October 13, 2009

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 – Crush! Frag! Review!


Whose Side Are You On?

That was the tagline for the “Civil War” storyline that Marvel Comics published from 2006-2007; it’s also the tagline for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. Developed by Vicarious Visions and published by Activision, Ultimate Alliance 2 features new heroes, new abilities, and a much improved story from the previous game. Not everything is new, though, as fans of the series will find the same button mashing, thug beating, level grinding action that they’ve come to expect. The game actually covers events from the “Secret War” storyline that proceeded it through the “Civil War” itself, although it does deviate from the story some, which we’ll talk about later.


Graphically, Ultimate Alliance 2 appears to be a step up from its predecessor. The game runs on the Vicarious Visions Alchemy engine, much like the first MUA and the X-Men Legends games, although it has received some upgrades for this outing. Most notably they are now utilizing Havok physics technology to ensure that when you throw a beaten and bloodied bad guy into a group of his friends, they all fall down in a appropriate manner. The camera system also seems to be much improved from previous iterations. These little touches are a nice addition to the engine and help make Ultimate Alliance 2 the best looking game in the series. However, there is one exception to this statement; when speaking to other heroes during downtime segments, the characters resemble plastic action figures. To make matters worse, during these interactions they also animate stiffly, having blank emotionless stares. Add in limited dialogue options and very little voice-over work and these segments come off as laughable at best.


The first mission drops players into Latveria, working in conjunction with Nick Fury to thwart the plans of Latverian Prime Minister, Lucia von Bardas. Fury and his team of heroes are successful in their mission and return home, unaware that their actions have set a series of events in motion that will change the world forever. A year later a tragic event occurs that causes a rift between the public and the heroes, prompting the Superhuman Registration Act to be passed.

This law requires all super heroes to register with the government, reveal their secret identities, and undergo training. Naturally, this doesn’t go over well with the super hero community and so two groups form it its wake; the Pro-Registration side is led by Iron Man, while Anti-Registration is led by Captain America. Players will have to choose which side to fight on and doing so grants access to certain heroes while cutting them off from others. As the game progresses players will get to see the “Civil War” storyline unfold for themselves.


Or rather some of the “Civil War” storyline, as the game deviates a fair amount from the version that was told in the comics. I assume that this was done because a story that was told over the course of some 70+ issues would be extremely hard to condense down into a single game. While they do an admirable job of wrapping-up the story, it lacks some of the drama and power that the original had. If you’ve never read the source material you obviously won’t notice what’s missing, but fans of the comics might be disappointed that some key elements are not mentioned.

The flow of the game is similar to other entries in the series. Players navigate their way through large levels, beating up waves of enemies and fighting the occasional mini-boss before the eventual and inevitable fight with a larger boss at the end of the level. There’s nothing particularly new or exciting here, with the exception of Special Moves now being powered by Stamina and the new Fusion abilities that allow two super heroes to combine their abilities for devastating attacks.


Fusion abilities come in three varieties: Targeted, which are powerful damage dealers to a single target; Guided, which can be steered to cause damage to larger groups; and Clearing, which are less powerful, but affect enemies over a broader area by pulling them together in one location. Finding which Fusions work best in a given scenario is key to clearing some of the tougher segments in Ultimate Alliance 2 and since every hero has a different Fusion with every other hero in the game, this will be an important factor to consider when putting together your group for a mission.

There are 24 different heroes to choose from, with a lineup that includes most of Marvel’s most iconic heroes as well as some fan favorites and a couple of surprises. Each of the characters also has an alternate costume, which can be unlocked by completing a special task. Among all of the standout characters are some head-scratchers (Songbird) and a few others that, while integral to the original version of the story (Penance, Iron Fist), may seem to have no reason to be there. Fans of the comics will appreciate their inclusion, but more casual players will likely have no idea that Penance was once Speedball of the New Warriors, who were involved in the previously mentioned event that prompted the passing of the Registration Act. However, there is always the promise of future downloadable content, so the final roster should grow.


Of course, not all 24 characters are available from the beginning; a few of them will become unlocked during play, while others will take a bit more work. Each one can be customized through leveling up, which allows the player to improve the Special Moves and Abilities that the character has access to. Special moves are the iconic attacks that are the bread and butter of every super hero. Each has four different moves to improve, offering plenty of options for players to customize a hero to a play style that fits them.

The characters also have eight special abilities each, representing the hero’s passive powers, which can also be improved as a character levels. However, four of the powers are tied to the Pro-Reg and Anti-Reg factions, so, depending on which side you choose, you’ll only have access to half of them. Players can also equip boosts, which provide special bonuses to the entire team such as increased Stamina or increased Experience gains. All of this allows for players to put together their own “Dream Team” of heroes.


A few small concerns aside, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is a fun, enjoyable game that has a lot of replay value. Most players will be able to finish their first playthrough in about seven hours on Heroic difficulty. However, with multiple difficulty levels, loads of hidden and unlockable bonuses, and a branching storyline, there’s more than enough content to keep you going back through the story time and time again. If that’s not enough there are also multiplayer and online options that will provide additional hours of value.



Things We Liked: Fusion abilities. Improved camera and story.

Things We Disliked: Questionable Roster, Character Models during cutscenes resemble toys

Target Audience: Fans of the Legends/Ultimate Alliance series. Fans of action RPGs. Fans of comics (obviously).

(Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 – Developer: Vicarious Visions. Publisher: Activision. Available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 – PlayStation 3 version reviewed. Buy it Now at New to CFD’s reviews? Read our explanation here.)

[Editor's Note: The review above covers the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version of the game, developed by Vicarious Visions. The DS, PS2 and Wii versions, as well as the PSP version were produced by different developers - n-Space and Savage Entertainment respectively - and may not conform exactly to the specifics noted in the review.]


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