- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

X-Men: The Official Game, by Activision, reviewed for Xbox 360 (also available for PlayStation 2, Xbox and Game Cube), rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $59.99. The latest homage to Marvel Comics’ famed mutants has arrived, and despite its attempts to merge the movies and book franchise into a third-person adventure, the game will leave the player wondering what went wrong with something that had so much going for it.

First, consider that developers Z-Axis used the voices and likenesses of “X-Men” stars, including Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman, Patrick “Professor X” Stewart, Shawn “Iceman” Ashmore and Alan “Nightcrawler” Cummings.

Next, legendary X-Men comics scribe Chris Claremont and the screenwriter of the last two X movies, Zak Penn, developed the game story, which takes place between the second and third movies.

Additionally, consider that Z-Axis already knew what X-Men fans wanted in a mutant game, based on a pair of wildly successful squad-based X-Men Legends titles previously released by Activision.

Finally, the developers had a system to work with that was eight times more powerful than the original Xbox.

The unfortunate result is a clunky, uninspired action game that offers a single player the old “beat ‘em up” formula as he works through 28 linear missions peppered with mindless repetition and a few Danger Room exercises.

Even worse, as the player controls Wolverine, Nightcrawler or Iceman, he barely interacts with or sees other X-Men, an unforgivable faux pas when one knows the importance of teamwork from previous X games.

I did enjoy the appearance of realistic-looking characters such as Lady Deathstrike, the Sentinels, Sabretooth and Silver Samurai, legends from the X-Men comic books.

Some missions also are fun — especially when Nightcrawler, who can teleport on a dime with his characteristic blue wisp of smoke, is involved. Wolverine fans will be disappointed, as he does little more than force a button-mash session with the controller.

Most egregious to my eyes, however, is the lack of full-motion cut scenes to propel the story. Instead of moving digital characters with synced narration or scenes from the movies, players get stylized static illustrations that move only slightly. The scenes simply come off as cheap-looking when viewed in the scope of the Xbox 360’s potential to display high-definition graphics.

Alas, with no major upgrades for the Xbox 360, no online possibilities, a paltry amount of content to be unlocked, no multiplayer option and no cooperative action, the title is a weekend rental at best.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

Iceman speaks

Shawn Ashmore, who plays Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, in the “X-Men” movies, recently talked to The Washington Times about his experiences with video games and taking part in X-Men: The Official Game.

Q: Talk about being part of the game.

A: I was originally excited because it was a new way to portray the character in different scenes. Then I got into the studio and realized that acting for an Asiatic is so different from acting on a stage or for a movie. I was trying to be subtle and talk in a conversational tone, the way I would want to do it if I were working on a film, and it does not work. At the end of the day, I was playing everything way over the top.

Q: Have you played the game?

A: Only while it was still in the developmental stage, but I enjoyed it. I did get to play as my character and Nightcrawler, and that was pretty cool.

Q: So, you now exist in a virtual world?

A: Yeah, once they do a three-dimensional scan of an actor to use for special-effects shots, your likeness is stored in a computer somewhere, and it can be used forever, which is sort of scary.

Q: What video games do you play?

A: My favorite game of all time is Final Fantasy. I also just started playing Fable again. I love the idea of choosing your own adventure and the decisions and actions made, within the game, create the character. It is not structured, and you can be the bad guy or the

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