girlfriend’s sister. Pulling plot points straight from the comics and juxtaposing them with major retcons is jarring and unsettling for those of us who know the comics. It’s one of the reasons why the third X-Men film fell down (Morrison did the Logan/Jean death scene far better in New X-Men). The other reason was the wasting of one of the best characters of the entire franchise. And Wolverine makes both those mistakes.
It’s a pity, and I have to wonder who’s to blame. The writers? The director? I can’t help but feel you could take the same acting complement, give them the production crew of X2 or Iron Man and you’d have an absolutely stonking movie in which the merc with the mouth would remain the merc with the mouth and I’d have been a very happy girl.
As it is this may not even end up as part of my DVD collection, and the only other Marvel films I don’t own are the ones in the Spider-man series.
Lest you think that my negative reaction is the disappointment of a superfan whose favourite character has been brutally sodomised by the writing crew, I can report that neither of my companions thought it any better and they quite happily tell me I’m a sad Marvel geek.
Let’s hope they manage to do a better job with Avengers, eh?
I bought the game thinking it was going to be a 2-player co-op. Frood would get Spidey and I’d get Wolverine.