Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 Review
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance was a rather solid game when it arrived three years ago. While most versions of the game were pretty solid, the PlayStation 3 version was an embarrassing disaster that couldn't properly run at any resolution beside a lowly 480p. Granted, it was a launch title, but it also wasn't exactly a complex game to begin with. Regardless of a poor PS3 port, the game amassed a fanbase, and now, after waiting three years, Activision has delivered a sequel that is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. Ben kicks it off with the gameplay, and I'll take it over for graphics, sound, and conclusion. Do your thing, Benjamin.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance kind of surprised both the superhero and action/RPG crowd when it launched last generation; it somehow satisfied both factions, which is a definite accomplishment. Many described it as Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance, only with a superhero party at your immediate disposal. It worked very well but we all knew that more could be done with that standard foundation...and although we had to wait a while for the sequel, Vicarious Visions has indeed built on that aforementioned foundation. The gameplay is faster, there are more playable superheroes, and the inclusion of Fusions make Ultimate Alliance 2 a definite crowd-pleaser. It does get a touch repetitive (button-mashing is often the name of the game) and the too many of the Fusions appear similar to each other, but the game rarely stops being fun. It's over-the-top entertainment right from the start, and superhero fans will absolutely adore the plethora of names that are at their fingertips.
Right from the start, you will notice that Marvel's speed has been enhanced and the immense brawling will include about six thousand button presses in the span of a minute. It only begins with the basics: you'll always guide a team of four (usually your choice of members), and you can select which of the superheroes you wish to directly control simply by using the directional pad. Every character has their own unique animations and special attacks but the standard attacks are the same for all: X is a light attack, Circle is a powerful attack, which you can also hold down to charge the attack, Square lets you grab a foe, and Triangle jumps; a second press will execute a double-jump. But when you institute the trigger buttons, things get far more interesting. Not only will you be able to access each character's special powers - two at first, two to be unlocked later - but holding the L2 button and pressing a face button that corresponds with an ally will execute the famed Fusion.
The attacks are rapid and fluid and absolutely everything works very well, but the only complaint I had is that the on-screen chaos often hindered my vision, especially when fighting the faceless enemies. Everything moves so quickly, I would sometimes lose track of my character amidst the mess and although you can block with the L1 button, it almost seems superfluous with everything that's going on. Then there's the almost inevitable repetitiveness that comes with games of this nature. While the combat mechanic is fantastic and there are plenty of special skills to gawk at, you'll realize that even added experimentation with other characters doesn't exactly expand the gameplay feel. It really all feels much the same throughout but then again, that's not a huge complaint because it almost always "feels" great. Provided you don't have a problem with some button mashing, a little confusing chaos, and Fusions that kinda make you say, "hey, that's basically the same as that other Fusion," you'll have a blast. I can almost guarantee it.
Really, it's the Fusions that set Ultimate Alliance 2 apart. This combines the special forces of two characters and lets you tear it up for a few seconds. Wolverine and Captain America will only run around at top speed bashing into baddies, but some of the later Fusions really light up the screen (watch what happens when Storm combines with Iron Man) and much of the time, I was just playing so I could execute another Fusion hadn't seen yet. This is where that experimentation comes in; you don't just want to have an entirely new party of four to toy around with on the battlefield, you want them out there to see what happens when The Thing and The Flash combine. Also, don't forget about the superhero-specific powers, like Spiderman's web balls and Wolverine's massively fast forward slashing attack. And finally, there's the simple yet oddly addictive build-up/advancement system for each character. You'll have separate points to toss into your innate skills as well as accrued Ability Points that can be distributed amongst other attributes. The best part is that heroes will sort of level up at similar rates so nobody gets left behind.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 does just about everything right and on the surface, there appears to be a great deal of content. This content begins to run together and isn't quite as deep or diverse as I might've expected, but the appeal is undeniable, and so is the fun factor. Besides, it really will take you some time to experiment with every last character available and while the core gameplay remains the same for all superhero, it also remains super-solid and super-smooth. The camera, which is mostly fixed, isn't always perfect as it sometimes sits too far away from the action, which qualifies as my second significant complaint, but there isn't much else to be said about it. If you're a Marvel fan, I'd be surprised if you didn't get your fill with this particular title; it's fairly well polished and can literally blaze up the screen. Oh, and you'll definitely get your money's worth as there's always plenty to do, and make sure to take advantage of Juggernaut on the PSN, PS3 owners! That guy kicks ass.
Now, as far as graphics go, Ultimate Alliance 2 has made great strides, as opposed to its original counterpart. Where as the first game was nothing more than just a high-res version of the PS2 and Xbox games, the sequel looks notably different and boasts numerous improvements. First, character detail is a lot better, with some up-close views demonstrating good character work. Even though this is an isometric-view game where you don't get to see things up close, it's still nice to see that texture detail has improved, as well. Furthermore, I'm especially happy that the game's framerate runs perfectly fine no matter what's going on the screen. Sure, Ultimate Alliance 2 may be a simplistic looking game, but with some nice effects and good character detail, it still features enough to impress you.
Audio is pretty good. There's a lot of voice acting in the game, so you'll get to hear not just the voice of officers commanding you around and explaining your objective, but also voices of various non-playable and playable characters, such as Gambit, Deadpool, Wolverine, Storm, Iron Man, and so forth. Almost all of the characters sound the part, but not everyone pulls off their lines as they should. What I was hoping to hear was punches and kicks with a bit more oomph to them, as the sounds the game makes sound a bit too...16-bit? There's a tune that plays in the background, which is cool, and a variety of other sound effects all throughout the environment, but it'd have been really nice to see a bit more focus put into the sound the actual action.
All in all, if you're looking for a great action/RPG game, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is for you. This is a proper sequel that was certainly worth the three year wait. It's not mint-blowing, but at the same time it manages to capture everything that a videogame should be: fun. And it captures it well. Boasting a list of 24 characters, really cool Fusion abilities, solid action, improved visuals, and great multiplayer, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is a worthwhile addition to your library.
9/29/2009 Arnold K. and Ben D.