Justice League Heroes (X-Box) Review
Posted by David Redkey on 10.31.2006
The Worldís Finest Heroes travel familiar territory
Comic books lend themselves to great games. You have larger than life characters, with fantastic powers, battling equally powerful foes. There are years upon years of history for game creators to draw ideas from. For some reason, however, creators have been looking for the quick buck. The comic book fan has suffered too long. From Batman Forever to Justice League Task Force, they have run the gamut on mediocrity and banality. Snowblind studios have come to the rescue for DC fans (Marvel has there own saviors with X-Men Legends 1 & 2, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance). Donning the Snowblind engine, Justice League Heroes is here to save the day (for the most part).
Anyone whoís familiar with Baldurís Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath will instantly know what to expect from this game. When this engine made its debut five years ago, it was cutting edge. Due to advances in technology, the engine isnít nearly as impressive, but with JLH, we see that it has aged like fine wine.
The first thing youíll notice will be the Heroes themselves. Each character is highly polished and has their own animations for attacks (combos, blocking animation, etc.) and special abilities are quite impressive. The graphics for each character feels fleshed out and shows little details that stem from caring about the characters. With projectiles, particle effects, and bodies flying every where, the game can be a sight to behold. When a player breaks a desk with computer equipment, the contents of the desk scatter across the floor in an impressive way. Also, almost everything can be damaged in some way. Heat rays, for example, can light pillars, lampposts, cars on fire. Itís really nice when you sit back and watch the action unfold.
Compared to the Raven Softwareís game engine, the one thatís used for the X-Men Legend series, the Snowblind engine stands head and shoulders above its competition. There arenít any graphical glitches to mention and you donít have any of the random pop-ups as well. The game is just more stable. The only downside is that the environments arenít destructible. So, youíll be unable to blast people through walls and such (but, itís a small price to pay for this level of detail). The CG cut-scenes are a little of a disappointment. Some of the characters (namely females) looks a bit off in appearance. Moreover, after seeing the beautiful cinemas from X-Men Legends 2, the cinemas in this game can be a little underwhelming. Itís nothing that will totally take away from the experience, just something for fans of computer generated cinemas, like me, to take note of.
Superman decided that Brainiac is best served cold.
JLH is like a streamlined dungeon crawler with a few new additions to change things up a bit. You still gain experience and can up your abilities like any game of this sort, but potions and armor go by the wayside. It actually makes sense in the game. These are the Worldís strongest heroes and I could never imagine Superman wearing +1 Ring of Warding to protect himself. But, I digressÖ
Characters recharge their health and energy over time. A player can just run away for a second if things get too hectic, and after a few moments the characters are as good as new. Itís a nice addition but can slow down some battles considerably. Especially boss battles, these powered-up baddies can drain your life in no time. Some battles unfold as such: You take a few shots at the bosses, they drain you life, and then run for your life as your try to recharge your character. However, thatís a small inconvenience to not having to worry about potions and such. On a side note, enemies drop health and energy recharges at times. So, in the heat of most battles, full strength is only one fallen enemy away. Even with these additions to the gameplay, the game can be challenging at times and if you arenít carefulÖyouíll be restarting from your last save point (save points are placed at regular intervals and also the game auto saves at the beginning of each level. So, if you fall at the hands of evilÖyou wonít have to replay too much of the level).
Snowblind has done away with armor and weapons and they have been replaced by the Boost system. This is an ingenious way to change up your characters and allows for you to customize your heroes to your liking. As you level up your characters special abilities and other stats, you can augment them with Boost jewels that are dropped by the enemy. The jewels can augment speed of attacks, range, strength, and even how efficient the attack can be. Most of the jewels dropped by enemies are fairly low level, but you can actually combine three jewels to make a higher level one (the jewels max-out at level six). The only downside to this system is that once a jewel is attached, it can only be overwritten. So, itís an all or nothing system; however, it shouldnít be much of a problem if you plan ahead.
You have a fairly solid core of main characters. There is someone for everyone. You get the JLA big names such as Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Batman. They are joined by lesser utilized characters such as the Green Lantern (John Stewart version), Martian Manhunter, and Zatanna.
Each Character has access to four to five special abilities (five for the normal characters and four for the unlocked characters). These special abilities are a good implementation of representation of their comic book counter parts. Supermanís heat vision and ice breath, Martian Manhunterís shape-shifting abilities are shown in all their glory. There is even a nod to Frank Millarís Batman: Year One (and also Batman Begins) where Batman throws a sonar device on the ground which subsequently summons a swarm of bats. Its quite cool to see all this abilities used with such zeal. Also each character has little personal touches for example Martian Manhunter will become intangible while blocking (allowing projectiles to pass through), Superman will stand with chest out (earning his nickname ďThe Man of Steel), and Wonder Woman will use her bands to deflect projectile attacks back to the enemy.
You can also purchase extra characters with the shield system that is in place. Located throughout the stages are JLA shields. These little icons can either be placed in certain areas of the map or dropped by enemies randomly. The shields allow you to purchase new characters and costumes. All of the characters (except the alternate Green Lanterns) are fully realized with their own set of special moves. Snowblind gives players the option of unlocking alternate costumes to further customize their heroes. They can be viewed as a double edge sword, however. The alternate costumes increase one area of your character while decreasing another. For example, Earth-2 Superman increases your melee damage by 13% and decreases your health percentage by 8%.
