America has a proud tradition of Superheroes, spanning multiple decades and numerous wars. The cape crusaders embody both the spirit of the nation and the will of the people ebbing and flowing with the times and seemingly fitting the pulse of the nation, reflecting the common ideals of the day. Marvel Comics is up there with the best, a back catalogue spanning both the ‘golden era’ of heroes and the older still ‘silver age’ of crime fighting.
In more recent times comic book heroes have found their way onto the silver screen, immortalised in autobiographical epics that rival their comic predecessors. Even newer are the video games and Marvel UA:2 is a tour de force for some for the best characters Marvel has created, the story as compelling as any comic, presented like a movie but wholly interactive. The game is also, surprisingly very patriotic.
An action RPG at its core, Marvel Ultimate Alliance: 2 is a mixed bag. Although it handles both the action and the role playing very well, it never strays far from the original, in fact is virtually identical and is still, like the first one, scaled down for a younger audience; meaning that many of the technical features can be ignored and/or turned off, streamlining gameplay but lacking depth.
Closer to games like God of War or Boulders Gate: Dark Alliance, Marvel UA: 2 is a role playing game for consoles designed as such around four player co-op and easy controls. Either you are going to get bored with the repetition of button mashing, ignore all the cool art assets and leave auto-upgrade on, or you can revel in the improved character models the depth of micromanagement and the excellent attack modes.
Although, virtually identical to the first Ultimate Alliance, the devil is in the detail and some of the minor changes new developers Vicarious Visions have incorporated are excellent. The game allows the player to at any time to be in control of four superheroes buffed with the occasional addition of an NPC. Unique though is the ability to control all four, almost simultaneously flicking between supers mid-battle to capitalise on their moves. Each character has a light melee attack, heavy lunge attack and four power moves. Combined with jumping and grabbing, technically a large number of combos are present. The power moves use the same four face buttons as normal attacks but attached to the right trigger allowing a ’second layer’ to be easily accessed. Very similar to Sacred 2 though is the new addition of four fusion moves attached to the left trigger. Vicarious Vision obviously thought that power attacks were not enough and has spent a long time trying to find creative ways to mesh the different mutant moves together. This is where both the excellence of the game and the problems new developers faced, start to show.
With such a cavalcade of superheroes to pick from, some being so similar to each other (Iron man/ Titanium man; The Incredible Hulk/ She Hulk) Vicarious Vision has the daunting task of how to make them different. The solution: don’t, and copy that which wasn’t broken- the first game. To streamline the game all the fusions powers are similar and fall into three categories. Clearing, focused charged or ranged. Activated by building damage multipliers, the character you have selected can then choose another team mate to ’combine their skills’ creating a devastating area damage which either cleans a room out of enemies or racks up a massive number of kills and experience.
Later in the game with more damage coming easily to higher level characters, fusion attacks come thick and fast and almost negate the need for power attacks at all. In lieu of your character actually being able to wield weapons or ‘magic’ though, power attacks are still a welcome addition.
What the developers have done over and above the first game is in the graphics and although each fusion power is the same, there is literally a combination of 24X24 different moves. Each one looks just slightly different based on the mutant using it and it is absolutely enjoyable to try each character with the others just to see what happens. Large characters like Thing will pick up team-mates and throw them while more dramatic elementals like Storm can collapse a whole room with physics ripping out all the models and crushing them into an explosive ball. Akin to some of the best Japanese RPG special moves the effects in this game can not be understated.
Unfortunately, such a mix of action and role play, not to mention a history of super heroes requires careful balancing. Activison clearly just wanted more of the same, the developers have tried to do something more. When four players are all trying to fusion in the same space as well as using their uber power attacks it can become very disorientating and hard to see what’s going on. Close you eyes pick a button and hope for the best.
The camera is improved and the story streamlined. Using auto-equip means characters level up without you having to worry about any micromanagement. This also mean though as far as role playing goes; every character has exactly the same skill set and strength attack as another with no difference between the two. Even when managed on your own there is little reason to bother as the results will be the same. In the end, it comes down to personal choice of who you want on your team, based on visual rather than skill appeal.
Appealing also is the narrative- as compelling as any comic-book movie. Once you get past the initial stages and the supers draw lines over the government’s decision to regulate the movements of all heroes, it is really fascinating to see who takes what side as Captain America leads a rebellion against the egg heads Tony Stark and Mr. Fantastic.
A critisim of the first game was that the story was too comical and abstract just to fit characters; travelling to magical Asgard and Under the Ocean. Now we have a story closer to the recent X-Men movies, much more high brow and urban. The more exotic characters are unlocked with collectibles of rare items relating to their specific nature; in the same way the recent Batman game only picked the characters it needed to drive the story. Not en entirely modern story though, it harkens back to a more classical time of enforced liberal dictatorship and patriotism. Players actually need to play the game twice as there are two totally different stories, one under Captain America and the other for Iron Man. This makes a decent game, even longer not to mention, there is something about Captain America, making a stand on the steps of congress in the name of his country, which brings a tear to my eye.
