Review: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (PS3, Xbox 360)September 19th, 2009 | Written by Josh Schwartzman | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360
2006’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance gave players the chance to control their favorite superheroes and create their long awaited “dream team” of crime fighters. While the game was a smash hit, several technical issues and gameplay functions hindered it from being truly enjoyable after one playthrough. Set to change all that, Activision and developer Vicarious Visions have made Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 an even better experience, complete with better animations, a well-written story, and flashy fun powers that can be combined to add layers of replay value. There are some minor draws, but fans will truly appreciate how well the series has improved in three years.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 features a cast of over 20 characters for you to pick from to make your four-man team. While each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, many of you will probably stick with the same well-known heroes for the majority of the game. That isn’t to say it is necessarily a bad thing, but more time could have been spent to give the characters more balanced skills and powers. Playing through the first half of the game, we never had Gambit leave our party (mainly in part to his amazing athletic abilities and cosmic powers), which is a shame because the rest of the characters available to use seemed just as lively and powerful. While hardcore and casual fans will recognize the popular icons such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Man and more, there are plenty of new less discreet characters, such as Ms. Marvel, Penance and Songbird that will surely please any longtime fan of the comics.
Despite your inability to probably choose the lesser known characters, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 puts together a well crafted storyline that blends together two of the most popular comic series in recent years, Secret War and Civil War. The beginning of the game focuses on the events of Secret War which has your team following Nick Fury into Latveria to confront the Prime Minister. After things don’t go as planned and a resulting explosion leaves many innocent people dead, the government is forced to adopt a new law entitled the Superhuman Registration Act into passing. This new law divides the heroes, with half of them wanting it to pass and the other half opposed to it, thus arching the story into the popular Civil War canon.
The Civil War part of the story will actually separate your team and you will have to choose which side to fight for during the remainder of the game. The two factions end up coming together at the end, but it is interesting to play both sides of the argument and see how each leader’s point of view can be both right and damaging in its own light. Of course this choosing of sides also leads to multiple playthroughs which adds to the game’s already extensive replay time.
While the story should keep you interested in the canon of the Marvel universe, players will also get the chance to choose their own path of speech dialogues along the way. At certain points in the game you will be forced to choose a statement on the current situation, and similar to Mass Effect, players are then given three options: Aggressive, Defensive and Diplomatic. While this idea is impressive to help players interact with the story, none of your choices really have any underlying effect to the overall scale. The only real rewards from choosing specific dialogue options are boosts to your stats, but those are also really miniscule and offer no reason to be a complete jerk for just simple strength boosts. The dialogue also does not seem to match the characters themselves. Many of the choices will leave you questioning your decisions, and it seems like the options are specifically designated to the events themselves rather than the actual characters you are controlling.
But while the story is a refreshing change to keep fans immersed in the game, the bulk of the gameplay is the action and there is plenty of it to be found. As simple mechanics go, each character has their own soft and hard strike, grapple and jump attacks which can be utilized at any time. By holding down the right trigger (R2 for the PS3); players can also access a powers menu that lets you perform character-specific attacks to enemies. For example, Iceman can create towering chunks of ice that impale enemies from below, Juggernaut can pick up an enemy and use him as a battering ram and Gambit can throw exploding cards. Each character can have up to three powers which can then be upgraded in the menu for even greater damage.
Perhaps the biggest inclusions in the combat of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 are the fusion abilities which allow you to combine character specific powers between two team members. Once you deal enough damage to enemies you will earn a fusion star that allows you to unleash a devastating attack depending on the characters in your party. While some of the more crowd-pleasing abilities eliminate everyone around you, some of the fusion powers give you enhanced abilities, such as faster speed which you can use to plow through enemies or enhanced targeting that lets you wind up and mow through bosses. Choosing which fusion powers to use at a certain time could be highly strategic as you never want to waste a single-targeted fusion power on a group of enemies, and with over 24 playable characters, all of which that can be fused together; there are dozens of available powers at your disposal. Just for kicks, see what happens when you combine Gambit with Iron Man and Juggernaut with Wolverine- you won’t be disappointed.
Many fans will be disheartened to learn that the RPG aspects from the first game have been incredibly dumbed down for this version. You still earn points for defeating enemies and completing tasks, but there are not as many options available for you to really invest in making your characters seem stronger. Still, the lack of being able to thoroughly spend time leveling up as you could with the first game hinders much of the RPG elements reminiscent of this type of game, and most will find it easier to simply use the auto-level function to level up to save time and frustration. Newly added medals also give boosts to your team, such as extra fusion stars or health regen capabilities and co-op players who level up on their own can now upgrade their stats and abilities on a small screen that pops up, allowing the computer to take over until they finish.
Visually, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 looks better than the first game, both in technical and gameplay designs. The levels all look similar to drawings from the comics and character designs all match accordingly to their comic and movie counterparts. The fusion powers specifically look fantastic, and you will sometimes be amazed by the fireworks display on your screen of bright, vibrant colors. The sound is respectable in its own right, as new music and character voice acting is added, but too many recycled tunes and character sounds are used throughout the game and some of it gets irritating at times.
In just three years, Vicarious Visions has taken a well adapted formula and created an enjoyable, polished and all-around better sequel. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 will give fans a reason to enjoy playing, and with the dynamic fusion powers, wide cast of characters, and the storyline based around the events of Civil War, there is surely something here to please anyone. Co-op is still as good as ever and with four players clamoring on their controllers at the same time, battling through hordes of enemies while teaming up with your friends to deliver devastating powers is a truly memorable experience. With a storyline that will force you to replay again to see alternating sides, hours of extras that include trivia, character bios and finding hidden dossiers and the ability to replay past missions with the entire cast, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 will surely keep you entertained for a long time to come.