However, these touches expose how bland the melee combat can feel. Every character has the same combos and they are only differentiated by animations. All the enemies run of a basic form as well. The type of enemies youíll run into are Flamethrowers, over-sized brawlers, enemies with projectiles, or flyers. Youíll come away with a feeling of redundancy from the combat since the only thing that changes between enemies are the skins. Objects can be used as weapons; but, the damage they cause is relatively low. Almost all the characters have some sort of projectile (the only notable exception being The Flash). During the course of play, youíll come across feeling like youíve played with the same basic character throughout. On a side note, the characters move at the same (slow) speed. This is especially disappointing because the Flash only truly becomes the Flash when you activate his special Speed Force Skill (his attacks however are the fastest in the game).
In every mission, the game supplies you with two characters to control. If by chance one of your heroes falls in battle, the gameís plentiful check points will only keep them out for a little while. If you donít have a friend nearby to play co-op, the computer takes control of the other character. By pressing up on the D-Pad, the reigns of one character switches to the partner. In addition, the AI controlled characterís aggression can be change by pressing left, right or down on the pad. The AI is pretty good overall but there are instances in which theyíll get caught up on obstacles and youíll find your character by themselves for a few moments until your partner in crime (fighting) teleports to your position. There are also instances where the AI character will pick up objects or enemies, and not throw them. During one sequence, you AI partner may pick up something that you need to use. This will force you to hurry up and switch to that character in hopes that the item isnít destroyed.
The structure of the game can also be a major letdown for some people, especially for the people that are used to X-Men Legendís build your-own-party-interface. Because the game forces you to use specific characters for the majority of mission, player will be forced to use characters that they may not want to use. The only time you can pick teams is during a handful of missions in the middle of the game. Itís actually nice in a way because you get to use characters that you may not even think twice about using. A problem can occur with the mission where you select your teammates. Once you make the selections, you canít actually change them. Also, you donít know what the mission entails on the first play through. This can cause a problem when facing a very powerful boss and you have weak teammates. Still a great game none the less.
The Lasso of Truth is at work here...
The sound of the game can defined as mostly SupermanÖbut, Clark Kent in some areas. The music throughout the game is pretty standard for this fare. You get the jungle theme, futuristic theme, and your other-world themes. The music for the most part is forgettable and itíll be out of your mind once you turn the game off.
The sound effects are pretty solid. The characters sound like they have weight in their attacks. Also, you get the generic laser blast sounds and explosions that are standard for an action game.
The voice acting is pretty strong throughout. The voice actors from Justice League Unlimited arenít used at all. Snowblind decided to bring in a new cast of voice actors. The new cast is pretty solid (with Ron Perlman adding some flair to Batmanís voice) and glancing through the credits will be a veritable whoís who of video game voice acting.
During the course of gameplay, the characters not only spout one-liners but communicate with each other. Itís a nice little detail when two characters are commenting on a specific situation (but this could actually be a by-product of the more story focused structure of the game). However, quips by characters will be expressed repeatedly. This is especially true for the ones that are spoken when power-ups are picked up. Itís nothing to bad in the grand scheme of things.
Wonder woman taking a moment out to collect her thoughts. "What should I wear to that dinner formal? hmmm"
To put it bluntly, this game is just plain fun. There is something inherently romantic with using Superman and blasting a bad guy across the room with your Heat Vision, or using Wonder Womanís Lasso of Truth to tie up groups of enemies. Even though the story penned by Dwayne McDuffie is your standard super hero fare, itís well written and has some catchy dialogue. Also, during the course of the game, there are allusions to other JLA characters that didnít make the cut. If you donít care for the League or Dungeon crawlers in general, there is nothing here that will bring you around. Itís brawling, brawling, and then more brawling, but what is here is golden.
Snowblind brought in an average list of baddies to battle with as well; however, itís absolutely dwarfed by Marvel Ultimate Alliance. To be fair, Snowblind graced the game with a the right mix of obscure villains such as The Key and Killer Frost to more well know baddies as Darkseid and Brainiac. Some omissions and changes will make JLA fans weep. The Key, for example, is totally wrong and doesnít hold a candle to Grant Morrisonís Post-Crisis re-imaging (which was pretty sick in his own right). In addition, the White Martians seem totally off and arenít nearly as powerful as their comic book counter parts (who actually whooped up on the Leaguers). Itís nitpicking on my part and the average fan wonít notice.
The playtime clocks in at a little over 10 hours for the average player. There are no side missions and the items you can unlock are a bit of mix bag. Because of the mission structure, the extra characters are virtually useless. You can only use them in a hand full of situations. With only offline co-op, some individuals may think twice about the purchase. Itís a shame that there isnít a semblance of an online mode. Considering that the major competition has an online mode, this problem comes into further focus.
Itís not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but there are omissions that really hurt the overall experience. Unless you are a DC fan or love a good dungeon crawler, this game is going to be a rental at best.
Snowblind Studios didnít re-invent the wheel but the build a solid dungeon crawler based on a comic book. Comparisons will be made between this game and Raven Softwareís game; but, this game holds itís own and itís a welcome addition to anyoneís library. Some people may be put off by how the game is structured, but if you play with an open mind, youíll see just how high these Heroes can soar.
The game engine is very stable with very little slow down and glitches. The detail is awesome, but the game engine still shows its age.
This is your standard hack-n-slash with super heroes. The game has been streamlined and the boost system adds added depth.
Great voice overs from all the characters. The sound effects are what you expect from an action game. They are very good overall.
About 10 hours of gameplay and a pretty good story; however, most of the unlockables are useless and online play is sorely missed.
A fun adventure that any comic book fan would be a fool not to own...