If Activision's announcement that Songbird will be starring in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (MUA2) didn't blow you away then you're sure to be dazzled by the latest revelation that The Immortal Iron Fist is in the mix too. And really, what the video-game world needs is more heroes that fight crime wearing dainty yellow slippers. I kid, I kid. I actually like both of those characters. More importantly, I love the action-RPG style of Marvel Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends. I saw Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 last week and am totally ready for more Marvel merryment. While the game looks far from groundbreaking, it features several improvements that are sure to appeal to comic-book fans and action-RPG junkies. If you happen to be both then you'll probably love this game.
The game's story is similar to the "Civil War" plot that ran from 2006 to 2007 in various Marvel books. In addition to worrying about defeating idiots like Electro (is he AC or DC?), Marvel's heroes are torn about whether or not to cooperate with the U.S. government's Superhuman Registration Act. Some feel that it's an important control and that the government is right in wanting to keep tabs on superhumans. Others feel that it's an invasion of privacy that would hamper their effectiveness in fighting crime. Different heroes chose different sides, changing the Marvel Universe forever. MUA2's plot isn't a strict interpretation of the comics' plot, but more like a "What If?" version of the events.
One of the first things I noticed about MUA2 is that the viewing angle has changed. I thought it looked about 10 degrees lower than the first game...and I felt like a nerd for noticing this. When Vicarious Visions' president Guha Bala told me that the angled changed from 45 degrees to 35 degrees, I felt like a bigger nerd for being so in touch with my inner protractor. Seriously though, the new angle is great. It lets you gets closer to the action and see more detailed versions of the characters.Bala claimed that it doesn't compromise the broad view needed for a team-based action-RPG . From the brief portions I saw, that's a fair assessment, but I want to see more levels to make sure that the new look doesn't get in the way of team play.
MUA2 is also more streamlined than its predecessor. Fans of the series know that leveling up can totally pull you out of the action. Previously, when a hero leveled up, discerning gamers had to spend minutes fidgeting around in menus to make sure that stats and special moves were upgraded properly. The auto-upgrade system seemed too random and careless. Bala was proud of the fact that the automatic upgrade system in MUA2 will be much smarter and faster. Players don't have to leave the action for very long when they level up, but if they like to tinker around with every last stat and upgrade they can still muck around in the menus to their heart's content. Personally, I love spending 10 or more minutes custmozing my characters, but I totally understand that most gamers don't. For most players, spending less time in menus is a good thing.
Team attacks are also a big part of MUA2. As an example, I was shown a team combo involving Thor and Captain America. Thor summoned down lightning from the heavens and had it hit Cap's shield. The lightning then bounced off the shield and split off into deadly bolts that hit the heroes' enemies (conveniently missing all of their teammates). The game will feature plenty of attacks like this. The attacks are based on character archetypes rather than having a huge amount of permutations. So the attack I just described could be performed by Storm and Captain America as well. As another example, most characters with super strength can perform a "fastball special" by throwing Wolverine at a hapless enemy.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 has some incremental upgrades that will please longtime fans of Marvel action-RPGs. I don't expect the game to win any awards, but it should have more than enough characters, special features (alternate costumes rule!), inside dialogue, and more that will keep gamers satisfied. If the previous games didn't do anything for you then I doubt this one will either. Vicarious Visions is improving on the popular Marvel formula, but not straying from it in the least. Gamers that are excited about MUA2 probably feel the same way I do about these games -- I'm well aware of their flaws, but I'm eagerly looking forward to beating the crap out Marvel baddies with my favorite Marvel heroes.