Thirty seconds into the gaming incarnation of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a tutorial has already taught players the game’s most important lesson. After leaping from an exploding helicopter, the eponymous hero falls thousands of feet into a war-torn African jungle, landing on some poor sap hard enough to create an impact crater. Aside from the cracking of the neck made famous in the films by Hugh Jackman, Wolverine is completely unfazed by the fall.
The lesson? Someone stole the essence of the edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine intends to steal it back.
It’s a design philosophy that would make Duke Nukem (RIP) proud. The main goal of Origins was apparently to shake the dust off an all-too-commonly stolid genre by slapping it around with as many absurdly action-packed moments as possible. The developers at Raven Software took to the task with a gung-ho bravado more commonly applied to Michael Bay projects than franchise-game spin-offs.
By approaching Wolverine with this goal in mind, Raven created a game not merely interested in action, but instead devoted to it. More than the typical back-alley brawler with built-in switchblades and a healing factor, Logan as presented here puts the “super” back in “superhero,” then claws it up a little to remind it who’s boss. No chasm is too far to cross if a gun-toting crony lies on the other side, no gene-spliced monstrosity too large to climb and decapitate, no helicopter too… helicoptery to defy his wrath.
Origins doesn’t bother with pretending that Wolverine needs an abundance of game mechanics to tell him when he can or can’t cut things up. Once his moveset has been filled to capacity, Logan does what he wants, when he wants, for however long he wants, to whomever he wants, with as little time as possible spent in transit between victims.
As an opportune side effect, Raven stumbled upon the long-lost formula for the Legitimately Enjoyable Franchise Game, creating an experience faithful in more and different ways than can be evoked by non-interactive media. This formula wouldn’t have worked with Professor X Goes Bananas for Chess or Cyclops’ Happy Fun-Time Dating Simulator—it turns out that proper games about angry unkillable Canadians should contain moments best described as incredulous. Who could have guessed?
But even with these points in its favor, Origins becomes weighed down by many of the perils to which its peers too commonly succumb. It’s long by the standards of its genre, and while churning out a lengthier game than the next guy is a step in the right direction, the bang provided by the last few hours just doesn’t match up to its initial novelty. Once that early novelty wears off, the late game teeters dangerously close to tiresome.
Adding to the dangers typical to the form are demons entirely of Origins’ own making. Ultraviolence in the post-God of War era isn’t inherently shocking, but while other successful series tend to direct most of their carnage toward modernized fantasy tropes, Origins’ bestiary leans more toward the human end of the food chain.
Tearing a few hundred satyrs in half is one thing, but nonchalantly pureeing your way through enough people to halve Wyoming’s population feels weird after a while, especially when such an emphasis is placed upon Wolverine as the “compassionate” one between himself and his archenemies.
But really, harping on relatively insignificant issues like these misses the point. Everyone expected the movie to be dreadful, and they were by and large not disappointed, but while Director Gavin Hood’s low-rent wire-fu looked silly in celluloid, Raven Software’s translation of the same material manages to be exhilarating. Smirkingly overblown displays of action-hero machismo can be acceptable, and even enjoyable, when the viewer is also the participant.
When a movie script relies on little more than Wolverine bouncing across a plotline like an angry cannonball on a billiards table, the audience reacts with skepticism. Take that same chain of events and make it the result of player input, and the result is somehow different, somehow right.