Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 [Available on PS3, Xbox 360]
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: September 15th, 2009
Xbox Live/PSN – Multiplayer + DLC
Button mashers were all the rage between the mid-eighties and early nineties, but things have drastically changed since then. They’re still fun from time to time, but their repetition isn’t quite so forgivable anymore. Thankfully Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network allow friends to team up, making such games far more interesting. It’s usually entertaining to obliterate hoards of robot scum as a squad of four human players. That said, your fanaticism for Ultimate Alliance 2’s source material simply isn’t enough to eliminate the looming monotony. After an hour, the game feels like one giant level as you press the same buttons incessantly. UA2 isn’t bad because of that, but the mashing roots keep an otherwise enjoyable experience from truly shining.
Ultimate Alliance 2 is loosely based on Marvel’s Civil War, which pit Captain America and a group of superheroes against Iron Man and the SHIELD operatives, not to mention the Registration Act. If you’re unfamiliar with this, don’t worry. The plot is simply an excuse to have heroes face off. For years, the Marvel personas have been allies, but for the first time ever, friends can fight friends. I would’ve preferred the story be more in sync with Marvel’s mini-series, but the writers did a fair enough job. The liberties taken don’t make much sense, but again, the whole point is to ensure players understand why their icons are beating each other senseless.
As with almost every superhero game, you must leave your knowledge at the door. While playing with COE’s own Steven Lacroix, we both noticed more than one oddity with the source material. For example, Iron Man is often walking, every other character can teleport, and most of the interactions don’t come off naturally. Batman: Arkham Asylum has really spoiled us comic fans. I suppose we shouldn’t expect every comic-inspired game to be so epic and bold, but the narrative here simply pales in comparison. It should entertain the younger crowd, but anyone who’s read Marvel comics over the past decade will likely be less than satisfied.
The developers tried to implement player-influenced variety in allowing us to make choices during specific moments. In that respect, there’s one major situation, but the majority of the time it doesn’t matter how you answer questions thrown your way. Speaking of which, the game’s hub hosts a fun trivia game that presents the chance to win a bunch of nifty rewards and achievements/trophies.
The action takes place from an isometric perspective, which is initially awkward. At any point, there are four heroes on-screen, and each can be swapped out for another on the fly. Don’t like Cage? Substitute him with Storm. The game changes when you’re forced into a pro or anti-Registration Act decision, because the hero roster is then altered. It almost demands playing a second time because all the missions and related plot change as a result. I give major props to Vicarious Visions for this alone. Most current-gen games don’t offer much replayability, but Ultimate Alliance 2 is clearly not one of those.
Each hero employs two basic attacks and a wide range of combos that can be linked. Naturally, special skills are available too, and the best are called fusion attacks. These are done by focusing one’s power on another hero, then concentrating that burst on unsuspecting enemies. To make the story believable, ninety-nine percent of the hostiles you encounter are robots, due to the immense strength of Wolverine’s berserker and Iron Man’s blasts. By pairing two heroes, an array of fusion attacks can be used. These draw from a unique meter which fills with the steady defeat of enemies. The same applies to special attacks. A blue meter determines how often they can be called upon. At first Steve and I thought the fusion attacks were cool, but it doesn’t take long to realize how similar they all are. This goes for general attacks too; each character has weaknesses and strengths, like Wolverine’s healing ability, but overall they handle very similarly.
While on the subject of controls, they take some practice thanks to the input mapping. Jump is set to the Y/Triangle button, for example. Combos require a series of presses, but often you’re forced to hold one or more buttons to pull one off. I think with some tweaking, the basic setup would’ve been far tighter. We also recommend playing UA2 in short bursts. Because this is a button masher, extended play can make your fingers ache.
Once you feel comfortable switching characters in and out and learn all the combos/fusion attacks, your super squad can be leveled. Finishing a level awards you with a power point. This point can be allocated to a number of stats: standard, advanced, power and fusion attacks, which you should understand by now. After playing for a few hours, we set it on automatic update and let the AI decide how to distribute our points. The RPG elements have been greatly scaled back since the first game, but die-hards can appreciate the customization options.
Equipment is no longer customizable though, replaced by team medals, which grant special boosts to everyone on the team. Things like +20% defence , or +15% fire resistance, etc. While this system is great, RPG/customization enthusiasts are likely to be disappointed. Look on the bright side though; now there’s an arrow indicator that points you in the right direction if you happen to lose your bearings! Yes, not exactly comforting.
The teammate AI is also less-than-impressive. While it helps for the most part playing solo, they’re noticeably stupid when you’re online with real people. During our sessions, we saw Iron Man stuck walking in place, Captain America walk away from enemies and even heroes attacking each other instead of the bad guys. These instances didn’t happen often, but playing with others makes the AI glitches much more apparent.
The biggest draw is the option to play as so many different heroes, and with four buddies online. During our time on Live, we lost connection at least once per level. Thankfully the save system made sure we didn’t have to restart chapters, but it was still annoying. At least lag doesn’t exist over XBL, even with a dozen characters and explosions/other effects on the screen. Despite the drop-out problem, UA2 is clearly meant for online play. It’s an blast to joke with a friend at the game’s expense, or when a hero does/says something completely out of character.
UA2 is also far better-looking than its predecessor. The visuals are smoother and the environments are more varied. But what happened to make the enemies and bosses so generic? Some are excellent, like the Yellow Jacket battle, but you still encounter a dozen boring beat-down bosses. The robotic look of the enemies, despite the humans dressed in mech gear, is uninteresting to look at after a while. On the flipside, the frame rate is always rock-solid, even with thirty enemies present, particle effects in use and environmental interactions taking place. The hero/villain designs fare much better than the enemies, but even they’re uneven. They look great while playing, but cutscenes oddly alter their appearance. We were puzzled when the camera zoomed in on Ms. Marvel’s breasts when we should have seen her facial expressions talking about the Registration Act.
This uneven feeling doesn’t affect just the graphics, but also the audio. Some actors sound great, while others are laughably bad. The script doesn’t help, as various lines don’t hold true for some heroes, while others talk just as they do in the comics. I suppose only a comic geek such as I would notice something like that, but hey, it’s there. The sound effects are all standard, which is to be expected. My surround sound seemed to enjoy them more than my neighbours did. I was actually surprised by their quality compared to the rest of the unbalanced presentation.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is fun, if you know exactly what you’re buying, because this game is aimed directly at comic fans. It’s also an eighties button masher that does very little to move UA forward. If anything, this is a step back compared to the previous game. The lack of RPG elements, and the simpler, more direct approach will leave some fans wanting a lot more. The campaign is lengthy and must be completed twice in order to enjoy the full story. There are also a ton of extras to collect, a great trivia game to partake in and of course, the online multiplayer. Add everything up, and for the money, Ultimate Alliance 2 is worth it. It’s just not the sequel we were hoping for.
Overall (Not an average): 7.2/10