This didn't have to be rubbish, Silicon Knights. There's the germ of a good idea behind X-Men: Destiny's floppy execution. Your character, a mutant who discovers his or her powers during an X-powered riot, can acquire the abilities of various Marvel Comic heavyweights by collecting their cast-off genes.
Base melee attacks in need of a tune-up? Plug in Juggernaut's Offensive DNA strain for some steel-plated fisticuffs. Want to electrify people when you dodge? Sample Surge's Defensive gene and watch your enemies crackle. It's a pretty ludicrous premise (and one that's never explained) even for a universe featuring arse-kicking faeries, but it's a great way to bring out the fiction's breadth without the fuss and monetary strain of implementing 40-odd playable characters.
The visuals lend themselves to this "gotta catch 'em all" ethic: the technology's about four years past its sell-by-date, but the plasticky, thick-edged art style captures the mouth-watering look and feel of collectable figurines. There are some appropriate HUD flourishes, too, like the ink-splattered 3D text that slams out of thin air whenever you nail an especially lengthy combo (best of all, you can smash the message to bits). But sadly, Destiny's appeal is all on paper and on the surface.
The beat 'em up engine is both loose and uninspired. Light attacks, heavy hits and dodges chain nicely, but the camera never frames your lock-on target tightly enough, jumping is floaty to the point of feeling like you're underwater, and enemies appear to be made of rubber bands and candy floss. Given two opposable thumbs you'll rarely get hit, let alone slain. Celebrity bosses are only marginally tougher than their minions, for all the additional pomp. When an hour-old X recruit can whack Gambit in under a minute, there's something decidedly amiss.
The plot has a chew on the old "moral choice" chestnut, but the result is a lumpy mess that would disgrace even the Saturday morning cartoons that are the obvious jumping-off point. Meet a member of the X-Men or their genocidal rivals the Brotherhood, and you'll be treated to three or four painfully voice-acted bits of franchise trivia plus the odd side-mission prompt. The side-missions that dot Destiny's sub-10-hour campaign corridor are largely one and the same - go here, kill this before the clock runs down - the only distinction between Brotherhood and X-Men variants being which genes you unlock in the process.
If you can swallow the pad-mashing mechanics and wince your way through Silicon Knights' ham-fisted attempts at delivering back-story, there's a certain satisfaction to be had replaying to unlock new suits and powers. X-gene distribution is randomised, and you're obliged to choose between base power development arcs, so compulsive X-Men collectionists are again well-served. It's just a shame there isn't a solid brawler beneath these trappings to entice the rest of us.
- X-cellent customisation system
- X-asperating beat 'em up system
- X-cruciating plot and dialogue
- X-ecrable graphics engine