When Fox revealed it was working on a spin-off X-Men film centered on Wolverine, many expected a grittier, edgier take on the franchise. X-Men Origins: Wolverine, due to its PG-13 rating, did not deliver on that count. The video game adaptation, sporting a Mature rating, manages to get closer to the original comic book vision of the character but is unable to escape the gravitational pull of the crappy film it's based on.
The video game incarnation of Wolverine is better than the film version not because the dialogue or plot is better - it's because he's a bloodthirsty bastard. Raven Software makes the most of the Mature rating; Wolverine slices enemies' limbs off with his Adamantium claws and at one part even rips a guy in half. When he takes damage, chunks of flesh are ripped from his indestructible skeleton and then quickly regenerated before your very eyes due to his superhuman healing abilities.
The game does a better job than the film of convincing you that Wolverine is an unstoppable bad-ass and it's fun to watch him in action. Virtual Wolverine can do things that Hugh Jackman and his stunt double could never dream of, such as spinning like a Tasmanian Devil or lunging, claw-first, across a twenty foot chasm into an enemy's chest. Wolverine is powered by Unreal Engine 3 so the environments and characters look gorgeous. There were a few moments when all the lighting, smoke effects, and explosions cause the frame rate to sag, though. It seems inevitable with that level of polish.
About 80% of the game is hack-and-slash combat while the remainder is puzzles and platforming. The platforming's painless; the hardest thing you'll ever have to do is run to safe ground when a helicopter starts blowing up the ground underneath you. Most of the puzzles fall under two categories: "push the statue onto the pressure plate to open the door" or "find the battery and put it in the slot so the machine starts." I did enjoy one puzzle in which Wolverine froze himself to get past a heat sensor but only because of his Looney Tunes-like pose while frozen. The mix of combat, platforming, and puzzles leads to inevitable God of War comparisons but unlike GoW, Wolverine doesn't have that much depth outside of combat.
It's not as though the combat is all that complicated, either. Granted, the animations are great and you feel cool beating the crap out of nameless soldiers but you learn all you need to know in the first couple hours. GoW gave the player new weapons over time but Wolverine's not going use other weapons when he's got indestructible claws of doom protruding from his hands. Aside from the basic attacks and the combos you can string together from them, there's also four different special abilities that use your rage supply. Rage is a yellow bar underneath your health bar and it grows with every kill. One of the abilities, "Enrage", increases your damage and healing over a period of time and makes your claws glow red. The other three rage attacks make Wolverine spin around very quickly with his claws stretched out and kill everything in the immediate vicinity. You'll either jump forward in a corkscrew manuever, spin like a top, or barrel roll around. There's not really any meaningful difference to these abilities (other than trajectory) so you'll just use whatever ability you've put the most upgrade points into.
It's not really clear why there's an upgrade system for this game. I suppose it's satisfying to earn experience points and level up but the only things you spend points on are your health, rage, or damage. They're just passive bonuses so though you're becoming stronger, your playstyle won't change in any meaningful way. By the end of the game you'll probably have earned enough upgrade points to max out almost everything too, so you're not really choosing between upgrades so much as you're deciding which ones you want first.
The story of the game is essentially an elongated version of the film's plot. You'd think this would make it more coherent and rich than the film but the opposite is true. Though it features the entire story arc of the film, it skips a couple steps here and there and feels very jumpy. Scenes are combined, dialogue is trimmed down, and so forth. The only positive thing I'll say about this abbreviation is that it at least moves things along quickly.
The material which appears in the game but not in the film is, unfortunately, filler. Small pieces of the movie are essentially just stretched out to become full-fledged levels. In the film, Wolverine joins a special team of mutants but ends up leaving because they're ordered to kill civilians in a mission in Africa. The mission in Africa is like ten minutes in the movie but a quarter of the game. For most of the game, Wolverine is on the run from this covert organization he ditched but you'll revisit the Africa mission over the course of the game with several short flashback sequences. Breaking the mission up bit by bit is a neat structural trick but there's no pay-off to the suspense they create. The fact that he left his little mutant special forces team because he didn't want to kill civilians isn't a juicy enough revelation to deserve hours worth of build-up. If you've already seen the film, this whole charade will bore the piss out of you.
Ultimately, the game is an adaptation of the film so I suppose the developers didn't want to stray too far from the beaten path by creating original story threads. Maybe Activision only has the rights to produce games based on the film but not the comics? It's a shame because there's such a staggering amount of story possibilities in the Marvel universe. Boss fights were just a disappointment. Whenever I got to the end of a level, I'd always hope some villain from the comics would ambush me but instead, the game would throw a W.E.N.D.I.G.O. (big Frankenstein thing) or lava monster at me. Yes, lava monsters. You'll fight so many of these (unexplained) monsters in the game that you might think you're raiding Molten Core with your WoW guild. W.E.N.D.I.G.O.s and lava monsters are both essentially the same fight, too - you lunge onto their back or chest and then slash them until they toss you or their health runs out. The game later tries to top the experience by throwing several of them at you at once.
The only wholly original portion of the game is a level where you travel to a military base in the southwestern United States to rescue a friend. Though the level consists mostly of futuristic-looking hallways (a common setting for the game), it culminated with the one boss fight I was actually excited for: a battle against a giant, mutant-hunting robot known as a Sentinel. It could've been the highlight of the game, too, had the encounter not consisted of me lunging at the robot's ankles and slashing them until the robot tossed me or his health ran out. Ugh.
Over the course of the game, you'll be waylaid by a number of attack helicopters. After you - yes, lunge - onto the front windshield, you'll quickly go about dismantling the vehicle and killing its passengers. One interesting thing about Wolverine is that it doesn't use Quick Time Events (random button prompts to perform complex action) in all the places you'd expect. When you're assaulting the helicopter, for example, you'll dodge with your analog stick (troopers are shooting at you, by the way) and stab the plane by pressing your attack button. Though it's still more restrictive than normal combat, it's more engaging than QTE.
However, like the boss fights, the helicopter encounters are cheapened by repetition. At one point, you'll take down a helicopter, then jump down to another helicopter and do the same...and then jump down to another helicopter and rip it apart as well. The game's campaign will take about 10-12 hours but it would've been probably been a couple hours shorter had they decided not to so blatantly pad it through duplication.
Though I can't say Wolverine is a great game, it's still loads better than the vast majority of movie-to-game adaptations out there. Most studios crap these adaptations out and run away with their ill-gotten money but Raven Software actually seemed to care about the quality of their project. The end of the game hints at a sequel and I hope Raven makes a follow-up that's far removed from any film. I'm curious to see what they can do if they create another Wolverine at their own pace and without the creative restrictions of source material.
Platform(s):Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC