X-Men is the type of comic series that makes it tempting to visualise yourself in a starring role. Its heroes are just like the rest of us, give or take a few chromosomes, and its universe works both as an allegory for coming to terms with your identity as it does for the larger issue of race relations. But does X-Men: Destiny mutate into something great, or is it a few steps down the evolutionary ladder?
Every X-Men fan has at one time fantasised about discovering mutant powers of their own, and this game channels that well as you take control of one of three civilians who find themselves in somewhat of the same situation. It's an interesting take on the franchise as you'll play a rookie instead of controlling one of the familiar X-Men characters, meeting them along the way. You can also collect their scattered about genes, which sounds gross, but is just like picking up a regular power-up. You take charge of the son of a mutant hater, a girl abandoned by her mutant father or a jock who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and must grow stronger and more familiar with your powers as you progress. When you begin, you face another choice as well – you can pick between three abilities, which set up your attack basis for the rest of the game. You'll learn new moves as you go, and by the end each makes for a unique play style that stands apart from the others.
The overarching narrative is interesting as well. Professor X is dead and mankind's mutant anxiety is at a fever pitch. The future of the X-Men is up in the air, especially after a rally for peace between humans and mutants is mysteriously attacked. As you progress, the plot thickens as different factions enter the mix. Depending on which character you pick, you'll get a different back-story as well, and that subtly affects the rest of the game – the first character struggles with thoughts of betraying his father's anti-mutant sentiments, for example. It's clear that story is a major focus of Destiny, which features many dialog scenes, choices that open up alternate areas, and the ultimate decision – whether to join the X-Men or side with the more militant Brotherhood, headed by Magneto.
For all its focus on an open-ended narrative, however, it's a pretty linear affair, and most of the choices you'll have to make only influence gameplay in a minor way. And while the storyline is very well written, the majority of the dialogue is relatively uninteresting and can severely halt the flow of gameplay. The game pauses as you discuss the situation with different characters, and it feels out of place and poorly implemented most of the time.
The rest is nothing special either. It's your standard beat-em-up, having you fight bland enemy after bland enemy with just a few simple attacks. Collecting X-Genes makes things a lot more interesting – who wouldn't like to travel about by one of Iceman's frost waves? – but it works as more of a perk instead of something deeper. If you collect all of one type of gene you unlock a Fan Suit, allowing you to utilise the ability as it regenerates by time, whereas regularly you have to wait until you pick up more power-ups. This adds a sense of fun and progression to the mix, but otherwise combat is a very unimaginative, rarely challenging affair that can become quite tedious after extended play.
Boss battles are quite simple as well, usually involving one trick you'll have to learn for a certain phase. It's never hard to figure out, but until you do you can expect to die repeatedly. This is usually somewhat late in the battle after the challenge picks up a bit, and if you perish you'll generally have to fight through an overly simple section of the contest or listen to some unskippable dialogue again. It's a serious design flaw and can make for a very boring, frustrating experience.
Level design lacks creativity, generally having you follow a set path from one marker to the next with plenty of invisible barriers along the way where you might like to explore or hop over an obstacle to the next part of the stage. It often relies on leaping up ledges along walls, which make it a big problem that jumping is somewhat awkward and slow, turning this aspect into somewhat of a chore at times. What's worse is that if you're accidentally holding the control stick a little to the left or the right instead of directly pointing up – which is quite easy to do, given that you'll also travel horizontally along these ledges – rather than hopping to the next, you'll fall to the ground. Other control issues factor in as well, including one boss battle that depends on your climbing a wall and leaping off at just the right moment. If you do so at slightly the wrong angle you'll instead climb back down a bit, making yourself vulnerable to attack, and thus dying, subsequently tediously repeating the simpler part of the fight again and again.
The worst part of the experience, however, is the at times atrocious camera. It has a tendency to swing around somewhat erratically or place itself at just the wrong angle, and while manual enemy targeting and D-Pad adjusting help remedy this, it still gets in the way quite a bit – especially when fighting a boss that's too quick for the camera. The key assigned to placing it directly behind your character is the 1 button, which is inconveniently located for something so important.
The graphics utilise a simple style that looks more or less like it would fit right into the pages of a comic book, but often just comes off as undetailed and unimpressive. Words like "Uncanny!" and "X-treme!" pop up from time to time during fights, which adds a bit of personality. However, some slowdown shows up once in a while, and the game has a few glitches including occasional freezing and bugs that force you to restart from your last save. That's not all that exudes lack of polish; clipping problems and flickering graphics show up here and there as well. The music is generally catchy and fits right in, and the voice acting works well, but often the equalisation is off a bit and it's hard to make out what people are saying if they're speaking during gameplay. Oddly, there's no way to adjust the volume of each.
An impressive storyline and some interesting choice-driven gameplay make Destiny a compelling experience at times, and the occasional diverging pathways and ability to choose your mutant power at the beginning add replay value and help make one playthrough unique from the next. However, it's still largely linear, and the gameplay mostly amounts to simplistic, repetitive beat-em-up combat, boring level design and platforming marred by a somewhat cumbersome jumping mechanic. Throw in a seriously faulty camera and you've got an average experience that should have been so much more.