In case you haven’t noticed, it is E3 week. That means that the gaming-masses have descended upon Los Angeles to check out everything that the various video game companies have in store for us over the next 12 months (and perhaps beyond). One of the titles that is undoubtedly drawing a lot of attention this year is Silicon Knights and Activision’s X-Men: Destiny. The new title, due out this fall, marks the first full-fledged X-Men game to grace the mainstream consoles since 2006‘s movie tie-in, which many of us would rather forget. A couple of weeks back, select members of the press were given a preview of the E3 presentation for the game. Although we weren’t allowed to actually play it for ourselves, we were treated to a narrated gameplay session by some of the PR staff at Activision which highlighted some of the features and aspects of the game that had yet to be revealed to the public at that time. Fortunately, now that E3 is here, I can share with you a detailed description of exactly what I saw and what everyone else is being shown in LA as we speak..
X-Men: Destiny is a 3rd person action game set in the current Marvel-universe timeline. The game will present the origin(s) stories of three, all new characters in the X-Men / Marvel universe. The game is set in modern day San Francisco, although this isn’t the same San Fran that you and I are familiar with. In the Destiny world, the landscape of the city has been altered by recent earthquakes and other natural disasters that have plagued the area alongside an outbreak of hate crimes against the mutant population(s). The story of the game is written by Mike Carey, reigning writer on some of the current X-Men story arcs. Mike’s inclusion in the project should ensure fans of the dedication and accuracy being put into the game.
As with his other works, Destiny has a darker tone and feeling to its narrative, which focuses on the concept that our destinies are unwritten. It is up to all of us to shape and mold our future based on the decision that we make and the actions that we take in the world. The E3 demo opens up with Aimi, a young 15-year old mutant, arriving in Chinatown, fresh off of her voyage from Japan. Aimi is just one of the three characters that players will be able to choose from before they set off in their adventure and the only one that we were shown in the demo. Aside from selecting your base character, players will also be able to select one of three separate “power sets”. These sets will determine the style of play that you character develops over the course of the game. In this scenario, Aimi has been equipped with the “energy projection” set of powers.
The world that surrounds you is apparently a hostile one as members of a militant, anti-mutant group called the Purifiers begin assaulting you immediately upon your arrival. Almost immediately, groups of soldiers begin impeding your progress past your initial landing. The early parts of the level really show off the mission and combat elements of the game. Tasks / missions will be given to your player as your progress, giving you instructions on necessary actions that must be done to proceed through the different areas. One of the first tasks given to Aimi is to dispatch a set number of enemies, in this case 21, before she can move forward. This mission gave us our first good look at the game’s combat system. Players are given a combination of both light and heavy attacks, which can be strung together to form different combinations. Depending on the strings that you put together, different finishing combos will emerge.
Some of the finishing combinations that we witnessed were rather flashy and all were devastating to the opposition. Some of them, such as the “radius attack” was not only visually impressive as Aimi sent a circular shockwave outward towards multiple enemies, but proved beneficial in tearing through more than one enemy at a time. Other moves were shown such as the Ion Pillars and Ion Lance attacks, all results of different light and heavy attack combinations. As more and more combinations are completed and enemies defeated, the player builds up what is referred to as the “End Power” meter, which slowly unlocks their most deadly attacks. As with everything else in the game, these attacks are based on a combination of the X-genes (which will be explained shortly) that you have collected and the power set your character has been outfitted with. The higher that the gauge fills, the deadlier the moves are that you can perform. As you progress through the game, you will discover new attacks which can be equipped to utilize the end power gauge.
The game appears to play a lot like Sucker Punch’s inFAMOUS series which I consider a compliment in the highest degree. As though your environment is just as important as your individual offensive and defensive maneuvers. The world features many interactive objects such as benches and light posts, all of which can be used to your advantage with a developed strategy. The text overlays used during gameplay make a debut in this portion and they are really sharp (looking). The text is reminiscent of the descriptive text used in comic book panels and it appears to float in the environment around the player; even better, after a few short seconds the text becomes interactive and players are able to smash the words by hurling enemies into them during their battle(s). This really created a nice, immersive effect that engulfed you into the comic book world.
After battling through a couple of waves of enemies and completing the initial mission, Aimi stumbles upon a key component of the game known as X-genes. Anyone familiar with the X-Men universe should know that X-genes are the essence of the mutant population. These DNA components dictate what makes someone a mutant and what determines the type of power(s) they will have. A primary focus of the X-Men: Destiny gameplay will be the collection and management of X-genes. Although the Aimi used in the demo has a focus on energy projection, the collected X-genes can alter the elemental property of her projections. Perhaps she will collect an X-gene of Iceman, giving her powers more of an arctic / ice aspect or maybe Pyro, which will focus her abilities on the projection of flames. Players will be able to collect a wide variety of X-genes throughout the game and equip up to 4 at one time, each affecting a different trait of the character. Each gene is based on an iconic X-Men / Marvel character; some of the examples that are shown include Iceman, Surge, Pyro, Gambit, Toad, Magneto, and Quicksilver. The different combinations of X-genes will help create vastly different characters, altering the experience for each player each time through the game. In addition to X-genes, you will also be able to collect a variety of “fan suits” which will tailor the look of your custom character to that of iconic Marvel figures as well. Combining the full set of X-genes and the fan suit of a single character will result in a boost in your character’s abilities while they are equipped.
