The summer games

Wolverine kind of sucks. He’s a surly, egotistical d-bag with a ridiculous costume, short man’s syndrome, and a hairy back, but at this point he’s probably more popular than every Marvel hero other than Spider-Man and Iron Man. The laughably terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine has grossed more than $175 million to date (fun fact: that’s more money than you could make by working overtime and prostituting yourself every day from now until 15 years after you die) for six reasons, though — six shiny, stabby reasons, not one of which is Hugh Jackman.

The latest film lamely declawed ol’ Slice-ity McStupidhair, or at least took away his ability to draw blood; its video-game counterpart makes no such mistake. Activision’s adaptation of the film remains faithful to Marvel’s original vision (i.e., Wolverine cuts up a lot of people, and they squirt blood and die), and it’s one of two movie-based video games released this summer that provide a more rewarding cinematic experience than what’s actually playing at the cineplex — worth noting when you consider that video games based on movies are usually about as well-made as movies based on video games.

The Nintendo 64 adaptation of GoldenEye might’ve been the classic that brought first-person-shooting to console gamers, but more (so very many more) film-based games are closer in quality to Atari’s E.T., a cash-grab so hurried it’s nearly unplayable, with millions of unsold copies now steamrollered in a New Mexico landfill for very good reason.

While Wolverine has a few glitches and gameplay issues, it shows few signs of being a rush job. The graphics are clean and pretty, though Jackman seems to be the only actor from the film whom any of the game’s artists have ever actually seen with their own eyes; the game’s rendering of Ryan Reynolds might as well be Michael J. Fox, but every ripple in Jackman’s biceps has been purposefully pixilated (considering the surprising percentage of gameplay devoted to grunt-filled, bare-chested rope-climbing, Origins is probably enjoyable on an entirely different level for Jackmaniacs).

Even better, the game’s designers (unlike anyone involved with the film) seem to understand why people like Wolverine in the first place. The Wii and Playstation 2 ports tone down the violence considerably, but the Uncaged Edition for Xbox 360 and PS3 would have trouble securing an R rating from the MPAA. Wolverine carves his way through roomfuls of soldiers, robots, and supernatural beings, and the blood from their open veins spurts at the camera. Time slows to highlight the most graphic deaths and dismemberments, and quadruple amputees writhe on the floor a few moments before their bodies evaporate.

If this all sounds too violent, you probably aren’t the target market for a video game starring a dude with switchblade hands. And although I suspect it has little if anything to do with Wolverine’s appeal, the game does (sort of) recreate Wolverine’s other super-power, advanced healing, with a “health bar” that regenerates as time passes, while his bloody, often-serious-looking combat wounds gradually fade away. Compulsive fans’ biggest complaints will be with the storyline, which unfortunately is stuck following the plot of the film, amnesia bullets and all. You do get to head into an African village in search of the indestructible metal adamantium, and the game includes about 15 more helicopters than the film (which you disable, not via that stupid motorcycle-jump maneuver, but by dragging the pilot out of the cockpit and decapitating him with the propeller.)

The game’s relatively short length (a $9.99 online expansion pack which allows you to battle rooms full of customizable enemies might hold your interest a little longer), and ultimately repetitive gameplay (not out of the ordinary for a button-masher fighting game) are decent–sized setbacks, but if Origins is less enjoyable than, say, Activision’s take on Spider-Man 2 (one of the sweetest movie video games ever) the real problem may be with Wolverine’s character, which doesn’t have as much potential for versatility: He heals, he forgets shit, and he stabs people with blades that stick out of his hands. If you’d like to pretend to do the same, you’ve never had a better visualization tool.

Much the same could be said of Ghostbusters: The Video Game — made, incredibly enough, by the landfill-packers at Atari: that it somehow manages to recreate the experience of pretending to be a Ghostbuster on the playground, but it makes all the ghost sound effects for you. It also features voice work from all the Ghostbusters (even Annie Potts, for God’s sake, though Sigourney Weaver’s been replaced by Alyssa Milano). Original screenwriters Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd even consulted on the script. But Aykroyd’s widely quoted claim, that the game is essentially a third Ghostbusters film — even though it’s looking now as though the proper (i.e. film) sequel to Ghostbusters 2 that’s been rumored for more than a decade might actually, finally happen — is misleading. The game puts you in charge of the Ghostbusters latest recruit, an intentionally unremarkable-looking dude with exactly zero lines. But that’s OK — you’re here to bust ghosts and watch a CGI Bill Murray with soulless eyes make wisecracks.

Uncanny-valley issues aside, the likenesses are pretty great and the graphics are more realistic than the first film’s special effects, but the cut scenes, like those in most video games, are actually the low point here. Murray, Aykroyd, et al. apparently only hung around the recording studio for a few lines each, which are repeated ad nauseam during gameplay, and the plot is basically just an excuse to let you replay scenarios from the films (you never get to drive Lady Liberty, unfortunately), and so most of the un-skippable cut-scene dialogue is along the lines of “I can’t believe I got slimed again!” or “The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is back?” As an actual movie, of course, this would be worse than the awful piece of shit Ghostbusters 3 will no doubt prove to be (if it’s ever made), but in a video game, it just translates to your inner child pissing his glow-in-the-dark pajamas. The actual ghostbusting plays like a combination third-person shooter and fishing game: Shoot a ghost with your proton stream (or another weapon such as green slime) to weaken it, then lasso it and wrangle it into the trap.

Like Origins, Ghostbusters is short for a modern game, probably beatable in a single day if your schedule’s free, but an online multiplayer mode, which allows you to play cooperatively as the real Ghostbusters, might keep you indoors, and out of movie theaters, for a lot longer.

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