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October 20, 2005

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X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apacolypse

(XBOX/PS2/GC/PC/PSP)

Activision

****

by Glenn Given

Last year’s X-Men Legends was a great entry for both the X-Men franchise and the burgenoning Action-RPG genre (think classic Gauntlet with far deeper character customization). This sequel, unlike many, outstrips the giant shoulders it stands upon in both scope and enjoyment. Again you and three friends (or, for the lonely, three AIs) guide a team of X-Men (super-powered mutants) across sprawling fields of battle in a quest to save humanity, this time from a 5000-year-old baddie called Apocalypse who has a very severe interpretation of “survival of the fittest” in mind for Earth’s less-super inhabitants.

You swap a cast of 16 mutants (18 if you’re a PC gamer) in and out of your active group as you blast, kick and, uh, blast your way through Apocalypse’s minions, an array of the X-Men canon’s notable villains and some giant spiders. All in all it’s a joy for the 20+ hours you’ll spend with your friends (both local and over the Internet-enabled Cooperative mode) mowing down wave after wave of tough but not frustratingly difficult foes.

As you progress and your mutants become more battle-hardened you improve their various statistics making them stronger, faster, etc. as well as guiding their growth in their specific mutant abilities. For instance, yes, Nightcrawler can teleport behind his foes and whack them on the noggin, but he is an accomplished swordsman as well. Who knew? The choices in team structure, the selection of which can confer special team bonuses like extra health or energy regeneration, as well as the direction you hone your mutant talents, create a dynamic palette that alleviates the hack-and-slash drudgery that bogs down many other action-RPG titles. And, hell, it’s simply cool to have Magneto and Professor X kicking ass on the same team for once.

There are minor differences between platform versions; PSP display is very, very small, and the PC version offers two extra characters. Otherwise the console variants play nearly identically with little lag during online games and no noticeable slowdown during even the most hectic battles.

X-Men Legends 2 is deceptively robust, thoroughly enjoyable and a must-have for any X-Fan.