Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2
X-Men Legends was the first game in a series of action RPGs that put some of Marvel’s well-known heroes and eternal villains at opposite sites in an explosive, button-mashing game. Raven Software saw things bigger for the next-generation with more heroes and better gameplay. A new child was born: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Now, three years later, Activision puts a sequel on the market, but development was passed on to a new studio, Vicarious Visions. Can the new developer save the beauty of the series or do we prefer to forget what we just played?
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is based on the “Secret War” and “Civil War” cross-over comics – that we can easily classify amongst the best ever – which lead to a break between the heroes of the Marvel universe. The story starts with SHIELD boss Nick Furty who performs a secret attack on Latverias prime minister, Lucia van Bardas, in order to stop the illegal stream of weapons and deadly technology she’s delivering to villains. Fury is luckily not alone and with the help of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine and Captain America Lucia gets stopped. Until one year later when Latveria takes revenge with an attack on New York. Our heroes weren’t aware that Fury’s actions weren’t supported by the US government and the general public’s response isn’t all too positive on the good guys and their secret war.
Due to the large destruction in New York the idea arises to have superheroes register themselves and get them to work for the government. Anyone who refuses to give up their secret identity and take orders from above is deemed a criminal. Not each hero can find himself in this and soon the group of friends is split in two and they start fighting each other to push through their point.
The integration of both comics is done in some kind of missions that slowly reveal the story at the hand of some big plots from the source material. Still the comic fans will be surprised by some new elements that the devs try to interweave in this epic story. Especially towards the end everything starts to feel a bit cliché and seems to push back the storyline to the level of comics from the 80s.
Qua gameplay the whole setup is still the same as in the first game, only the choice of available heroes has been limited by your choice between pro-registration (Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Songbird) and anti-registration (Captain America, Luke Cage, Iron Fist). Still the overall look remains the same after your choice, only the layout of some of the missions changes a bit. While on one hand you need to attack a convoy, the other choice has you protecting it.
The only new gameplay element is the “Fusion” technique. By combining two superheroes and their powers you get a strong super power. It makes the game a bit more tactical than its predecessor as with each well-performed Fusion attack you also get a healing token. This can then be used to heal a squad member or bring him back to life even. Fulling your Fusion meter goes so fast, however, that it makes the entire game too easy, even on the highest difficulty degree. Another disadvantage is that they tend to bore quickly. The so-called 200 different versions seem great and fun at first, until you realise that in reality there’s only 10 different attacks with a small difference.
The entire game seems to have been built a bit too simplistic. Where the first Ultimate Alliance had multiple costumes per character and that with additional powers, this idea has been sent to the trashbin and replaced by only one extra costume, without powers and which doesn’t really do the hero any justice. The entire RPG part also seems replaced by a way too simple points system and there’s only one thing left in the game to do: button mashing.
The visuals and audio suit with the entire line of the game, monotone. Surroundings are often plain boring with a rehash of constantly the same textures, the effects of the destructable environments are ridiculous and then we haven’t said anything yet about the plentitude of bugs. The positive point is that fast action is shown on the screen and that without any framedrops. The audio doesn’t get noticed while button mashing but once you hear the conversations or voice acting you wonder whether the voices were done by mentally challenged people instead of real actors.
The point where the game does shine is in co-op which is playable both in off- and online. Here you finally do experience some fun by playing together with others. Online there are some problems, thouh, if you want to join a game. It seems mostly the case when people have a too big difference in progress of the story. The simple concept should in theory make it easy for people to join in on an ongoing game, but matchmaking and the bad lobbies make a total chaos. Luckily the game is perfectly playable with multiple controllers and some friends from real life.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 completely misses the ball when compared to its predecessor. The KISS-method that gets applied here makes the game an experience you prefer to quickly forget. Not one new element is worth mentioning and the button mashing brings boredom instead of entertainment. In short: how a game with a perfect script – the beautiful comics – becomes a thorn in the eye. Only for people with extremely low expectations!