AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE
If anyone is a fan of Marvel, I
am. I’ve watched every film they’ve inspired; I’ve cried out at the news of Disney buying them over; I’ve even been known to defend the catastrophe that was Spider-man
3 the movie, purely out of nothing more than blind loyalty!
But there are some feats that no non-superhero may accomplish: namely, writing a shining review of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
- no matter how close the likes of Gambit and Daredevil are to his heart.
I should clarify that, while I realise that this game has been released for some time now, I nevertheless chose to review it on the grounds that downloadable content is scheduled for release in the near future, including characters such as Juggernaut and Carnage. Yes, I know, very cool- but does it still justify the price of a purchase to future potential buyers?
The premise of the game’s story is, however, highly commendable, and rightly plucked straight from the pages of Marvel comics. Following a superhero-caused catastrophe, a political bill is placed before the Government concerning ‘registration’, whereby superheroes everywhere must consign to revealing their true identities and, for all intents and purposes, work alongside the Government.
A rift quickly manifests between Iron Man (pro-registration) and Captain America, who believes that such an act goes against everything American- freedom, independence, etc. Thus civil war is born, and the game begins.
The question is, do you, the gamer, side with the fan-boys and their pro-buy attitude; with myself and the anti-buy review; or do you just say “sod this, I’m going to go see what DC is up to”?
Following the story’s division of superheroes, the player is quickly forced into making a decision on which side to play as. And in all fairness, the concept is quite a neat one.
Opting for pro-registration, you’ll have access to the likes of Iron Man, Song Bird and Mr. Fantastic. Alternatively, anti-registration will allow you to fill your team with Captain America, Luke Cage or Iron Fist. Whatever side you pick, certain heroes will be available to you, and others won’t.
However, this system is somewhat of a double-edged sword. The obvious advantage of such a set-up is that it invites re-playability: each side has their own HQ to explore between unique missions, their own conversations to have with other superheroes, their own views on the situation at hand, and their own specific characters to pick from. I should mention that either side only blocks you from about three to four superheroes, so don’t fear, you’ll still have plenty to choose from.
The disadvantage doesn’t present itself until you play through again- no doubt as the opposing team, on a harder difficulty setting. While Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
is clever enough to carry on your last game’s findings (such as concept art and information files) it also grants you access to every and any character you acquired during your first play. While this is ideal for the likes of Thor or Hulk- who require your finding certain items to unlock them- it doesn’t quite make sense to also allow the opposing side’s heroes into your roster as well.
There’s nothing quite so disconcerting as playing anti-registration with Iron Man in your team: particularly during an in-game cut-scene where he’s trying to blow up you AND his subsequent doppelganger to smithereens. To take another example, even just strolling around an anti-registration base can leave a bad taste: superhero dialogue often slurring Iron Man’s narrow-mindedness in the third-person narrative, when it is in fact Iron Man that’s talking to them! It might sound like a small thing, but it’s still an annoying smudge on the game’s overall feel.
Furthermore, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
does little to improve upon its predecessor’s successful formula. While graphics are noticeably polished, in-game physics and model movement vastly improved, and superpowers feeling more solid and unique, it’s still the exact same button-mashing extravaganza. You’ll still pull the right trigger to access your four powers, and still rely on heavy button-pounding in-between depletions of your energy gauge. Though diehard fans of Marvel may find joy in constantly watching each superhero perform special abilities true to their characters, such as Wolverine’s literally impaling enemies with his claws and lifting them into the air with an almighty roar, it quickly becomes old, boring and repetitive.
Granted the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance
was much the same, but its
success arguably lay in the number of superpowers each character had available to them, and in turn the RPG element of allowing the player to choose which to level-up and utilize. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
, however, strips it down: each superhero possessing only four powers (one for each button), resulting in a lacklustre rinse/repeat gameplay experience.
In addition, given the improved graphics and fit-inducing explosions that’ll often fill the screen, you’ll soon find it frustratingly difficult to keep track of the character you’re controlling, particularly amidst the hordes of enemies which the game will aimlessly pour on to the battlefield.
While there are indeed new components to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
, none of it credits a forty dollar/pound purchase. These are primarily ‘Fusions’ and ‘Boosts’.
Fusions are player-triggered instances in which two superheroes from your four-man team may combine powers, manifesting in an area of effect, targeted and guided super-attack, that can really
bring the hurt. Filling up your fusion gauge is fairly straight-forward: hit everything in sight- yes, including wooden crates- and you’ll be setting the world on fire in no time.
While gorgeous to look at, there isn’t much else to say, especially when given that each fusion attack is often a template of another. To take an example, fusion Iron Man with Wolverine, and old Shellhead will fire a beam into Wolverine’s claws, resulting in a prism of splintered lasers. But take say Thor and Wolverine, and that beam will simply be replaced with a bolt of lightning with the exact same animation. In short, after about five fusions (if even that) you’ll have pretty much seem them all.
Boosts are also just as hollow an element.
Throughout the game, killing bosses and exploring levels will result in your collecting vast numbers of “Boosts”: team bonuses in the form of medals, three of which may be applied to your roster. ‘Vast’ is the key word here, since there are over two-hundred boost medals to be found and fought for. Bonuses are fairly traditional, including increased damage resistance, improved power levels, and so forth. Furthermore, you’ll soon find yourself swamped
with the things, many of them simply improvements of others. For instance, there are in total six ‘Striking’ medals, ranging from Striking I to, of course, Striking VI. Rather than have the superior medal replace the lesser, the game simply collects…and collects…and collects.
Given the latter, combined with an unhelpful side-scrolling interface, you’ll find yourself just setting the Boost application to auto-spend, rather than spend your precious gaming time scrolling through reels of stat-stacked medals.
Even the promising dialogue system Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
incorporates is void of purpose.
Whenever you’re in discussion with another character, you’ll be given the option of replying with an ‘aggressive’, ‘diplomatic’ or ‘defensive’ reaction. Though responses are different for each character, and often impressively apt for their personality, whatever decision you make will only result in the accumulation of yet even more Boosts. You won’t change the course of the game, nor try to persuade enemies to your cause. Only be given another superfluous medal to your already uninviting, inaccessibly hefty collection. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
even trips up over the little things.
It’s predecessor, for instance, gave us four unique, interesting and what’s more statistic-changing outfits for each character. This too, has been stripped down: only one outfit is unlockable per superhero- and they won’t affect your team in anyway whatsoever. Except perhaps, in some instances, over-emphasize a bust size or two.
All of this, combined with an overall short campaign (three days tops, in case you were wondering) and no form of competitive multiplayer, makes for a complete waste of your money.
While there are some pretty sights to see, some interesting characters to play as and some easily earned Achievement points to be harvested, there isn’t much else on offer that a seven-day Blockbuster
rental won’t supply. Unless that is you fancy aiming for the stars and answering every question correctly in the ‘Marvel Trivia’ mini-game.
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
+ Impressive overall character selection
+ Improved graphics
- Short campaign…
- …following which there’s nothing else to do.
- Redundant Fusion/Boost components
- Frustratingly hectic on-screen battles
- Little/no difference than Marvel Ultimate Alliance
1Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 review by A.H. Topalian