Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 - Staff Review  

So Little To Do, So Little Time
by Phillip Willis

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Playstation 3
Very Easy
Less than 20 Hours
+ Great selection of characters
+ Interesting Civil War premise
+ Simplified gameplay and interface
- Combat too simple
- Short game length
- Lack of customization and original side missions
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   X-Men Legends, the first action RPG on the consoles featuring comic characters, paved the way for similar games. Featuring large rosters of customizable heroes, storylines lifted right from the comics, and fast Diablo-style gameplay, these games have enjoyed a history of good sales records. A result of this series of success, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 gives RPGamers the ability to play as some of their favorite heroes and villains as they face off in a civil war and more.

   A handful of superheroes travel to Latveria at the request of Nick Fury to confront Lucia Von Berdas, its current leader. Without informing the heroes of the exact nature of the mission, Nick leads them in a Secret War to take her down. This begins a domino effect of events which prompts the government to institute a superhero registration act. Those familiar with the Secret War and Civil War storyline from Marvel Comics will find that the game roughly follows the same main plot lines for about half its length. Liberties are taken in the second half, but it does not detract from the experience. Unfortunately, in trying to cram several major comic plot lines into a dozen hour action RPG, some important details are lost.

   Initially, players will run with a team from the New Avengers lineup. After a few encounters the roster opens up a bit. Players can switch out team members anywhere on the fly, unlike previous iterations. As expected, some characters remain locked until players meet certain conditions. The roster becomes a bit restricted for the middle part of the game, depending on which side of the Civil War one participates in. RPGamers can expect to see comic favorites such as Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America and the Fantastic Four, as well as some unorthodox additions such as Penance, Deadpool and Songbird. Unfortunately, the boss battles feel absolutely uninspired. Many of those villains come from Marvel's second and third tier line-up, and even serious Marvel fans may find themselves looking at Wikipedia to find out who some of them are.

Don Don't make me angry...wait... that's not my line...

   From the first minute, the distinct visual presentation jumps out. Patterned after the same style used in the Marvel Comic Civil War series, the clean interface comes across as attractive and very easy to use. During actual gameplay, a minimalistic approach to the overlay allows the gamer to focus on the action with little distraction. The fascinating character graphics help to draw gamers into the experience, with some, like the Green Goblin, really standing out. The environments hold up their end, with a generally clean, crisp approach and a decent variety for the length of the game.

   Familiar to those who have played other comic based action RPGs, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 sticks to the basic formula with the few additions and changes designed mostly to simplify gameplay. During combat, characters can do light and heavy melee attacks as well as string combos together. Some combos have the additional benefit of tripping up the enemy or popping him up in the air in addition to doing damage. Heroes may use their various super powers at any time as long as energy is available. Each character's energy replenishes quickly after a few moments of not using them.

   New to the series, fusion powers replace the extreme powers from the previous game. They involve two characters working together to pull off a finishing move. Since the active character can fuse with any of the other three characters on screen, various types of fusion attacks are available. When facing a lot of weak enemies, a clearing fusion will quickly obliterate them all in one strike. Boss characters fall to their knees after being slammed with a few single target fusions. Charged through fighting, players can store two or three fusion attacks at a time for use when they are needed most. Some of these attacks look spectacular.

Pick a card.  Any card. Pick a card. Any card.

   Even with this change, gameplay feels somewhat shallow. Normal attacks hit hard and special attacks recharge very quickly. So players can spam just about any type of attack and come out on top. Only a few of the environmental hazards and a couple of boss fights post a serious threat. The occasional spike in difficulty will throw most gamers off balance for a bit, but little progress is lost when a party dies. The developers have gone out of their way to enhance the gameplay's accessiblity. For example, power points are automatically assigned upon gaining a level, but the player may reallocate them at any time. Also, customization options available in the previous game, such as equipping outfits for various stat boosts, have been replaced with a very simple badge system. These changes make the game easier to play, and keep a tight focus on the actual game itself. They also strip away much of the team management, strategic planning, and (as a direct result) the difficulty found in many similar games.

   Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 comes up short in length. The main campaign takes about ten to fifteen hours depending on time spent doing the optional exercises. Some of the missions only have a handful of normal enemies before fighting the area boss. As mentioned earlier, the epic Civil War story line feels absolutely rushed. The ability to run through a second time to play the other side of the Civil War does help somewhat. However, The Civil War part of the game's story line encompasses only a handful of chapters in the middle, so most of the game will have to be repeated just to play a few chapters showing the other side's viewpoint of the war. The ability to change characters on the fly helps, because unless players switch team members frequently, the game will be over before they have had the chance to experience even half of the characters available.

   For every step the series has taken forward with this game, a step is taken back. The brevity of the game cuts into the enjoyment one may derive from the improved graphics, interface and plot. The mediocre boss characters and fights almost overshadow the interesting changes made to the hero roster. The simpler party mechanics keep attention focused on the fighting, but remove the ability to truly customize and build one's team. Players choose between one of two sides in the Civil War, thereby experiencing something different on the second run through. However, the bonus character-focused side missions from the first game have been replaced with generic virtual challenges. Unfortunately, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 falls a bit short as a full blown sequel and lacks value for the asking price. However, taking a handful of Marvel heroes and slapping around a bunch of bad guys still entertains and delights for the time it lasts.

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