X-Men Destiny review: Destined for failure

Sometimes you read about a canceled game and think, "Oh, that's too bad, that could have been fun. I wish they'd just release what they had finished so I could check it out."

Do me a favor. The next time that thought should happen to flit across your mind, remember X-Men Destiny. Because when someone has a cool idea and releases it unfinished, this is exactly what it looks like.
%Gallery-130861% After the death of Charles Xavier, the X-Men are in shambles, scattered to the wind. So when a new opportunity at peace between humans and mutants is shattered by what appears to be the work of Magneto, the team needs all the help it can get.

That help comes in the form of bulky football star Grant, Japanese immigrant Aimi, or Adrian, the son of an anti-mutant Purifier. Moments after choosing your protagonist, their power set will emerge, whether that be energy projection, energy-boosted quick attacks or "density control," which lets you take and dish out high amounts of damage.

As your hero spends their first day of mutantdom fighting Purifiers and other faceless foes, they'll use gathered experience to unlock five of the eight available abilities in whichever of those three trees you selected. They'll then augment those abilities with defensive, offensive and "utility" X-genes collected (and occasionally hidden) throughout the levels.

For example, one combination may include the Colossus offensive gene (which boosts the damage of finishing moves), the Emma Frost defense gene (diamond skin, naturally) and the Psylocke utility gene, which lets you use your mutant abilities more frequently. Picking up the randomly distributed X-genes occasionally rewards a costume instead, offering an aesthetic change only.

Lengthy animations bog down every attack in your arsenal, giving the whole thing an annoying, sluggish feel that's heightened by occasionally laughable slowdown.

When you collect a matching set of four X-genes you're able to activate some sort of special attack based on that hero's powers. (I'm foggy on the details of this hopefully-not-too-crucial feature, because despite collecting over 30 X-genes I never got four that matched).

Despite my frustration at never being coordinated, deciding which X-genes complement each other and which you'll spend experience points to improve is a unique, engaging system. Unfortunately, digging up as many X-genes as possible means combing through drab environments (boring) rather than performing well in combat (slightly less so).

I say "slightly less so" because lengthy animations bog down every attack in your arsenal, giving combat an annoying, sluggish feel that's heightened by laughable slowdown. With four or five basic attacks and four mutant abilities that can be triggered once you've collected enough energy, you'll soon realize the X-gene system is really just a smokescreen for shallow gameplay.

When you're not clobbering thugs, you'll also have some choices to make as you encounter X-Men and Brotherhood of Evil Mutants throughout San Francisco. Of course, since the ham-fisted decision is always "good or evil," you're really only making one binary choice at the start. It's less "branching path through the narrative" and more "stump."

Choosing an evil or good mutant to side with in a scenario occasionally means you'll get one of two different missions, but since your mission is really just "punch some guys in the face," even the "good or evil" choice lacks consequence.

You also get "faction" for these choices, but if there's any effect of that whatsoever, I didn't notice. Most big conflicts against the Purifiers include good and evil mutants, so the writers didn't have to create two versions of the scene. In fact, toward the end, you'll actually just choose a side, thereby nullifying whatever course you'd previously charted.

A lot of the dialogue is repeated regardless of which protagonist you chose, so don't expect much story fluctuation there either. Then again, at one point, I was prompted to do a ground pound on some weak concrete by Emma Frost, who said "It's an easy smash through for you!" Maybe we don't want to stretch this writing team much thinner.

Once you realize that most available X-genes are just variations on a handful of themes, and that the characters' stories are all fairly similar, the whole experience wears a bit thin. At least, it would wear a bit thin if it lasted longer than five hours.

No, you didn't misread that. This "action RPG" (really just a slightly evolved brawler) is five hours long. And if you're hoping for some sort of New Game+ mode, don't: You can replay the game after beating it, but the only thing restarted is your meaningless faction standing. If you're hoping to keep your X-genes but play through with a new ability tree or character -- you know, the interesting stuff -- you can't. The mind boggles.

I value concision in games. I've said many times that I'd rather have a fantastic five hours than a mediocre 10 hours. X-Men Destiny is neither.

X-Men Destiny is five hours long because someone wanted a line item in a fall release schedule and didn't want to wait to finish it. It's a careless, cynical, opportunistic mess that Silicon Knights and Activision should be ashamed to release. In fact, its concision almost comes back around to being a virtue, because at least you can quickly move onto something more pleasurable, like selling X-Men Destiny to a stupid friend you hate, or burying a beloved family pet.

In years past, Silicon Knights boss Denis Dyack has railed against critics writing "previews" that feel more like reviews of what's still a half-finished product. How ironic that his company and Activision have just forced me to do exactly that.

This review is based on 360 code of X-Men Destiny purchased by the reviewer.

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