Be warned, bub: I’m not like other people. Call it a condition, a mutation or merely an affectation. I actively seek out videogames based on stoopid Hollywood movies, those hopelessly compromised rush-jobs designed to squeeze maximum profit out of a license while piggybacking the studio’s panicked marketing blitz. These titles are rarely fun to actually play, but it’s fascinating to see developers attempt to stretch a two-hour movie into a 10-hour videogame, extrapolating throwaway celluloid moments into entire levels or junking the original script in favor of their own fevered blockbuster ideas.
It’s especially excruciating when the actual movie stars are involved, presumably under contract. (I didn’t believe Robert Downey Jr. could deliver a boring line reading until I played the clunky Iron Man game – obviously RDJ found targeting a succession of anonymous shield generators as tedious as I did.) Often, just seeing their million-dollar faces ineptly rendered in potato-ish 3-D is enough to make me giggle and keep on playing.
So I wasn’t just hoping that X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Uncaged Edition) would be bad. I was praying it would be really, really bad, so I could tear it to bloody ribbons with my adamantium claws of criticism – more snark than “snikt.” As you probably know by now, the movie is flabby, drab and weirdly uninvolving. Perversely, the videogame is significantly better than the source material. (At least in its brutal “Uncaged” incarnation; I haven’t man-danced with the cuddlier Wii, DS or PS2 versions.) Which, if you stop and think about it, is sort of a miracle.
The mention of “origins” in the title doesn’t necessarily mean “original,” though. Developer Raven Software has taken elements from various third-person brawlers, most notably God of War, and created a streamlined action game with a well executed combat system. As Wolverine, you can pull off a range of up-close slicey-dicey moves with those wicked claws and construct on-the-fly combos of lightning-fast slashes, charged attacks and critically-timed one-hit kills. While there’s a satisfying depth to your moveset, it remains intuitive – unlike many similar titles, there’s no need to pause the game to remind yourself what button sequence does that cool spinny move. You can level up certain special moves to even more berserk levels, but you’re refreshingly lethal from the get-go.
Crucially, a targeted lunge will catapult Wolverine towards distant opponents, giving you enough aerial mobility to effectively micro-manage the gun-toting hordes thrown at you. You can really mess these guys up – ripping footsoldiers completely in half, turning shotguns against their alarmed wielders, wrenching off cybernetic arms to use as effective bludgeons – but they dish it out too. Your impressively-modeled (and generally shirtless) Jackman avatar routinely has most of his skin flayed off by enemy gunfire and machete strikes, only for the wounds to magically close up over time – the franchise’s signature special effect. (Wolverine’s mutant healing factor also provides a rare convincing excuse for a recharging health bar.)
So, you’re a total badass. But where do you commit your badassery? In a loose, looping adaptation of the film, the game crosscuts between the standard procession of underground bunkers, antiseptic science labs and anonymous warehouses that you’ve seen a million times before, with the only breath of fresh air provided by an extended flashback in a vibrant African jungle. There’s the odd environmental puzzle to negotiate – which mostly involves toggling your “feral sense” to detect moveable objects – but the emphasis is rarely on anything other than combat.
When scything through yet another platoon of grunts threatens to get repetitive, the game drops a cheesy action set-piece in your path. Did you like that bit in the trailer where Wolverine launches himself at a helicopter? Don’t worry – you get to do that, like, three times in the course of this game. You also tangle with some rather incongruous lava-based golems that behave exactly like the Rancor creatures from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. And in a well choreographed boss battle with a giant Sentinel robot, you even do some gnarly, Point Break-esque skydiving: 100-percent pure adrenaline!
Admittedly, there’s the odd bit of clunky pacing – the penultimate level where you pursue aggravating pretty boy Gambit up a New Orleans casino seems to take forever – but for the majority of the 10 hours or so it takes to hurtle through it, Wolverine is riotously fun. Will you want to do it all again once you’ve unlocked the harder difficulty setting, hunting down the alternate costumes and collectible mutagens you missed first time round? Possibly not. And while I don’t have a problem with the lack of any online element, it does seriously irk me that there is apparently a Weapon X arena mode trapped in my copy of the game somewhere – which would be perfect for short, concentrated bursts of customizable carnage ¬- but for now, at least, it requires a pre-order code from a major U.S. retailer to unlock it. Boo, Hugh! Sort it out, man!
The Bottom Line: Compared to other movie tie-ins, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is definitely homo superior. To paraphrase the wee man himself, it’s the best at what it does, even if what it does isn’t groundbreaking.
Recommendation: If you get juiced at the thought of piloting a blood-spattered Hugh Jackman through a God of War splatterhouse, sniff this bad boy out.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
Graeme Virtue is a freelance writer based in Scotland. You can attempt to follow his spicy eating habits at Trampy And The Tramp’s Glasgow Of Curry.