Video Game Review: ‘Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2’ Delivers Amazing Action

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HollywoodChicago.com Video Game Rating: 4.0/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – For every “Iron Man” or “The Dark Knight,” there are a half dozen movies like “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” or “Elektra” littering the marketplace. Naturally, those of us well-versed in the world of superhero entertainment consider ourselves lucky if every other product featuring caped men (or women) actually works.

So, when “Batman: Arkham Asylum” totally exceeded already high expectations to deliver what is arguably the Game of the Year to date, there’s a small part of me, the part that never gets two great superhero-themed products in a row, that thought, “Well, now Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is going to suck.” That part was SO wrong.

It’s nowhere near as thematically rich as “Arkham” and it’s not as graphically remarkable an experience, but “Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2” is not meant to be. This title is simply a straight-up blast. Just as “Iron Man” was more of a “rollercoaster” than the more challenging “The Dark Knight,” “MUA 2” exists merely to provide you as much superhero action as your comic-loving mind can handle. And, on a pure quantity level, the title inarguably delivers.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Photo credit: Activision

With 24 playable heroes, each with unique powers that are made even more unique through the wonderful, new, “Fusion” attack gameplay, “Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2” is a title that many players will finish and immediately go back through and play again, using different heroes (and even, at one point, following a different game path) than the first time. It’s immensely enjoyable and incredibly re-playable. What more do you want from a superhero title?

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Photo credit: Activision

The storytelling in “Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2” cleverly weaves a plot that allows heroes to battle not only legendary Marvel villains but each other. The prologue features an attack on Latveria (home of Doctor Doom) by Nick Fury and four classic heroes. The fallout from the international event leads to a move for the government to register super heroes, something that a few of them don’t take very well.

Half of the world’s heroes agree with the government’s plan and the other half refuse to register, leading to a super-powered civil war. You, the player, chooses sides and either registers or rebels, allowing for two distinct plotlines for a large portion of the game. In other words, you’ll finish it one side and then go back to the decisive save point and finish it on the other.

Both sides feature gameplay where you control four heroes simultaneously, chosen from a list that’s different depending on which side of the civil war you fall. Of course, unless you’re playing co-op either at home or online, you’re only controlling one hero at a time, but the sensation that this is actually a team of four is much stronger than in previous games of this type, especially once you get attuned to each hero’s strengths.

Before you know it, you’ll be quickly moving from hero to hero per the situation, not just using one over and over again. Available heroes include Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America, Deadpool, Gambit, Iron Man, Songbird, Iceman, Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, Luke Cage, and many more. The player starts with roughly half of the heroes available and more become so as the story progresses and heroes (and even villains) choose their sides or you force them into doing so.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Photo credit: Activision

Each character has their own powers, but the player also builds up fusion stars, a new gameplay technology that allows two heroes to merge skills for a massive attack. For example, if the room is filled with enemies, use a fusion power between Iceman and Iron Man and watch as the cool dude builds a massive ice block and Tony Stark uses it to send his laser beams fractured around the entire room. Learning what fusion power to use in what situation makes for a game that feels like it’s continuously getting interesting without being overwhelming with “special moves”. Players can use new fusion powers late in the game, keeping the whole thing surprisingly fresh.

As for actual gameplay, I wish the enemies were as interesting as the heroes and the environments get a bit repetitive as well. The bad guys come at you in waves and waves and most of them are remarkably stupid. I lost track of the number of times that a bad guy appeared to be waving his weapon in mid-air at nothing and just waiting for me to kill him. Bluntly, the enemies, even the bosses, are boring. They’re the weakest element of “MUA 2”. It’s somewhat understandable, I suppose, for a game about heroes to be overly focused on them to the detriment of the villain and enemy design.

Visually, the game could have been polished a bit more. The worlds that your heroes go through are all essentially the same with rooms of villains that need to be cleared out before you move on to the next one. And when the game pauses, as it way too often does, for a conversation at the hub or the SHIELD base, you realize that the graphics simply aren’t that good. Your character doesn’t even move his mouth. Also, it’s neat that you can choose your character’s personality (Aggressive, Diplomatic or Defensive) through your response in these conversations, but they get dull quickly.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Photo credit: Activision

Ultimately, “Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2” features most of the same structure and gameplay as the first game with minor but effective improvements throughout the game. If you were bored by the last title, don’t reenlist. The foundation and the gameplay are largely the same. But if, like most people, you enjoyed “Marvel Ultimate Alliance,” you won’t be disappointed by the sequel. A superhero sequel that works? It truly is an unusual year for geek gaming.

Before we go and in case you’re curious if your favorite Marvel character is available, here’s a list of the heroes available in “Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2” - Captain America, Daredevil, Deadpool, Gambit, Green Goblin, Hulk, Human Torch, Iceman, Invisible Woman, Iron Man, Jean Grey, Luke Cage, Mr. Fantastic, Ms. Marvel, Nick Fury, Penance, Songbird, Spider-Man, Storm, Thing, Thor, Venom, and Wolverine. Iron Fist is also available exclusively on the PS3 and Carnage has been released as DLC. Expect more DLC in the future.

Finally, the launch trailer:

‘Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2’ was released by Activision and developed by Vicarious Visions. It is rated T (Teen). The version reviewed was for the PS3, but the title is also available for the XBox 360, PS2, PSP, Wii, and DS. It was released on September 15th, 2009.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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