I was definitely a comic book fan growing up. I read almost everything out there that was hand-drawn with dialogue aside from newspaper strips, Archie, and other comics that didn’t really peek my interest unless it had some hot chick on the front cover with a shirt she bought in Kids r Us. So you can imagine how enthralled I was when Activision and Vicarious Visions announced the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance (not to mention I was already a fan of the X-Men: Legends franchise, which is somewhat similar to MUA). After I abused Marvel Ultimate Alliance, I was somewhat satisfied. I’m not going to say that it left the best of impressions; but it was entertaining and laid out an overall good story.
Then, Activision announced that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was in the works and I clapped hysterically like adolescent girls nowadays would go nuts for The Jonas Brothers. I figured, if the first game was pretty good, then – if there is a merciful god out there somewhere – the second one would be have to be better.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (MUA2) takes some of your favorite Marvel superheroes, and villains, and intertwines them in a story that consists of morality and betrayal. The United States government, after a mutant terrorist blows part of Stamford, Connecticut to shit killing civilians on a reality show, is trying to pass a law which will demand all mutants, by law, to register with the government which carries the issue of revealing their identities. This law, however, raises eyebrows in the mutant community, which causes some to rebel against the United States government for forcing them to give up their freedoms and secret identities, and others to take side with the government for the sole purpose to avoid a war, which can devastate the mutant population by agreeing to register. With Iron Man taking the side of the government as Pro-Registration with the support from mutants like Mr. Fantastic and Bishop, and Captain America leading a rebellious group against the government – Anti-Registration (yea, I know, the irony), mutants face a civil war against each other to fight for what they believe is the right cause. In order to aid them, the Pro-Registration group develops nanite technology to use as a mind control tool on the supervillains, effectively increasing their ranks. Eventually, the nanite controlled villains go coo-coo because of the self-aware nanite technology, and they eventually start whipping out heroes from both factions.
As the player, you make the choice as to which side of the fence you want to be on. Of course, after wailing on a couple of mutants and beating them until they forget who the hell they were, you eventually join up with your opposing side to stop the mind-controlled mutants from wrecking havoc on the world. And that’s all I’ll say about the plot being that saying anymore will just insinuate spoilers beyond belief.
If you’re familiar with the controls and gameplay from the first MUA, you’ll feel right at home here, seriously. Players, in single-player mode, have a team consisting of four superheroes, or supervillains, which they can take control of at any point by pressing on one of the directional buttons on the D-pad. During any point in the game, you’re allowed to switch out your characters for others – which is a good thing when under certain situations that need the calling of “insert mutant name here.”
The basic layout used in the previous game was, basically, ported over to the second installment of the franchise, which can be a good thing. Players can still perform individual super moves for each character by holding down one of the right trigger buttons on the control and pressing a corresponding button to execute their super power of choice. Each super power varies depending on the character, as common sense should ensue, being that each mutant has his or her own special “gift.” Powers can do individual damage to foes or they can break up a group of enemies during a circle-jerk, depending on your team’s situation. However, at the start of the game, each character starts off with only two super powers. As the game progresses and your character(s) gain higher levels, more powers become available at your disposal. The abilities you obtain also depend on which side you join. If you choose to join Iron Man, Pro-Reg attributes become available. If you decide to walk the path of Captain America, Anti-Reg attributes will become available – each with their own unique perks.
