Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2: ReviewShawn Drotar

Posted on October 7th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Reviews, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

Comic-book sequel doesn’t break new ground, but with friends, it’s a action-packed romp

When the original Marvel: Ultimate Alliance arrived on the scene nearly three years ago, it was a breath of fresh air; a four-player cooperative game that was reminiscent of old quarter-eaters like Gauntlet, with some puzzle-solving and a heaping helping of comic-book fan service thrown in.

The game was a resounding success, both commercially and critically, and a sequel was inevitable. But for the sequel, developer Raven Software has been replaced by Vicarious Visions, and while the new team clearly went with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, the game’s advances are a bit underwhelming given the three-year gap, and as a result, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 doesn’t provide as fresh an experience as many had hoped.

Nevertheless, for fans of the original, comic-book fans, or co-op gamers, the latest foray into the rich Marvel universe still provides plenty of fun, even if it feels a bit too familiar at times.

Borrowing heavily from “Secret Wars” and “Civil War”, two of Marvel’s most successful cross-title storylines in the last few years, our intrepid heroes find themselves embroiled in international politics, citywide destruction and a new law that forces them to reveal their secret identities. The story adds a little flavor to the proceedings in general - namely, later in the game, when certain characters will become unavailable depending on whether you’re pro- or anti-superhero registration - but it exists mainly to lead you and your team through waves and waves and robot soldiers and bad guys galore.

This isn’t a bad thing, because Ultimate Alliance 2 is all about taking it to the villains with your arsenal of powers, and combining them with your teammates. In other words, you’re out to kick butt, take names and look good doing it. The game’s set up to let you fulfill those superhero fantasies with aplomb.

From a graphics standpoint, Ultimate Alliance 2 is a step up from its predecessor, with more detail and a steadier frame rate than before. That’s important, because besides you and your three teammates, there may be a dozen other characters on the screen at the same time, complete with explosions and lighting effects from super-powers, among many other things all happening at once. There’s quite a bit of detail in the character models and in the environment, and they don’t seem as repetitive as they often did in the first game.

As the four-person superhero team of your choosing fights their way through each level, they’ll earn experience points which will allow them to advance their character and improve their powers. Initially, this will only improve the limited number of powers that each character starts with, but as time goes on, more powers can be unlocked and your superheroes will be well on their way to becoming an unstoppable force. Team bonuses are also earned, which can be equipped in slots, and then will affect the entire group, granting them all bonuses, no matter which heroes are part of your party at the time.

In this way, Ultimate Alliance 2 has a role-playing element, and you’ll decide which characters to advance and how to advance them. New costumes can be unlocked, but unlike in the first game, they don’t convey any particular bonuses, which is something of a disappointment, as there’s little reason to use them. As an interesting wrinkle, however, some of the 24 characters available are normally thought of as villains, but due to the storyline, which has our anti-registration heroes going underground, these characters will side with the heroes for the duration of this game.

The core gameplay remains the same, however: bashing everything that moves.

By utilizing a straightforward command scheme, brawling is a breeze and the simple trigger button modifier makes utilizing each of your four superpowers equally so. You’ll often find yourself inundated by enemies, so learn how to use the block button and remember to heal your teammates before their health gets too low. But when you find yourself surrounded, it’s an opportunity to use the game’s newest mechanic: Fusion powers.

These Fusion powers are the key to success in Ultimate Alliance 2, and unleashing them upon your enemies is the most fun part of the game. The perfect expression of teamwork between two characters, Fusion powers combine two heroes’ superpowers into into one devastating attack. Targeted Fusions will focus on one specific target, which is generally the most effective against end-of-level “bosses”. Guided Fusions let the teammates control where the damage is dealt, and usually allow them to move it around during the duration of the attack, giving them the opportunity to clear out many enemies at once. Clearing Fusions are the equivalent of “smart bombs”, attacks that radiate from the center outward, flinging enemies away from the heroes. Every pair of heroes will combine for a different kind of Fusion attack, and discovering which ones are the most effective for you is a great deal of fun. Watching Captain America deflect Iron Man’s energy blasts into the bad guys or watching Spider-Man twirl Wolverine around and around with his webbing is enough to put a smile on any comic-book fan’s face.

The more effectively you use your Fusion powers, the more you will be rewarded with experience and healing tokens that can bring your unlucky friends back into the fight. Playing as a single player, the Fusion powers are fun, but when you’re playing as a cooperative four-player team, the Fusion powers really feel like they reward you for playing together, which is a big part of the game’s appeal.

There are a few stumbles here and there. Loading times are surprisingly long, even where you wouldn’t expect them to be, the voice acting is hit and miss, and the interactive cutscenes are really clunky, although the aggressive/diplomatic/defensive response system is interesting enough. But there’s a lot to like here, especially for Marvel fans. Each character has in-game achievements to strive for (though they don’t necessarily correspond with Xbox 360 Achievements or PlayStation 3 Trophies), and there’s a decent amount of replay-ability here, especially if you want to unlock everything.

Ultimate Alliance 2 doesn’t break much new ground - in fact, besides the enjoyable Fusion mechanic, it’s essentially the same game as its predecessor - but it looks better, brings a more interesting story to bear, and still provides a ton of co-op fun for four players, both online and off. ‘Nuff said.

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