Most developers that produce games based on comic book-oriented films usually follow the "safe" path, striving to have the game obtain a "T" (Teen) rating through the ESRB, which rates all released downloadable and retail games. That way, both adults and kids will (hopefully) find a universal appeal with the game. However, when it comes to certain licenses, it's best to push for harder-edged content if the hero at hand calls for it. THQ, for instance, produced an Xbox/PlayStation 2 game based on The Punisher and didn't hold back on the violence, having Frank Castle violently shoot down thugs and occasionally execute a painful interrogation to get information out of a suspect. (The buzzsaw sequence is still our favorite.)
That's probably what Raven Software and Activision were considering when they released "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" in 2009, alongside the 20th Century Fox film of the same name. When fans play a game based on the legendary X-Men character, they want to unleash his diabolical rage on enemies, slicing through them with his adamantium claws and dispensing the kind of harsh justice they truly deserve. While the Wii and PlayStation 2 versions of the game both received a Teen rating, probably due to the fact that both those consoles have a larger all-ages audience, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 releases were an entirely different matter.
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine Uncaged Edition" was rated M for Mature on those consoles, mainly due to its violence and gore, an area where the game doesn't hold back, by any means. Some enemies are sliced to bits with their arms torn off, or gutted by a raging drill claw attack. Other deaths are even more grotesque. At one point, Wolvie jumps aboard a helicopter's windshield, bashes in the glass, pulls out the pilot and raises him up into the propeller, which proceeds to decapitate him, blood spilling everywhere.
But what makes "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" so spectacular isn't the visceral display of blood and guts. This isn't a matter of Raven Software making a shoddy game and then relying heavily on the included carnage. Nope -- what we have here is a product that thrives on non-stop action and the kind of over-the-top gameplay that stays in step with Wolverine's impeccable style of fighting. Along with jumping and slashing, he can perform a number of other moves, including a quick grab-and-throw technique and a jumping lunge attack that allows him take out enemies from afar. Some enemies are immune to this unstoppable attack, mainly invisible gunmen who fire a shotgun every time he gets close, but the game provides a way around that, allowing them to be located with your feral sense -- and then cutting them to ribbons.
In a way, it's got a lot in common with Sony's "God of War" games. Like that series' hero, the unstoppable Kratos, Wolverine is a man on edge, fueled by complete madness over personal events and vowing to get even with those responsible -- namely Sabretooth, his fellow mutant. Wolvie does whatever it takes to get out of each situation, whether it's escaping a flooding tunnel on Alkali Lake or brawling his way through an abandoned hotel in New Orleans. Also similar to "God of War," Wolverine has to solve occasional puzzles, ones usually involving levers or moving around objects, such as statues, to reach higher areas. For the most part, though, the game is all about action.
Along with his physical fighting abilities, Wolverine can also heal over time, a useful ability considering the damage enemies do to him. As he's shot, stabbed and beaten, Wolvie's body shows what kind of toll it's taking, going down to the bone in some cases. He can recover, but that's kind of tricky considering that Stryker's army, mutant or otherwise, is continuously in pursuit. Fortunately, the game never becomes impossible, and you can usually take a break with a puzzle or a "quiet spot" while Wolverine returns back to normal.
His feral senses also play a huge part in "X-Men Origins." Though it's not very often you'll get lost in a stage (they're designed with a point A to point B set-up), activating this sense will show you where you need to go, through faint markers pointing the way. Important and destructible objects will also appear bright green using this sense, which you can use to your advantage when it comes to defeating bad guys. For instance, spikes on the ground and trees prove very useful for lunging an enemy onto them. Foes stick right to the object while they die, leaving you free to attack the next fool daring enough to challenge you.
Additionally, Wolverine powers up, "evolving" with each new level he reaches and unlocking new moves and techniques. You access these features by going into a sub-menu. Watching Wolvie strengthen up and really stomp an enemy to bits with his improved techniques is a wonderful sight. (We're pretty sure you fans would agree.) The only downside is, if you start a new game, you lose all these abilities and have to earn them all over again.
Wolverine's special techniques also deserve mention. Perhaps most notable is an unstoppable spin move. Once you launch this, Wolvie spins around like crazy, yelling at the top of his lungs and slashing anyone within his reach multiple times. This is a most effective move, especially against bigger enemies.
These enemies, which include walking rock monsters and robots, take some skill to defeat. They don't fall for your lunge, instead grabbing you from mid-air and slamming you on the ground. Frontal attacks also don't do much good since enemies launch projectiles and try to stomp you with their feet. The best way to attack is wait for them to strike, roll out of the way and then pounce on them from behind, where you can do some serious damage for several seconds before they try to brush you off. Do this enough times and you can tear them apart.
What's special about "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is the way in which it fearlessly deters from the film's events. Sure, there are some moments that are familiar, such as the inside/outside bar fight with Sabretooth and the confrontation with Deadpool near the end. But for the most part, it follows its own path through flashbacks to previous missions in Africa, where Wolverine and his team battle natives in seeking out adamantium. But perhaps the most notable addition to the game is one that takes place in a Sentinel manufacturing plant. Not only do you have to fight your way through the facility and eventually escape, but you'll come face to face with one of the large robots, picking away at its feet before it goes flying off into the sky, culminating in a spectacular aerial battle. We like the way this battle finishes, with the (mostly) invincible Wolvie shooting his way through its metallic skull, like a bullet.
Along with the sharpened gameplay, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" also features some of the better graphics we've seen in a superhero game. Both interior and exterior stage settings are remarkable, particularly the glowing city line of New Orleans as you slide along cables from building to building. Wolverine himself is a remarkable sight, from his swift, brutal moves to his constantly shifting exoskeleton, which, again, changes in real time depending on battle wear. There are moments when the game appears somewhat muddy, due to unfinished environments or a camera angle that makes everything look slightly out of perspective, but it's hardly a problem that happens often. Frankly, you'll probably be too busy seeing Wolvie flying at enemies and performing athletic feats to really care.
As for the audio, Activision and Raven turned to Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman, for the character's voice. The voice casting also includes work from Liev Schreiber, portraying the nasty Sabretooth, aka Victor Creed. The other actors are solid as well.
With a six-something hour campaign (with adjustable difficulty settings) and unlockable costumes, including the traditional yellow and black latex, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" has a lot going for it. But there's one bonus item that's worth mentioning -- the Weapon X Training Facilities. Here, Wolverine can face wave after wave of enemies, seeing how far he can get on one life. At first, these waves of enemies are fairly simple, with only a few grunts to dispatch. But the waves become increasingly threatening, particularly when bigger, badder enemies enter the fray, knocking you about while swordsmen and snipers continue their assault. We managed to get through all the waves after a few tries, but we've lost a few Wolverines in the process.
While "X-Men Origins: Wolverine Uncaged Edition" is two years old, it's a game that's worth rediscovering, as it's one of those rare products that's actually better than the film. Skipping the mundane dialogue and bad direction in favor of well-constructed action sequences and superb gameplay, it really makes the player feel like they're in control of the hero, rather than limiting them to a certain set of moves and abilities. And it doesn't hold back on the violence, which is no doubt Logan's specialty. And that's why we're happy to pick it as our first Revisiting a Classic entry. There are many more great games to come, so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, hunt a copy of this game down for yourself. It's only about $10-$15 at Gamestop, a swell deal for such a terrific piece of work. Cut yourself a piece of the action, bub.