A few notable appearances in Capcom's Versus fighting games notwithstanding, video games have not been terribly kind to the Wolverine, particularly when it comes to his solo joints. Raven Software is looking to change all that with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a capital M-for-Mature action game that is neither shy about cribbing from the God of War gameplay formula, nor is it timid about exploring the terrifically bloody potential of a character with a skeleton covered in nigh-indestructible metal, a hyper-accelerated healing ability, and a set of six, footlong, razor-sharp claws sticking out of his hands. Playing the first level of the game in a hotel suite during GDC, the graphic level of the violence definitely left a significant impression, though it's also shaping up to be a really sharp-looking game with some snappy, if familiar, action.
The game takes its story points from the upcoming movie of the same name, which is why characters like Wolverine and Sabretooth look like surprisingly convincing polygonal versions of Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber, respectively. The opening cinematic in X-Men Origins: Wolverine makes it perfectly clear how this title plans on treating its source material, when a shaggy-looking Logan dispatches a member of some indeterminate paramilitary team by popping his claws clean through the side of his head. It's not just his enemies' blood that gets shed, though, as you're subsequently treated to unflinching images of Wolverine getting a hole blown clean through his midsection and taking a shotgun blast to the face. That mutant healing factor is in top form, something that the game showcases as soon as the action starts.
The gameplay itself opens with Wolverine in a free-fall, plummeting through the air towards a war-torn piece of jungle, having been riding uncomfortably in a military helicopter just moments earlier. As he rushes towards the ground, a clearing becomes visible, and eventually a single enemy comes into focus. The fact that he's moving at terminal velocity is apparently of little concern to Wolverine. He pulls his claws out and, after a quick cinematic pause as he's about to make contact with his target, he makes a big goddamn dent in the ground, leaving his enemy like a busted, bloody piñata.
Once I started facing off against enemies, the God of War influence became immediately clear. The fights I encountered seemed to focus mostly on taking on multiple enemies at once with some flashy and mashy attack combos that left everyone else at least a little bit stumpy. Wolverine starts off with some limited special attacks, though you'll be able to unlock new moves and improve his overall performance as you progress through the game. He can also pounce on enemies from afar, a move that I found particularly effective against enemies wielding firearms.
While most of my time was spent dismembering and impaling bloodthirsty tribesmen, I also saw a good number of agreeably ridiculous set pieces, such as an encounter with a helicopter that leaves its pilot decapitated and the helicopter itself in even worse condition, as well as a sequence on a falling rope bridge where Wolverine uses his claws and the bodies of his enemies to work his way up to solid ground. Hopefully Raven wasn't front-loading the game with its best moments, and if it can maintain the level of intensity and ingenuity, this promises to be an awesomely visceral experience.
The level of vicious brutality that X-Men Origins: Wolverine seems to be aiming for might seem cheap and exploitative on some level, but if you consider the animalistic heart of the character and the violent, primal nature of his abilities, it starts to make a whole lot more sense. I'll admit that the apparent commitment to viscera makes it easier to ignore the also-ran feel that the gameplay can give off. Still, it looks like Wolverine's pretty good at what he does, though what he does isn't very nice.