"Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2" is the most polished and enjoyable game the franchise has seen so far (including the "X-Men Legends" titles), but does it do enough to elevate itself in the increasingly crowded holiday marketplace?
Set during the Civil War storyline, "Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2" sees the Marvel super hero community suffer a rift. Apparently there's some disagreement over whether super heroes should be forced to register with the government. The pro-registration heroes, led by Iron Man, end up going to war with the anti-registration heroes, led by Captain America, and in the end, it's the world's population that suffers.
Gameplay-wise it follows closely to the first "Marvel Ultimate Alliance," as you'll control a team of four heroes, bashing enemy soldiers and super villains into dust from a top-down perspective. There are light RPG elements, but mostly they can be ignored and you'll still have an enjoyable experience.
The Civil War Storyline
If you're a fan of the Civil War storyline from the comics, the developers really do it justice here. They show both sides of the argument and when you're asked to choose one side or the other, it's something that requires some thought. Backing the story are convincing voice actors and excellent pre-rendered cutscenes.
The In-Game Visuals
The level of detail in "MUA 2" is a marked improvement over the first game. The camera is a bit closer to the heroes, giving you a better angle on the action, and special powers look very true to their ink and paper counterparts. Also worth noting that, despite the chaos on the screen, there's wasn't a hint of any slow-down (except when used for dramatic effect).
Quick Character Customization
This the element that I'd love to see in every RPG from now on. Hitting select brings up a thumbnail menu that allows you to spend skill points and equip items without going into a full menu screen. If you're playing solo it'll pause the game, but in co-op the game keeps going, with the AI controlling your character while you make your needed changes. Brilliant addition from the guys at Vicarious Visions.
Another method to streamline play, you don't have to individually equip heroes anymore. You can now equip up to 3 team boosts, which affect your entire team, no matter who is currently active. Another small addition that does wonders.
By the end of the game, you'll never want to hear the words "Power up that reactor" again. I think I powered up like 30 reactors over the course of the game. It's not just objectives that feel similar, though. The gameplay itself doesn't really progress, so after the first level you've pretty much seen what this game has to offer.
New heroes will join your squad, and it's fun to mess around with their different powers, but even then you'll get the impression that a lot of the powers were just palate swaps of each other. Ice Man's snowballs are basically the same as Gambit's cards and Iron Mans proton blasts. I'd say that there are probably around 10 wholly different powers in the game, despite there being 24 playable characters with 4 powers each.
This is similar to the Power Repetition aspect, but Fusion attacks, where two heroes team up for a devastating move, are the main selling point for the game and, despite the claim that there are hundreds of different combinations, you'll quickly learn that they're just graphically different and work exactly the same. I understand that making hundreds of unique fusions would've been nearly impossible, but when that's the claim in the marketing materials, you really have to follow through.
The Final Word
If you don't think too hard, "Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2" is a lot of fun. When played in hour-long bursts you'll get plenty of enjoyment out of it. But, if you play for longer than that, and as you near the end of the 6-7 hour campaign, you'll start to notice that you're really just doing the same thing over and over again.
Thankfully the story and characters are entertaining enough to hold attention, and the pretty visuals do wonders, as well. If you're a comic book fan, or if you really enjoyed the previous games in the "Legends"/"Ultimate Alliance" franchise, this is an easy pick. If you're looking for a meaty RPG experience, you may want to hold off.