Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 ReviewBy Andrew Pfister - Posted Sep 17, 2009
The most likable thing about Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is how reliable it is. To nobody's surprise, shredding through enemies with Wolverine is immensely satisfying. Getting to know less-popular characters like Songbird and Luke Cage is great for those of us who lack PhD's in Marvelology. And being able to shut off the brain and plow through an action game is always appreciated.
- Nonstop supply of things to kill, knock-out, or destroy
- Civil War storyline is a fun premise (to start)
- Diverse cast of Marvel heroes and villains
- Story and level design lose steam at the end
- Hero interface could use some work
The ingredients for superhero games are pretty simple: heroes, villains, powers, and explosions. It's how those ingredients are combined that makes or breaks the game. A half-decade ago, Raven Software assembled a winning recipe with X-Men Legends, a Marvel universe-based game modeled after loot-based dungeon crawlers, with a quartet of superheroes that were frequently upgraded, easily swappable, and powered true to their paper-based origins. A few iterations later, we have Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. The base recipe hasn't changed much, but it still provides a healthy portion of comfort gaming.
This Just In: Iron Man Is a Jerk
Ultimate Alliance 2 is modeled after the "Civil War" storyline from the comics, which sees a massive rift form between the traditional Marvel do-gooders when a superhero registration act is passed by Congress. Captain America leads a team of heroes who oppose the act (and are thus labeled as criminals), while Tony "Iron Man" Stark leads the pro-registration enforcement side. Caught in the middle are the Marvel villains, until Stark, Reed Richards and Nick Fury devise a way of controlling them as enforcers on the pro-reg side. The Civil War is a great premise for Ultimate Alliance 2, since it mixes up the rosters and generates multiple "hero vs. hero" scenarios that wouldn't otherwise make sense -- Brief moments of surprising social commentary are snuck into the script as well, a nice touch.
The side you choose to support has a direct bearing on how you play the game, as certain areas, characters, and even powers are exclusive to the other side. In this way, and by stuffing the game with power-enhancing "Boost" badges, combination "Fusion" attacks, and achievements/sub-achievements, Ultimate Alliance 2 is clearly designed for multiple run-throughs by the completion-obsessed crowd. What's strange about the pro/anti-registration decision, though, is how slanted the game presents the sides: because Iron Man and his S.H.I.E.L.D. underlings are presented as insufferable jerks (and are eventually proved to be in the wrong), there's heavy encouragement to enlist with Captain America.
Regardless of your choice, the teams eventually reunite to deal with the game's larger evil, and this reunion is where Ultimate Alliance 2's plot starts to fall apart. Instead of intriguing battle match-ups and personality clashes between the heroes (basically living out those "who would win in a fight?" daydreams), we're presented with a bland technological/mystical force that lacks any semblance of personality, and suddenly we're back to the tried-and-true "this is how we're going to save the world" idea. If you don't care much about the plot, well, you won't care much about the plot. But since this charmless battle fodder comprises the final act of the game, it hits a bit of a grind point just when it should be ramping up. The game's most interesting boss battle is a mid-campaign fight against a gigantic Yellowjacket smashing through the rooftops -- the majority of the game's other boss battle concepts aren't nearly as inspired, and that’s a missed opportunity.
Hero Sandwich, Everything On It
But to its credit, Ultimate Alliance 2 doesn't stray far from what most of us primarily want from games like this: constant action and a sense of progress. The aforementioned Boost badges grant stat bonuses to your team, and because they are plentiful and diverse, they can be matched with your assembled heroes to custom fit your fighting style (support, melee, range, etc.). And again, going back to the idea of multiple playthroughs, you won't be able to fit every power, boost combination, or hero into your first run. That you can carry over your stats into the four-player online co-operative mode provides further incentive to get everything in the game -- it's also nice to work with teammates who'll do some actual heavy lifting in battle, something the A.I. is all too happy to let you do yourself.
The Fusion combo system is another nice touch: churning through the waves of minions builds up a meter -- when full, you can partner with a teammate for a powerful guided, clearing, or targeted attack. Many of these Fusion attacks are copy-and-paste jobs between character pairings, but some, like Storm's devastating cyclone attack, are quite effective and unique. Fusions are particularly helpful during boss battles, because it's a quick and assured way of taking out significant chunks of their health in one shot.
Character progression is fundamentally the same as the previous games: there's obviously no loot, but killing enemies and destroying the environment yields experience orbs, with which you can upgrade pre-existing power set (aside from the ones locked out after your pro/anti-registration decision). The interface for managing your hero team is a bit slow and sloppy, especially if you're trying to assign upgrades to multiple team members, but having an automatic upgrading system for your non-active roster compensates for that by keeping everything current and manageable.
The most likable thing about Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is how reliable it is. To nobody's surprise, shredding through enemies with Wolverine is immensely satisfying. Getting to know less-popular characters like Songbird and Luke Cage is great for those of us who lack PhD's in Marvelology. And being able to shut off the brain and plow through an action game is always appreciated. If Vicarious Visions had taken a few more risks with the scenario design and avoided the late-game muddying of the story, it would have been a little more…super.