The X-Men Game We Wish Someone Would Make
Without a doubt, the Dark Phoenix saga is the defining moment of the X-men series. Beginning with a 10-issue story arc in 1976-77 and concluding with another 10-issue arc in 1980, the short version is that X-Men member Jean Grey, returning home from one of the Marvel universe’s insane interplanetary locales, ends up joined to an extraterrestrial entity called ‘Phoenix’. This causes a vast increase in her psychic abilities, leading to a personal crisis in which she aligns with one of the X-Men series’ villainous organizations, destroys a star system. Ultimately, manipulated by the Phoenix entity she becomes capable of destroying the entire universe and is forced to kill herself to prevent that outcome from happening.
It remains a touchstone in X-Men continuity and to this day is highly influential, having been used as a plot in 2 separate animated series and having elements repurposed for the X-Men film franchise. It has everything: the death of a major character, appearances by The Avengers, the involvement of all of the X-Men team’s enemies and most importantly, surprisingly deep moral overtones including the genocide of an entire alien race. It also has the benefit of having been written as a comic storyline during the Bronze age of comics, making it perfect for adaptation as a video game.
Well, most likely as a trilogy of games.
Now that we have a story, we need to know how we’ll be experiencing it. We can start by eliminating genres from contention. Fighting games have been done to death. Straight action games are a better direction, but their linear design conventions tend to severely limit what kind of story you tell. The important thing is that Capcom and Activision should be excluded entirely from the game, period.
There are of course a few studios who have managed to create games whose scope, moral overtones and player involvement are worthy of the Dark Phoenix saga. BioWare and Bethesda are obviously at the top of that list. I bring them up because both companies made their millions making games that are enormous, incredibly varied, open to player personalization. They also, I think, prove that to do a story like Dark Phoenix right, it needs to be an Action RPG.
There’s another advantage to going the Action RPG route beyond scope. The typical straight-action game tends to cram all of the relevant backstory in the opening cut-scenes. The training missions tend to do nothing more than get the player acclimated to the game’s controls. An RPG game on the other hand usually involves a great deal of getting the player information about the backstory and current situation via gameplay itself. Giving the player the freedom to screw around in the X-Men universe would give the later events much more weight.
We’ve seen how, with X-Men: Destiny, creating a generic player character for an X-Men game is probably a mistake. We know what the actual X-Men’s powers are like, and we want to use them. In addition, a game set in the Dark Phoenix timeline ought to put the player in the middle of things, and that means playing as a canon Marvel universe character. There’s two ways this could go: