It’s that wondrous time of year again, where all of our beloved developers begin to manifest the greatness that was on display at this year’s E3 conference. Otherwise known as happy-go-funtime for gamers, the fall rush is upon us, raining gifts-a-plenty for all to enjoy. Those who please us will go far and be praised for years to come (or until their next flop). Those who don’t are shunned and must suffer their mediocre fate in the hands of misinformed souls.
Acitivision and developer Vicarious Visions hope to escape the terrible grasp of mediocrity with their highly anticipated sequel to critically and commercially acclaimed Marvel Ultimate Alliance. With a slew of superheroes and villains, and one of Marvel’s more interesting plot lines setting the stage, Marvel Ultimate Alliance II has all the right pieces for a superb action-RPG hybrid. Can Tony Stark and Mr. Fantastic use their genius intellect to put the pieces in the right place? Or does “Hulk Smash?”
Hulk does smash, but with a brutal satisfaction that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
In general, MUA2 is a more simplified version of its predecessor, but a version that plays lightning quick while retaining the overall feel of the dungeon crawling, RPG-esque series. Although doing away with some of the more “complicating” aspects of an RPG, Vicarious Visions focus on the purity of superhero combat, that is, fantastic use of powers and a focus on action to pummel your enemies into the ground. And for a game that revolves around characters that can project the Power Cosmic from their eye-sockets (and other orifices, I presume), it damn well should be about the powers.
You’ll be utilizing these powers through a great cast of characters within one of Marvel’s more serious and in-depth crossover story-lines, revolving around the government’s Superhero Registration Act (but beginning with Secret War) and the ensuing civil war between Anti and Pro-registration factions. Not only does the plot include a vast number of Marvel’s more popular superhumans, it also connects on a more normalized plane of believability that involves a registration process for an outcast group of people.
It may strike a more familiar chord outside of Marvel faithful. MUA2 will ultimately make you choose a side, either pro or anti-registration. Each side allows exclusive access to a group of heroes and distinct bosses, which differ enough from each other to warrant another playthrough.
Much like all of its predecessors, Marvel Ultimate Alliance II plays in the same general, dungeon crawling manner. You’re given a choice of four heroes or villains, which the player takes control of one to punch, kick, and blast around each objective oriented level, while the others can be controlled by your friends either locally, over Xbox Live, or controlled by AI.
You can quickly switch to any of the other three heroes with quick taps of the D-Pad, while unlike the rest of the series, you’ll be able to change your cast of characters on the fly at anytime during the level, which is a much welcomed addition. Many changes and additions made by Vicarious Visions were intended to make MUA2 more accessible to the casual gamer, as the combat has a more rapid, fluid feel, and the RPG elements that were once prevalent amongst the series have been dumbed down quite a bit.
While it still has an overall dungeon crawling feel, the lack of roleplaying elements begin to make the game more of a beat-’em-up than an action-RPG. Loot is relatively non-existent, besides the team boosting medals, and leveling up has been greatly simplified. Each character has four powers to spend ability points on, however, once a point is spent, it is not permanent.While this a little more noob-friendly, as you can make a character either a physical bruiser or energy powerhouse at anytime during the game, deep customization seems to be forgotten.
All heroes begin with two powers and once they hit levels five and ten, they gain access to the other two. Costumes have also been greatly changed, for they only add an aesthetic difference to each character, rather than unlocking further abilities like in the first Ultimate Alliance. Not to mention, you’re limited to just one extra costume per character that are usually poor choices (Hugh Jackman Wolverine, seriously?).
However, to offset the limited roleplaying aspects of the game, Vicarious Visions has added the all new Fusion attack. As the name suggests, a Fusion is performed by two different heroes or villains, creating a mix of powers in one of three kinds of attacks: clearing, guided, or targeted. As the names suggest, clearing attacks are good for wiping out a large number of enemies, guided Fusions can be moved around the screen to kill off a bunch of scattered enemies, and a targeted attack closes in on just one enemy, which proves useful during boss battles.
These Fusion attacks are a superb addition to the series; they’re the perfect amount of flashy visuals combined with the awesome factor of Wolverine being utilized as a missile by many of his comrades. Fusions help keep the action from getting repetitive and mundane as many dungeon crawlers tend to do after long periods of time.
Though we’re led to believe that each character has a unique Fusion attack with every other hero in the cast of twenty-five, this is simply not true. As slick as they may be, many of the attacks are exactly the same, as Thor and Venom will stomp the ground repeatedly just as Ms. Marvel and Hulk, or any mix of the big bruisers will do. It’s a shame really; the possibilities are truly endless when combining powers from such an array of characters.
Superpowers have also been given a much needed revamping to keep up with the increased focus on fluidity. While the first Ultimate Alliance featured the recharge aspect of a character’s energy bar, MUA2 allows for much more use of mutant powers as energy recharge is very rapid. Although the powers are similar from character to character, they’re still a lot of fun because they can be used so often. It takes a lot of the monotony out of the dungeon crawling experience.
Without this crawl, though, Marvel Ultimate Alliance II tends to feel a bit short. I clocked in around eight hours, unlocking all of the secret characters available to me and reaching a pretty sizable level (35 or so). Playtime, along with other aspects that Vicarious Visions has simplified, fit the general notion that MUA2 was intended for a more casual audience.
The hardcore fan will find a solid game here that sports a stellar story, great visuals, and fluid gameplay, but it lacks in the roleplaying department. The casual gamer will find it more appealing as the series is now more accessible and newbie-friendly.
Character models, and the game in general, received a great visual overhaul. The fusion attacks are a blast to watch, even if the camera is faulty at times.
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While combat is rapid and more fluid, the lack of RPG elements and customization are a let down for series enthusiasts.
Pretty good voice work and some damn good sound effects. Nothing too extraordinary though.
It may be a little short, but a decent amount of collectibles will have you replaying missions, while the story itself warrants another playthrough to experience both sides of the conflict.
Although it falls short of its predecessors, Marvel Ultimate Alliance II provides a solid experience that is more accesible to the casual gamer.