Superhero video games are generally pretty lackluster experiences, and, for the most part, the primary reason any of us are continually enticed into playing them is to take on the role of one of our favorite comic-book heroes or villains and brave their individual novelized storylines. So, it’s a mystery to me why Silicon Knights, the team responsible for the all-time classic GameCube title Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, chose a very different path with X-Men: Destiny. Instead of the player taking on the role of a known entity within the X-Men universe, you essentially begin your adventure as a nobody—a fledgling mutant at the dawn of discovering your special abilities. The introduction of key good-versus-evil decision-making leads to your character to ultimately become aligned with the likes of Cyclops and other righteous X-Men mascots or, if you venture down the road of the miscreant mutant, Magneto’s ne’er-do-well Brotherhood. Unfortunately, this potentially promising concept is bogged down by poor execution on nearly all fronts, with the worst offender being the bungling of the game’s choice-making aspects. Unlike the winning inFamous series, or even the flawed but commendable Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the option-A-or-B plot-point selections you make in X-Men: Destiny bear such a minimal amount of weight to the overall narrative gameplay arc that you could seemingly be playing the through the “good guy” storyline while openly performing “bad guy” actions.
X-Men: Destiny opens after the death of Charles Xavier at an oddly vain memorial service in San Francisco, which, of course, takes the stereotypical turn for the chaotic when a horde of widely anonymous anti-mutant goons show up and start raising all kinds of nondescript hell. This is when your yet-to-be-molded character steps in to try their hand at saving the day and initiate his or her tedious process of making a name for themselves in Marvel’s wondrous world of mutated beings. Instead of being able to create a character entirely from scratch (which could have been successful if handled correctly), Canadian developer Silicon Knights opts to allow the player to select from three premade youngster hero (or villain) archetypes: an American college football star, a Japanese runaway, or—wait for it—the offspring of a high-ranking government official who strongly opposes any and all kinds of mutant activity on planet Earth (prepare yourself for some veritably banal daddy issues). In yet another misstep, it hardly matters which of these three character shells you end up going with. Aside from some brief one-off interactions with various non-controllable supporting characters, the flow of your newly weaved tale in the X-Men world is inherently the same no matter how you go about playing through the mostly stagnant X-Men: Destiny. Such a lazy display of developer handling has no place in today’s quality gamemaking landscape, and, quite frankly, the long-running publisher Activision (they’re no Konami, but they can usually aptly get the job done) should have known better than to sign off on such an anemic final product.
X-Men: Destiny’s gameplay dynamic of is predominately of the button-mashing, beat-’em-up variety. When stylized with finesse and focus, mindless brawlers can be endlessly enjoyable gaming endeavors (Viewtiful Joe, anyone?), but that’s definitely not the case here. If only the mighty Capcom had handled this title in some respect, things could have turned out for the better. Silicon Knights tries, unsuitably, with a supreme lack of gusto, to offset the vapidity of the dodge-and-pummel missions by injecting scattershot challenge objectives to and fro. These “challenges” (dubbed Challenge Arenas) are fundamentally peremptorily timed sections where the player must defeat exponentially expanding amounts of ragdoll enemies, sending them flying into light poles and the sides of buildings while hardly breaking a sweat. Completion of these Challenge Arena goals leads to the acquisition of X-Genes, the ugly stepsibling of every character-enhancement mod that has come before. With the X-Genes, the player can bulk up his or her mutant, making them more aesthetically akin to the fan favorites of the X-Men universe (this includes outfits, which are not customizable but, in essence, the same clothes the NPCs wear and, weirdly enough, can also be found hidden around the game’s mundane terrains. The inclusion of top-notch graphics and/or superior voice acting could have aided X-Men: Destiny in straightening out its lopsided seesaw of pros and cons, but the game’s visuals and VA work, as with almost every other attribute subject to scrutiny, tend to fall into the bargain-basement-brand vanilla category.
The idea of taking what is basically the framework for a lowly mutant and raising it up to become a formidable presence in the X-Men mythos is one that should have resulted in a rewarding gaming experience, but due to an incomprehensible formula fumbling by Silicon Knights (if Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is any indication, maybe they should stick to remakes), X-Men: Destiny is yet another entry into the ever-enlarging list of shitty superhero video games.