Charles Xavier and his uncanny band of mutant superheroes are currently on the big screen in “X-Men: First Class,” but Wolverine, Magneto, Cyclops and Colossus — along with three new mutant characters — will feature in X-Men: Destiny, the new action/RPG hybrid game due out in September.
Whereas “First Class” took a retro approach to the classic mythology of the Marvel mutants, the new Silicon Knights-developed game is rooted firmly in the series’ current story line. A battle with supervillain Bastion has left the city of San Francisco in ruins, divided into human and mutant zones. The X-Men have relocated to an asteroid-turned-island in the San Francisco Bay, and with Professor Xavier out of the picture, they’re struggling to understand their role in the world.
Activision offered an early look at the game at its booth at the recently concluded E3 (where the company was also touting its Spider-Man: Edge of Time). In X-Men: Destiny, players actually assume the role of one of three mutant teenagers who have never appeared before in the X-Men mythos: Aimi Yoshida, whose mutant parents placed her on a boat to America to escape persecution in Japan; Grant Alexander, an all-American varsity athlete from Georgia with ambitions to play college football for California; and Adrian Luca, the son of a member of the Purifiers, an anti-mutant militant group who have been involved in a recent spate of kidnappings. Their X-Genes kick in when a rally in honor of Professor X the characters are attending is attacked; after that, the player takes over and the game turns into their chosen character’s origin story.
“In Destiny, there’s a lot of player choice involved,” said game producer Doug Heder from Activision’s Santa Monica offices while demonstrating a mission of the game set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. In the mission, the player must find Gambit, who’s gone rogue and who may have information about recent mutant kidnappings. “Everything you choose, from your character to your powers, affects the way the environment responds to you. It will affect the characters you meet along the way and the types of objectives and challenges you receive. Ultimately — and this is the fun part — you, as a mutant, get to choose who you want to align with, the X-Men or the Brotherhood of Mutants.”
The game offers players three core powers — energy projection, density control and shadow matter — with light and heavy attacks that can be used in different combinations for a variety of finishing moves and can also be upgraded as experience is gained. On top of the core powers, scattered throughout the game are X-Gene power-ups that give players the same abilities as various X-Men characters. In the demonstration, Heder picked up X-Men team member Surge’s X-Gene, enabling him to control electricity on top of his previously selected “energy projection” power. Heder then showed off new moves including “chained lightning,” in which he stunned an entire group of enemies with a static discharge.
“You’re building your own mutant from a shared pool of options,” said Heder, explaining that the player can mix and match any X-Gene with any core power, regardless of which character they chose. “When you choose Aimi, Grant or Adrian, what you’re really choosing is the story arc and the perspective that you’re going to experience the game through.”
But if a player is able to choose any power they want, how does that affect the story arc? And how do you tell a mutant’s story without delving into their powers? “You [have to] approach the whole question of defining character a little differently,” said X-Men: Destiny writer Mike Carey via phone from the UK. “Only a little, though. It’s amazing how often powers become an extension of personality or a visible metaphor for personality in comics. “
Carey, who has written the X-Men: Legacy series for the last six years, says one tricky aspect of writing for a mutant is that typically the acquisition of a power has widening repercussions in a character’s life. “We had to try to hit those beats in ways that weren’t specific to the powers themselves,” said Carey. “That was easiest for Adrian [the son of a Purifier] because for him the crisis arises from being a mutant, pure and simple.”
For Carey, whose comics credits also include the Hugo Award-nominated The Unwritten and the John Milton-inspired Sandman spinoff Lucifer, the game presented another opportunity to explore one of his favorite themes — moral ambiguity. “In X-Men: Destiny, most of the choices you make don’t present themselves as the ‘good option’ versus the ‘evil option,’ ” said Carey. “You’re fighting for your life, and [the choices] present themselves as rival strategies, different responses to a desperate situation. You vote your conscience, but that will mean different things for different people.”
— Mike Winder
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