Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 Review

Beat-em up games were all the rage in the early ’90s. The ability to beat the crap out of anything and everything on the screen enthralled gamers, causing them to pour quarters into arcade machines far and wide. The story didn’t matter (if there was one), and neither did the setting. Hell the characters, whether specialized or not, were just tools to beat up other characters. Gamers loved the mayhem, the absolute destruction, the appealing nature of hitting one button and seeing a character lay waste to the enemy through a series of combo moves. Sure, it’s simple and repetitive, but at the same time it’s raw, fun, and downright entertaining. At it’s core Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is just a reinvention of the beloved formula from the days of grunge, pogs, and Doc Martens.
MUA2 throws gamers directly into the action of Marvel’s Secret War storyline. In the early going, players are bound to the initial foursome as they are lead through the tutorial section of the game. It isn’t until after this first mission is completed that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2’s cast of characters becomes accessible to players. No, not all of the characters, just a subset, again. Others (roughly half) have to be unlocked through completing the campaign, or "discovered" by locating certain items…while completing the campaign. Later in the story mode a plot device divides the characters, limiting the available selection again. These roster changes mean that players may not be able to use their character of choice for the entire game.

The first thing players will notice is that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is a visual treat, both in game and in the handful of cutscenes. The art, costumes, and overall graphical presentation compliment the game play superbly, but the camera work is sorely lacking. It’s not game-breaking, but the angles, restrictions, and depths chosen by the semi-locked camera are incredibly frustrating. Thankfully, the fast-moving, solid, and intuitive game play – mash buttons to kill things – distracts from the spotty camera work. MUA2 will keep action-RPG lovers busy for some time. Whether it’s dispatching the latest round of enemies with one of the glorious fusion moves, discovering the numerous hidden items, or optimizing a characters powers and abilities, the number-crunching explorer in all of us is bound to appear hungry for ability points. Those random boxes were asking for it though.

It isn’t all lollipops and kinetically charged gumballs though – with ridiculous descriptions entirely intentional. Gambit, the suave Ragin’ Cajun, is one of the many easily broken characters – broken in an ’80s good-to-be-bad way. The title sports numerous ways to make characters far too powerful, capable of rendering bad guys (yes, plural) to rag dolls in only a few hits. Gambit fits that bill, but one of his innate powers also allows most other characters to become broken through a ridiculous acquisition of Ability Points. No super hero becomes broken in the same fashion though. Wolverine, for example, becomes overpowered in an entirely different variety. Instead of eviscerating opponents with a super move, Wolverine’s most harmful ability becomes his normal attack. It’s not by a little either. The ability to turn his standard combo in to a killing machine renders three of his four super powers a waste of time.

The improper and erratic damage dished out by characters causes the game to be easy when played alone. Adding co-op friends only makes it easier, because enemies don’t get stronger as additional players take the place of the stupid AI. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes the game too easy, but between the unbalanced characters, the new Boost Medals (which are a great substitute for overly complex equipment drops from MUA1), and the nearly useless AI opponents, the game should be played on Legendary difficulty by most gamers. Unfortunately, someone decided to lock the hardest difficulty setting. The decision was likely to entice gamers to play through the other branch of the story, enhancing replayability, but it leaves experienced gamers with little challenge in their virgin run through.

MUA2’s epic story deserves highlighting above all else. All of the past titles in the series, MUA, X-Men Legends, and X-Men Legends 2, offered gamers quality game play, but didn’t tell an entertaining story. There was no connection. Past titles had the characters, the game play, entertaining destruction, and the glitz of good graphics, but each one fell short of the full package. MUA2 corrects that by teeing off on the Secret War storyline, before launching players into the gray area of morality presented in Civil War. It’s not the comic version of Civil War; it’s toned down and more predictable, but it’s still an intriguing look in to super hero politics. Superb dialog trees and voice acting complete the total overhaul, with characters given authentic responses to a wide variety of topics.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is exactly what one would expect in a sequel. It feeds off its predecessor, changing some minor things and tweaking the basic mechanics, but remains in a safe zone. Not too different, but different enough to intrigue. MUA2 even flirted with greatness thanks to (usually) good voice acting, a gripping story, well-crafted discussion, and power trees, but the unbalanced game play and technical faults drained its powers – rendering it an expedition of good, not super, heroes.

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