Marvel's mightiest heroes converge once again in Activsion's Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 to face a foe far deadlier than any they've encountered thus far: themselves.
Okay, so Marvel characters tend to fight each other on a regular basis, generally before teaming-up to take out a mutual enemy, but never quite on the scale of Marvel's Civil War storyline. The gigantic crossover serves as the backdrop to Vicarious Vision's second foray into the four-player superhero beat-em up. After a series of increasingly tragic circumstances, the government decides they want all superhuman heroes identities registered, splitting the Marvel Universe down the middle between those who favor freedom and those unopposed to full disclosure.
When superheroes clash, can anyone win?
A Crossover Epic: Ultimate Alliance 2 presents a truly epic tale in the Marvel Comics universe, combining elements of both the Secret War mini-series and the all-encompassing Civil War storyline, pitting heroes against heroes as the government tries to force all superheroes to register their identities. I won't spoil how the game handles the resolution of the conflict, but I will say that by the end of the story the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. It isn't quite Marvel canon, and some of the more memorable moments in the Civil War storyline are absent, but on the whole its one satisfying tale.
Fused Together: The game was originally called Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2: Fusion, and the fusion attacks that allow different heroes to combine their powers into devastating special moves is certainly one of the title's more entertaining features. They echo the same sort of special maneuvers often seem in team-up comics, often with spectacular results. The three different types of fusion attacks - clearing, targeted, and guided - vary in availability based on the characters that make up your group, adding a bit of strategy to the hero selection process.
Marvel Team-Up: Ultimate Alliance 2 supports 4-player co-operative multiplayer in both local and online modes, making for some good times with close friends or total strangers. It can get a bit chaotic, but overall the multiplayer is solid, and the fusion system adds a little more cooperating to the co-op. I would have liked to be able to play my own leveled-up character in an online match rather than the characters that the host has available, but making fun of your hosts party composition lends to the enjoyment.
Graphically Novel: Vicarious Visions tightened up the graphics considerably for this sequel, with lush environments and characters lovingly rendered to match their comic book representations. The presentation at times mirrors the stark presentation of the Civil War comic series covers, with characters presented as stylistic silhouettes, presenting them as the iconic figures that they truly are. The graphics aren't perfect by any means, but they compliment the game nicely, and isn't that what they're supposed to do?
Extras: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is packed with plenty of extras to please fans of Marvel Comics, from concept art to trivia games to audio files that offer insight into events going on behind-the-scenes during the game. The simulator returns, though the classic comic-inspired missions of the first title are replaced with a series of multiplayer-friendly mini-games, which isn't a change I'm overly fond of. Still, there's enough fan service packed on the disc to keep Marvel fans happy for quite some time.
Deadpool: The fourth wall is nothing to Deadpool. Just as the print version is aware that he's in a comic book, the digital Deadpool knows he's in a video game, and he never lets you forget it. "Hello? Low health bar!" Once I unlocked him, I never took him out of my party.
Dumbed Down: While gameplay remains largely the same, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 has seriously cut back on the behind-the-scenes roleplaying elements that I so enjoyed in the first title. Inventory management is gone, replaced with the ability to equip three boosts that affect the entire party. Also gone is the original game's alternate costume system, where different versions of each character had a different set of powers, allowing you to custom-tailor your hero to suit your particular play style. Special powers that you can only buy depending on which side of the Superhero Registration Act fight you choose help, but not that much.
Comical Voice Work: Inconsistency is the name of the game in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, which certain characters rising to the top and others falling flat. When they're bad, they're very, very bad. Unlocking Thor, one of my favorite characters, was a complete and utter joy...until he opened his mouth. I suppose in a game with this many characters there are bound to be a few bad apples, but with voice talent the likes of Fred Tatasciore, Steve Blum, and Armin Shimmerman in the game you at least need to make sure the rest of the cast can at least keep up.
Glitches: More indicative of a lack of polish than a broken game, I encountered quite a few glitchy moments during my time with Ultimate Alliance 2. Teammates running by me one moment only to return from the opposite direction the next; AI-controlled characters getting caught in the geometry or refusing to follow, resulting in moments of unfortunate solo gameplay; and enemies that don't quite respond to your presence were all among the little buggy bits that vexed me periodically as I played. As I said, nothing game-breaking; simply annoying.
I played the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance all the way through on no less than four separate platforms, so it makes sense that the changes made between the original and the sequel would weigh heavily with me. The loss of the costume switching mechanic in particular is a tough pill for me to swallow, as it was one of my greatest joys in the first game. Still, the storyline is more closely tied with the Marvel Universe, the fusion system is an entertaining addition, and while I still got a little lump in my throat every time I unlocked a new outfit, I did manage to enjoy myself a great deal.
It may not quite live up to the original. but Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is a solid, entertaining title that will most likely please both fans of Marvel Comics and those that merely wish to spend many hours beating up bad guys in a spectacular fashion.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was developed by Vicarious Visions and published by Activision for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Other versions developed by n-Space (Wii, PS2, DS) and Savage Entertainment (PSP). Released on September 15th. Retails for $59.99 USD. Played Xbox 360 version. Played through story mode completely on heroic difficulty picking anti-registration branch, participated in drop-in online multiplayer, and went back to a previous save to experience pro-registration branch.
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