It's tough to deny the potential inherent to X-Men: Destiny's premise: take control of a fresh-faced mutant, guide them through the manifestation of their dormant superpowers, fight alongside some of the Marvel Universe's best and brightest, and then choose to align them with either Earth's ragtag band of mutant protectors or their renegade rivals. On paper, the core concept sounds like a fresh, fanservice-y take on the comic medium's most famous team of superhuman outcasts, and a solid way to kill a couple of afternoons. In reality, it's a completely serviceable and wholly forgettable side-story to the X-Men mythos, and little more.
Following the death of the X-Men's cue-balled captain at the hands of supercomputer-cum-supervillian Bastion, three unsuspecting mutants make their way to a peaceful mutant memorial for the late Charles Xavier in sunny San Francisco. Needless to say, the calm doesn't last long, and the rally is soon attacked by a sinister unseen force that throws the entire affair into disarray. Said disarray then activates your player's mutant powers -- one of three generic super-powered skill-sets -- and you're soon thrust into what's essentially five hours of hacking, smashing, or blasting baddies until the credits roll. And then while the credits roll.
Despite its "action-RPG" branding, X-Men Destiny is, at its core, a by-the-books hack-'n-smash brawler in its purest form. Each of the game's missions are peppered with slight variations on the ol'"Defeat X Amount of Enemies" objective, and the clunky combat, while far from broken, is rarely up to the task of presenting a meaningful challenge. It doesn't help that you'll battle the same handful of same-faced grunts and rehashed boss baddies ad nauseum over the game's length, including in randomly interspersed "Challenge Arenas" which are, in all honestly, the same bloody brawls that make up the rest of the game. You'll unlock and level up new mutant abilities as the game progresses, but they're rarely of any more use than your trio of core combos, which you should be very familiar with by the game's end.
In one of Destiny's more admirable misfires, you can track down and collect assorted "X-Genes" -- offensive, defensive, and all-around practical abilities borrowed from Marvel's mutants -- hidden in the environment, which can help round-out your character's comic book-y capabilities. Now, the idea of slapping on Wolverine's costume, thus earning his regenerative healing factor, or hijacking Juggernaut's tank-like defences is a novel one in and of itself, but there's just not enough variety for it to ever really take shape. There's so much overlap between the assorted Genes and so little notable advantage in swapping them out that, once you track down a few practical powers, there's no reason to even bother with sniffing out the others.
The game does shine from time to time, however -- primarily through the player interactions with its diverse comic book cast. The voice acting is largely spot-on, with some seasoned X-vets bringing 616 Marvel's finest to life. The dialogue is, well, it's fine for the most part -- Bobby Drake offers to put enemies "on ice" moments after he surfs onscreen, and Aussie-born Pyro demands more enemies to "put on the barbie" -- and scribe Mike Carey's (X-Men: Legacy, Hellblazer) standard-fare story rustles up some noteworthy faces that many True Believers will no doubt be thrilled to see.
However, underwhelming graphics and maddening technical hiccups (the framerate dips are annoying on the 360 version, insufferable on the PS3 port) drag down the overall experience even further, and the core "Destiny" concept of choosing which mutant team to align yourself with doesn't offer enough variety for more than a single breezy playthrough. Additionally, the three playable original mutants rarely feel like more than interchangeable cookie-cutter characters whose true superpowers are moving the plot along, and gamers reeled in on the promise of an "RPG" will no doubt be bummed by their featherweight customisation options.
X-Men: Destiny isn't a bad game -- it just plays like an unfinished one. With a longer campaign, some choices that truly affected its story, more diverse gameplay, and much deeper customisation options, it could've been great. As is, it's decent, but that's hardly a reason to spend $60 on it. If you're a true Marvel superfan, Destiny is certainly worth a rental, but I'd still recommend tracking down a cheap copy of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 over it any day of the week.