There have been many superhero games focused on single iconic characters, but no game has managed to capture the breadth and scope of 2006’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance from Activision and Raven Software. The game itself was a broader take on the X-Men Legends games that came before it, offering more characters from the entire Marvel universe than just those from the X-Men series. If the prospect of choosing from a truckload of famous (and some not-so-famous) heroes and villains from the Marvel universe wasn’t enough to make comic book and video game enthusiasts salivate, there was the surprisingly addictive Diablo-like top down action-RPG style gameplay which offered countless hours of nerdgasmic fun. Now Activision is back with a sequel, only this time it’s done by Vicarious Visions, the team behind the Wii and PSP versions of Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 sticks very close (and perhaps too close) to its predecessor’s tried and tested formula. For most part, it succeeds. However there are still some loose ends and some questionable changes, which make it look like a step back for the franchise. With majority of the gameplay being all too similar to the previous game, the obvious question would be – is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 really worth your time and money if you already own the first game and its DLC? Read on to find out.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2’s biggest strength is its story. Unlike the first game, which featured a garbled mess of a plot that tried to fit in almost all elements, locations and characters from the Marvel universe into a single story, the sequel has a much better plot and narrative. For starters, it’s based on existing comic book story events, most predominantly the celebrated Civil War storyline with some elements from the preceding Secret War arc. It’s evident from the game’s slick menu screens and somber background music that the game is a little darker and more mature in tone compared to the previous one. Even the fonts and colours used on the menus are reminiscent of the covers of the Civil War comics, which is nice touch.
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The game begins with a handful of heroes (the most recognisable ones) on an unsanctioned top secret mission in Latveria under orders from Nick Fury. You see, grumpy old eye-patch is convinced that despite Doctor Doom being dead, Latveria is behind some recent terrorist attacks that have recently occurred in the USA. The mission is to apprehend and question Latverian Prime Minister Lucia Von Bardas. Along the way, our heroes have to fight through hundreds of Latverian troops while the game educates you on the combat and some of the newly added features. Unfortunately, things don’t go so well and the team is forced to destroy the Prime Minister’s castle, leaving her for dead.
Cut to a year later and our heroes are kickin’ back and relaxing, doing their regular superhero thing when suddenly a pissed-off cyborg-ified Lucia Von Bardas shows up with her fellow Latverian cohorts and attempts to destroy New York City. Our heroes are able to stop her, but not before she has half of Manhattan Island lying in ruins. Nick Fury and his superhero allies are held responsible for the attack in light of their actions in Latveria. That, coupled with other events, eventually leads to the passing of the much debated Superhuman Registration Act. The act requires all existing superheroes to reveal their identities to the public and work only in accordance with the government, causing a rift among the superhero community.
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Some heroes, like Iron-Man and Mr. Fantastic, believe that the act is for their own good and a temporary measure to restore the public’s faith in superheroes, while others like Captain America and Luke Cage think that superheroes should keep their identities secret and work independent of the government. Eventually, those opposing the act are forced to go underground and are dubbed as rebels, while the ones in support of the act are determined to apprehend and imprison them if not make them change sides. This sets the stage for one of the most iconic rivalries in comic book history, pitting Captain America against Iron-Man.
The setup is really well executed and around the beginning of the second act, you will be forced to either choose the pro-registration or the anti-registration side. Sadly, in terms of gameplay it really does not make much of an impact. The only significant difference being a few characters will be locked out based on your alignment; you are free to choose from the rest though. The missions may be presented differently in either case, but they eventually boil down to the same levels with opposing objectives and different boss characters.
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Those expecting more depth to the branching storylines will be disappointed, especially by the time Act III starts and the story deviates from the Civil War to a more generic angle featuring a new common threat. It’s a real shame since the first two acts really do manage to offer a much better experience story-wise. It’s still worthwhile to play through both sides as you’ll get different conversations, cut-scenes and characters to play as. Despite the predictable third act and similar missions for pro and anti-registration, the story is still way better than its predecessors and offers an appropriate backdrop for the constant punching, slashing and shooting.
The gameplay is mostly the same as the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance. You can take any four heroes into a number of linear missions and battle hordes of bad guys, bosses and mini-bosses. This time you are free to swap out heroes at any given time and not at predefined spots like the earlier games. During gameplay, you can switch between characters using the D-pad. Up to three other players can join either locally or via Xbox LIVE and control the other heroes – the only catch here is that only the player hosting the game will be able to save progress while the rest of the players act as “guests” and will not be able to maintain individual saves. The AI controls any characters that are not controlled by human players and is rather incompetent at that. AI-controlled heroes never die, but will also never do significant damage to enemies. Also, unlike the previous game, you cannot assign individual tactics to them such as going defensive, offensive or conserving energy.
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The game also cuts down the RPG elements of the previous games significantly. For instance, Marvel Ultimate Alliance featured a large number of special attacks and powers for each character. Here, they are limited to only four active attacks, buffs or debuffs per character which are mapped to the controller face buttons and a handful of passive abilities and boosts (out of which some may be locked depending on your anti or pro alignment). Now this may sound like a bad thing at first, but very soon it becomes apparent that it’s not so bad after all. The four attacks featured for each character are certainly quite useful and honestly the only attacks you’ll actually ever need. The presence of too many powers per character in the previous game felt a little overwhelming at times, especially if like me you kept experimenting with various characters in a single game. Character management feels a lot more focused here and it’s easier to max out the stats for characters and make them uber-powerful than it was earlier.
Next page: IVG verdict