I’ll admit, I was taken in with the good press preceding the release of the Wolverine Origins movie. Months before its release date – it was a simpler time, then – there was naught but hopeful news: they were bringing in the director of Tsotsi – he makes real movies! Liev Schreiber was set to play Sabretooth – that guy does Shakespeare in the Park! Will.I.Am was going to be involved – he…is a person! I’ve heard movies referred to as abortions before, but the label seems less than apt for the mess that resulted here. This disaster was taken fully to term, and is more akin to the unholy progeny of a mortal and the corporeal avatar of an eldritch god; it exists as an abomination, all claws and teeth and wriggling tentacles, and must be put down with the aide of a priest. Anyway. Despite its namesake’s shortcomings, the game based on the movie (X-men Origins: Wolverine Uncaged Edition!) is a constant joy. I’ve thus far played only the demo, but it succeeds by the three primary measures of a Wolverine video game, being:
- Do you have claws?
- Are you the best at what you do?
- Is what you do very nice?
The answer to questions 1 and 2 is a resounding “yes”. I'd say point 3 is more a matter of perspective. The game does, however, raise an interesting question. It’s really remarkably similar to the God of War franchise, in that the player utilizes a few drastically simplified commands to hack and slash through a constant onslaught of enemies. I’ve managed to pick up both games fairly easily, which always makes me suspicious: if I can play these games well, and am generally bad at modern video games, are these games too easy? Both Wolverine and GoW deny the necessity – indeed, even the practicality – of long, complicated button combos in favor of simpler, more intuitive controls, and I like that. (Sure, they do reward players who master dodging and blocking, but only to a point; really, true believers, how often does Wolverine dodge?) One thing that always frustrates me about new games is the memorization and association process by which a player begins to link, mentally, the need to jump or dodge or punch with the A or B or X button. I’ve never had that natural feel for the controller, leading me to jump when I meant to dodge, or punch when I meant to jump. Or, in the case of Metal Gear Solid, to do a charming jig when I REALLY BADLY NEEDED TO HIDE. However, I recognize that part of the charm of any game – from the latest Blizzard release to, say, chess – lies in a player’s slow, steady accrual of skill. I generally dislike the Tekken series, but I appreciate that its routine use of 7- and 8-button combinations rewards dedication in a way that Wolverine and GoW never will; one can become only so adept at slashing one’s enemies before further practice will no longer reap a significant benefit. What’s more, both GoW and Wolverine make heavy use of interactive Quicktime events. I know these have been much maligned on Teh Internets, but I enjoy them: they allow a player to feel involved in the execution of a particularly stunning maneuver without the weeks of button-mashing frustration it would take to learn to perform these feats manually. Further, while they have been derided as arbitrary, I can’t understand how they’re any more or less arbitrary than any other video game technique; there’s no innate connection between a high kick and the Y button, despite what Mortal Kombat may say to the contrary, so why hold that same tenuous association against Quicktime events? Anyway, what do you think? Do you enjoy video games where the controls themselves throw up barriers that must be overcome? Or do you prefer simplified games more focused on immersive simulation? I like a game that’s fun as soon as you plug it in, but I can understand the appeal of titles that require the devotion of more time; there is a sense of achievement in a successful Left 4 Dead session that I doubt Wolverine will ever convey. In a game like Wolverine – or The Force Unleashed, or Ninja Gaiden – do you want to feel like a mutant killing machine (or Jedi, or ninja) immediately? Or do you want to earn your claws over time?