Outside this spectrum of individual powers comes Fusion Powers. This is where you can take any two heroes/villains in your team to combine their powers and produce a targeted, guided, or clearing attack. Fusions Powers are great tools against bosses with ridiculous defensive attributes. Some of those bastards can take quite a beating until you whip out your Fusion Powers and whip ’em out with it. The damage done with these team-combining powers is really noticeable in contrast to the individual power moves that each character can perform. Guided shots takes two characters- one of them which blasts one of the teammates in the face with a beam attack – and allows you to maneuver them in order to focus the attack on enemies around you. Clearing moves are similar to the Guided, in a sense. However, instead of maneuvering your characters around to focus the energy attacks on a specific point, your characters create a blast radius which knocks back your enemies. Unlike the Guided Fusion, however, Clearing doesn’t deal as much damage. Instead, it’s more useful for getting the baddies off your back (which will happen beyond belief). The third and last Fusion Power is targeted – which takes two characters, and starts a move while you move a crosshair around the individual target you’re looking to hit. This, my friend, is the move that you would want to do as many times as possible on bosses as it is the fusion power that deals the most damage. The good thing about performing fusion powers is that once you accomplish eliminating your foes with one of the three aforementioned powers, you’ll get rewarded with a healing token that can – get ready for it – heal the people on your team or bring them back if they’ve gotten their asses kicked so much that they become incapacitated (e.g. K.O.’d).
Fusion is built up by beating the bejesus out of your enemies which, in turn, fills your fusion meter. I would say don’t be afraid of using them just about every chance you get. Although it’s good to save them for boss battles, you can definitely obtain more by defeating foes – which becomes a relatively easy feat once you’ve mastered the system of kicking ass and blocking. One thing that you’ll take notice quickly on with regards to fusion powers is that, although it looks awesome in the beginning, the process becomes… well, repetitive.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to see your characters use their fusion powers… at first. But when you begin to replace them a bit with the other characters, the fusion moves that they perform are just about the same with the exception of the character. This, although it might seem like a slight issue, takes away any depth the game could have had. At the end of the day, after being wow’ed the first four times after performing these fusion attacks, combat just feels numb.
Another disappointing factor in MUA2 is the costumes. Now, in the original Ultimate Alliance, each character had a choice of three costumes with the addition of bonuses for each. It was great simply because you felt like you had an agenda to go out there and hunt those costumes down. Not only did it add an alternative means to slap your enemies around with a different look, but it gave the majority of us more of a reason to play the game because it gave us something to do. MUA2, however, deprives us of such things. The sequel allows each character one costume with no bonuses. We can argue that the team Boosts you receive are much more relevant in contrast to individual Boosts used in the original Ultimate Alliance, but it did make switching costumes much more strategic and controlled. And the time it takes to switch costumes on MUA2 isn’t forgiving either. When I first obtained my alternate costume with Wolverine, I began doing back flips in excitement. My pants swelled, my face felt flushed (could be the rosacea), and I pressed the Left Trigger to change the costume. Low and behold, the change of costume took a couple of seconds. Four seconds, to be exact; Four seconds staring at the spinning star loading thingie. I’m pretty sure you’re sitting there saying, “Are you stupid? Are you really complaining about four seconds?” To answer your question, yes. Yes, I am complaining about four seconds because when you’re attempting to change each individual character’s costume, those four seconds add up to sixteen. It might not seem like a long time, but staring at the screen for sixteen seconds to load costumes can feel like an eternity, especially when you’re considering the overall presentation and polish of the game itself.
A cool feature which I did love, however, was the conversation system. When returning back to headquarters, you will have the option of speaking to NPCs that have exclamation points above their heads to touch base on current or past situations regarding their personal lives, or the problem at hand. You’ll ask the a question, they’ll respond, and then you’ll have an three options of how you choose to respond: Aggressive, Diplomatic, or Defensive.
The great thing about this system is that, depending on how you respond to the NPCs,, you might just gain certain boosts. With Nick Fury, however, well, you won’t gain much because he’s just a douche. Everything he says is a “I’m on the rag” answer which kind of makes you wish you could take Deadpool’s gun, point it at Nick’s other eye, and have him become a permanent member of the blind society. What really hurts this system, however, is how unresponsive your characters look when talking to the NPCs. No hand gestures, no facial expressions, no winking, nothing. It makes your character look and feel lifeless, which can take away from the feel of the characters.
Making a triumphant return to the series is the distracting trivia game and mission simulator. No drastic changes were made to the system itself. If you recall how the system worked before, it’s exactly the same thing in MUA2. There are new audio logs scattered throughout the game which, honestly, isn’t really that appealing unless you have nothing better to do.
