Although the trend for superhero games and especially those involving the X-men has been for action and fighting, including the potentially great but greatly flawed X-Men:New Dimensions, Activision has pulled one out of the bag by making the first RPG for this much enjoyed group of genetically modified misfits.
This emphasis upon fighting and brightly designed super-powers showed one part of the appeal of the X-men but not the whole - namely, that the team was in fact a team and worked together as such. From the comic books, through to the recent films, the fact that the group worked together, fought together, won and lost together practically screamed out for a game that captured the peculiar essence of the characters and their ability to mould and evolve as a group, something which only a role-playing game could do justice to. Add to that some 35 years of history, characters, storylines there was sufficient material for something deeper to be made, thus the shift to the RPG genre.
This does not mean that Raven have buried the game under masses of RPG statistics - far from it the game is essentially more akin to Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance in terms of gameplay, so that it comes across as an Action/RPG hybrid which works well and serves to placate the needs of both groups of gamers.
The game itself starts with the most popular X-man, Wolverine, and is essentially a very short quasi-tutorial level where you are sent to rescue a recently 'outed' mutant called Alison Crestmere, from the rather large being known as the Blob.
In the course of this early objective, Wolverine comes across Mystique, Pyro, anti-mutant policemen, teams up with Cyclops and along the way does a lot of enjoyable damage using those infamous claws. The fact that in the opening part of the game you are already immersed in the X-men universe with such deadly and appealing opponents shows that the game has really been researched and well-written, purportedly by some of comicdom's best. For an RPG this is crucial, the need to have sufficient depth in plot and character and X-Men Legends has it in spades.
For combat, the fighting system is well designed - it's simple and effective, lending to ease of use of the controls which will get you where you want and deliver an enjoyable combat experience. Although the individual members of the team have their own characteristic mutant powers, one especially attractive feature is the use of 'combos' when two or more X-men attack an opponent simultaneously - "Optic Claw", "Batter Up" and others through the course of the game proudly come onto the screen and create greater damage, especially useful against bosses and also exemplifying the team nature of the game and combat.
"X-traction Points" appear before battles with bosses and enable you to save, load and most interestingly choose from the list of X-men available at the X-Mansion, very handy if your team lacks the particular power or ability to break through an area requiring for example the Iceman's cold blasts or Jubilee's energy/light attacks.
Monitoring health and energy levels is important as is the case in any RPG (energy here is used for special individual attacks, initiated by the R button) but the game has a nice AI controlled character monitoring option, which allows you to play whichever character you need to, without having to worry too much about other party members.
The option to control each member is there, but would probably prove quite hair-raising in larger or harder fights. One of the best aspects of the combat system is the ability to level up during actual combat. Simply pause, go into options, assign points and keep going - no need to wait until the end of a boss fight. This really makes the combat experience far more fluid and satisfying, enabling the battle to go on but also giving the sense of learning from the battle by being able to boost stats with ease.
Wandering through the world you will find health and energy potions after having defeated enemies or if you are feeling even more destructive, whack a few things around you, such as postboxes or garbage bins to uncover hidden health, energy and the occasional surprise unlockables, such as comic book covers and concept art.
Early previews of the game showed cel-shading to be the basis of the character models and although not initially appealing in the magazines and screenshots viewed, I can only say that in-game it works well and is more than sufficient for the nature of the game, as a top-down camera really doesn't need incredibly high amounts of detail. The amount of unlockable costumes for the characters is reported to be more than worth it for the dedicated gamer and comic fan too, including outfits from all the incarnations of the X-men over the years.
It's the story that inspires the game's action so well though and be sure that Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are up to no good - cinematics linking sections are excellent and build the tension more than sufficiently to make you want to progress onwards in this very appealing to play and well made game. The RPG elements in no way detract from the action and the action in the same way doesn't interfere with character management and evolution - both are balanced extremely well to provide an involving experience and immersion into the game and the Marvel Comics world from which it originated.
About the only thing that could be found to be a problem is the music - sound effects are quite sufficient for powers, explosions and so forth but the soundtrack is unusually dull and unmemorable. Perhaps this is a factor that really doesn't have to key in, considering the depth of plot and game that is available. Voice acting is above average, owing to a list of Hollywood actors supplying vocals, including Patrick Stewart as Professor X, though at times the comments from some characters fall flat whereas in a comic they would carry more weight.
Given this game is the logical evolution of the X-men Franchise, could we hope to see in the future something akin to a GTA style game where we have the X-men wandering around an enormous cityscape, either in 3rd or 1st person? Spider-man 2 (although not in itself a perfect experience) proved it was possible, perhaps someone else will do the same or better, only time will tell. A KOTOR style turn-based battle system with heavier RPG elements would work well too, but for the moment, we have X-Men Legends, and frankly, it's the best translation of the X-Men to any game format so far.