Sadly, with so many games either released or on their way, many people including fans may just overlook MUA: 2 and miss out on some of the finest looking effects in recent memory. The publishers obviously wanted to retain the look of the first game, right down to the packaging because the box cover art is almost identical.
This belies the true effort that has gone into rejuvenating each and every character in this game. With a roster of 24 characters and 7 system exclusives, there is something for everyone. Vicarious vision has done their homework, with a plethora of unlockable art and model designs. There are profiles for all the characters and their costumes and even the locations. Also the menu and navigation system have received an overhaul.
Preferring muted colours for a more tonal realistic look it helps to bring the game into line with new mediums such as the movies. The game menu simply works well, allowing access to the team roster where you can swap out characters and not only see the art work but also your four playable characters in larger than life 3D. This is excellent as you change character just to see what the next one looks like.
Further, what most people will miss is that certain characters go together; in fact the game unlocks achievements for playing as certain combinations. To add to this, the underrated fusion power system really takes off when you rely certain characters are meant to be combined in a once off special effect. These little things combined with the slick menu and over abundance of art work help to raise it above the average clone of the first game. The character models detail is translated into the game at a much smaller level and although the cut scenes are not pre-rendered now, they still do the job.
Physics are much more present this time around as well, with any and all objects being picked up but only depending on the characters strength. Special effects and moves make great use of exploding freezing and glowing lasers and combined with a destructible environment are a lot of fun.
Perhaps the only thing missing is the alternative costumes for all the characters. The first Marvel Ultimate Alliance had almost every costume imaginable for every character, unlockable throughout the game. MUA: 2 only have one. This is actually, conceivably a deal breaker for some fans, but allows for a more refined streamlined product. The first game also had a large number of DLC packs, just for the sake of playing as every single character. This disjointed the story though and this time around limiting to 24 playable but so many more as enemies, NPC and unlockable means everyone has a role to play and a story to tell.
With so many characters abounding in an all American, all encompassing story, it can be hard to nail all the voices. Most likely Vicarious Vision has simply borrowed from the first game and some of the assets seem to be. On the whole acting is done well, with Captain America sounding older than Iron Man and Deadpool more cynical than Spiderman.
Speaking of which, although MUA: 2 is fun to play, it is also wholly fun to listen to. The one-liners from main characters come thick and fast and many of them are extremely funny. Deadpool and Spiderman carry the weight of the banter, although characters such as Johnny Storm and Iceman can amuse.
There is a much improved menu tree for talking now but again, simplified into either an aggressive answer/neutral or defensive. Depending on how you talk to NPC decides your stance and the XP boost rewarded.
Amusingly characters with bad or no English/ like Gambit will have less well written lines to choose from than say, Johnny Storm who will try to woo the ladies.
The action therein is carried masterfully with music as good as any from recent memory. Played back to back with ODST and Bungies compelling scores, the music was just as good if not a touch softer than it could have been.
Finally it feels like the best of three genres; games/movies and comics are coming together.
The true value of a game like this, even more so than recent superhero games like Batman is fan service. If you have no interest in the Fantastic Four, X-men, Thunderbolts and other super mutant teams then you are probably better off with more technically specific games like Sacred 2 or even the aforementioned Batman.
There is a ton of content, mostly hidden in this game, waiting for the right fan to come along and discover it. On top of all the collectibles, challenge rooms are excellent at honing the skills and unlocking achievements.
Achievements for the XBOX360 are easily unlocked as the game is not particularly hard to play and can be beaten through rather quickly. The quiz game is back from the first Ultimate Alliance and again is only good for the fans and those in the know.
DLC is sure to follow and hopefully unlock some more characters/costumes. The game is easy to pick up and play in short spaces and with challenge modes and quizzes to boot, this could be the most underrated game of the year.
For a game that seemingly promotes four player co-op, multiplayer issues have been lacking from this review, and for good reason. Perhaps an after thought, playing online is a tedious chore of lag and confusing powers and SFX. Also the HUD is reconfigured and I actually couldn’t tell who I was playing as. ‘In house’ co-op with a friend on the couch is the way to go. An excellent game from a history of comic book villains and heroes this game is fun from start to end.
AAG Score: 8/10
1. Improved character models and effects
2. Fusion combat allows for some epic wins
3. Every and all characters are represented
4. Better writing with a more streamlined plot
1. Can become repetitive
2. Caters largely to fans and no one else
3. Multiplayer online issues
4. Not enough character costumes
Reviewed & Written By Ian Crane