The voice acting is… well, subpar, to say the very least. There are times where you’re just perplexed at how bad it can be, especially when characters like Thor open their mouths. Jesus Christ. Seriously, when you first see Thor’s intimidating façade holding his mighty hammer you think to yourself, “This dude can seriously whoop some ass. I mean, look at his arms… his veins have veins…” Then, he opens his mouth to speak. Right then, folks, is where you question whether or not Vicarious Visions attempted to make a mockery out of either the hero himself, or the person doing the voice acting because, my god, that voice does not fit him at all. It’s kind of like when you first see Mike Tyson for the first time. The dude is intimidating, without a doubt. But when he begins to speak, it’s like he just lost whatever credibility he had as a tough guy. I mean, seriously folks, how tough can someone like that sound over a phone? Take the same thing with Thor. His voice isn’t as high-pitched as Iron Mike’s, but it is annoying beyond belief. It sounds way too cartoony… and it was the same thing folks complained about in the first game. The man tries too hard to sound like a superhero.
The multiplayer doesn’t do the game much justice either. If you’re playing with one friend online, things are fine. Insert three or four, and the game becomes as responsive as a patient in a coma. Lag, ladies and gentlemen – it is the one thing that plagues this game beyond belief. Al Zamora and myself decided to join in together and kick some Marvel hero/villain ass. A couple of minutes later two more people joined up and things went downhill from there. I’d press a combination of attacks and close to two to three seconds later was when my character decided to execute my demand for pain inducing punches. Of course, I thought it was a connection issue, so a day later, I tried again with a bunch of other people. Now, unless I have absolutely no luck, there’s no way in hell the same thing should be happening. Wrong. In four player co-op, again, lag and delay became the topic of conversation amongst me and my teammates. I’m a little disappointed at how this aspect of the game was handled being that it would have probably been one of the reasons to actually pick this game up. However, Vicarious Visions made sure that you stuck to single-player or local multiplayer games, because there’s no way in hell that anyone can tolerate the online portion.
My biggest beef in the game, though, would have to be the AI. For some reason, the enemies in the game seem to suffer from retardation. Ultimate Alliance’s AI was never really known for their intellectual capacity in the gaming world, but my experience with MUA2 takes the cake. For example, there was an occasion where I was pouncing on an enemy with Captain America (my team usually consisted of Captain America, Wolverine, Deadpool and Thing) when all of a sudden, instead of attacking, he decided to turn around and run toward a wall. Now, at first, I thought this was normal because in most games, the AI is programmed to flee for a bit, then come back with a vengeance and attempt to whoop your ass. Not in this game. For about three minutes I stood there watching the poor bastard continue to run towards the wall without considering to turn around and fight. Idly, Captain America saluted, Wolverine sharpened his claws, and the other guys looked around. Hm. Must be a glitch. Wham! I threw my shield at him, he gets up, and continues again toward the wall. I excuse myself from the rest of the team and begin moving in his direction. Maybe there’s a hidden door there that I’m not aware of which can lead me to some goodies. I go, I check, I find nothing. At this point, I’m a bit baffled and decide to put the stupid bastard out his misery. I grab him, repeatedly punch his face, and he dies from shock. This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t occur throughout the game. It would have been acceptable, being that no code is perfect, if this only occurred a handful of times. But it occurred almost in every stage I played, which was a bit disappointing being that it was an issue with the first game.
Aside from the issues that migrated their way from the previous installment to this one, MUA2 is a pretty decent game. Although I would have preferred a stronger list of playable characters – which was disappointing in itself – the game will offer you the same thing from the previous game down to a tee. I was hoping to be shocked and awed, but because everything was already so familiar, it just felt more like an expansion that took three years to make. Cutscenes didn’t look good and the presentation of the Civil War, which is taken directly from the comics, doesn’t do the storyline any justice. Fans of the previous franchise won’t be impressed with this one. The game is fun at times, but it’s not anything you’ll be missing if you played the first one.