In this case, Aimi finds an X-gene for Surge. In the Marvel world, Surge has the power to control electrical currents and now that she has possession of his X-gene, Aimi can now add an electrical effect to her powers, such as the ability to stun enemies and an increase in effectiveness against mechanical enemies. At this point, it becomes even more clear just how bad of shape the world is currently in; the world is evolving and changing as you play in response to the constant earthquakes and other devastating natural disasters. Aimi continues through a series of environments battling through enemies before meeting a group of NPC’s that she needs to assist, one of which evolved into a new mini-escort mission where the player needs to escort one of them to safety. This appears to be your standard escort mission which requires you to fend on a constant onslaught of attackers as you move from point A to point B. I will say, however, that the AI of the character you are escorting seemed to be better than that which I have experienced in other games. He seemed to stay out of your way and was content in finding safe harbor while you took out your assailants. Thankfully, he worked with you rather than against you.
Even though the game focuses on the story of three, all-new mutants, the world is filled with familiar faces for those with some knowledge of the Marvel world. The first character that we ran into during the demonstration was Northstar, of Alpha Flight fame. All iconic characters are given an introduction that includes a brief glimpse at the profile and background information on their powers and affiliation. The presentation is very well done and seamlessly intertwines with the action. Northstar, along with the other Marvel personalities featured in the game, opens up opportunities for secondary objectives and new challenges for the player. They will also fight alongside you during your time with them.
After meeting Northstar and witnessing his participation in the course of battle for a few moments, the demonstration jumped forward to a stage a little further into the game. This new section showed off one of the games many large-scale boss battles. The scene is prefaced with the fact that you have infiltrated a secret laboratory where many mutants have been kidnapped and taken. These captured mutants and being used for experimental purposes by the infamous U-Men, a group intent on cleansing the world of impurities and leveling the playing field between mutants and non-mutants. Eventually, after battling your way through the facility, Aimi comes face to face with the leader of the U-Men, Dr. John Sublime. In an attempt to stop you from destroying all of his hard work, Dr. Sublime injects himself with one of his on serums containing a synthesized X-gene. In this case, the stolen X-gene that he uses has been derived from Colossus. As a result of the injection, Dr. Sublime mutates into a much larger, monstrous version of Colossus.
After a lengthy game of cat and mouse, Sublime is eventually worn down by the speed of Aimi, which is derived from the combination of Quicksilver’s X-genes and his fan suit. The resulting power boost not only increases Aimi’s movement speed, but her attack speed and agility as well. Wearing Sublime down doesn’t lead to his defeat, it only angers him further. At this point in the battle, he injects himself with yet another synthesized X-gene. This time the serum is derived from Quicksilver, as he intends to match your speed and remove your advantage from the battle at hand. Sublime now begins utilizing the electrical equipment in the room to restore his energy. Thankfully, quick-witted players will discover that they can manipulate the mechanical panels on the edge of the screen to shock him during his recharging session. Immediately following the quick zap, Sublime will immediately lunge at the player like a charging bull. A correctly timed jump by the player counteracts this attack and results in sublime crashing into the electrical panels you were manipulating, giving him the shock of his life. This sequence occurs a few more times before Sublime again goes back to his bag of tricks for yet another dose of synthetic X-genes.
The final dosage gives Sublime the electrical abilities of Surge. It should also be noted that with each dosage that he has taken, Sublime has continued to increase in size. At this point in time, he takes up nearly the entire screen and becomes nearly impossible to escape. Aimi now has to use his size against him and dodge his attacks until he catches himself in the mechanical wirings near the ceiling. The player must now scale the different parts of the environment up to his head-level in order to land effective attacks on him. After a few more rounds of the cat and mouse, game, this battle is drawn to a close as Aimi delivers her final blow to Sublime, finishing him once and for all.
Following the battle, players are treated to the bread and butter of the X-Men: Destiny experience: a moral decision. Following a short cut scene featuring Collosus and Gambit, Aimi is left to make a decision that will favor either the X-Men (Colossus) or the Brotherhood (Gambit). The battle has led Aimi to the possession of Sublime’s technology and she can either destroy it and stop the unnatural spread of mutant abilities or turn it over to Gambit so that the Brotherhood can use it in the battle against all those who challenge mutant-kind. Your decision in moments like this determine not only the current events happening in the game, but the shape of the story further down the road. Both sides of the choices in the game will present you with valid arguments to support their side; nothing will be simply black and white. Depending on the decision(s) that you make, you will earn what are called faction points, which will lead you towards either the X-Men or the Brotherhood. They will also determine what opens up to you in the road ahead; depending on your decision, different objectives and X-genes will be available for you in the future. It is pretty apparent that you will need to play this game multiple times if you want to see it all.
After a collective vote of those in attendance, it is decided that it would be for the best if you chose to destroy the discovery. Aimi smashes the container holding Sublime’s technology on the ground, which excited Colossus but cause visible anguish in Gambit. Before departing the facility, Gambit reminds you that you have made your choice, and now everyone will have to live with it. Before the game is over, players will need to decide if they are going to join up with the X-Men or the Brotherhood and the ability to do so will be determined by your choices along the way.
I really like what I have seen of the game so far. Even at this early stage, there is a nice level of polish and a great presentation style used throughout. The game may feature numerous RPG-style elements but it seems to play like a standard 3D brawler, akin to something like God of War or Darksiders. I think that the inFAMOUS comparison is going to be thrown around more and more as the game is shown over the course of this week. As I said before, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Stay tuned to Gaming Nexus in the coming months as we lead up to the Fall 2011 release of X-Men: Destiny. The game will be available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS by the end of the year.