Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 - Retroview  

Quiet Heroes Aren't Stan Lee's Style
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Fast brawler action
+ Sweeping cinematic soundtrack
- Technical difficulties aplenty
- Absurdly truncated storyline
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   Something happened after Marvel Ultimate Alliance that shifted development duties for a sequel away from Raven Software. It took three years for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 to see the light of day, and several versions from different developers exist due to the multitude of platforms on which it was released. Developer n-Space took the reins for the PS2 and Wii versions of the game, and held pretty close to the template Raven Software established for the first Ultimate Alliance. Most of the changes it makes are for the worse though, and they leave the second Ultimate Alliance at the bottom of the Marvel action RPG stack.

   S.H.I.E.L.D. colonel Nick Fury starts events by sending a strike team into Latveria. It seems the country has been providing succor to the Tinkerer and his propensity for building technically proficient attire in use by various villains, something that can be counteracted by shutting down support at the source. This is not an easy mission, and it backfires dramatically when Latveria cites it as just cause for reciprocating with an attack upon the US. Interest in passing a registration act for all persons with abilities beyond the norm becomes law in the United States, and the various Marvel personalities affected choose sides based on their stances toward the bill.

   Unlike the titles developed by Raven, this one attempts to directly adapt a storyline from Marvel comics, and the result is so abbreviated that it just doesn't work. The lead-in gets the job done, but once the manifold reasoning of each hero for choosing a side comes into play, the writing falls down. There are definite reasons for Reed Richards not being on the same side as the rest of the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man's story is critical to the Civil War tale, among many other characters who had to make unpleasant choices. Almost none of that makes it into this game, with most of the cast remaining mute about their rationales. The few characters who do say something about their choices tend to be NPCs with little dialogue, which gets aggravating when they are such important players as Cable and Bishop. When the Civil War portion of the game is past, the concluding areas dealing with the Fold get abbreviated too even when they were created specifically for this game. Since Ultimate Alliance 2 is substantially shorter than preceding Marvel action RPGs, the horribly abridged story material pales even more considering what came before.

   Combat is pretty similar to what the first Ultimate Alliance featured, sporting four Marvel heroes at a time beating the tar out of a variety of baddies in real time. The player can switch between the active combatants at any time, and additional players can join in to control others. While button mashing is capable of getting results, using powers at the disposal of the various heroes is often a more efficient means of putting down the enemy. This title sports a pretty good variety of opponents to smack down, and the action moves quickly.

Once they got to the local bar, Captain America and the Green Goblin had a blast.  Venom can Once they got to the local bar, Captain America and the Green Goblin had a blast. Venom can't take alcohol, so he was left out.

   Events seem a bit lacking compared to the preceding game though, and with the notable exception of battling Magneto and Quicksilver, the boss gamut tends to go down swiftly enough to be unmemorable. It doesn't help that the effort made in Raven Software's games to keep the player at least vaguely familiar with the rogue's gallery being deployed has been dropped, ensuring that only diehard Marvel aficionados will remember such minor personalities as Songbird. Instead of filling the optional character roster with heroes, Ultimate Alliance 2 takes the approach of letting a few villains such as the Green Goblin and Venom join after completing side missions, though the ten personalities accessible this way still don't have much to say after perhaps two lines in the mission itself.

   Earlier Marvel action RPGs had minor bugs, but the PS2 version of Ultimate Alliance 2 should have undergone additional testing. It is possible for the game to not load whatever the next objective in a mission might be, forcing the player to restart from the last save. Rampant slowdown and frame rate struggles will be found throughout, and these come after infuriatingly long load times between areas. The camera is sometimes bedeviled by stickiness and refuses to shift its viewing angle in a timely manner, a problem that works in tandem with other graphic issues to make the action unintelligible on occasion. A mandatory minigame for hacking several computer terminals that demands deft use of the left analog stick is probably more tolerable on PS2 than the Wiimote for that system, but otherwise the rampant technical problems make it impossible to recommend this version.

   While enemies are easy to dispatch most of the time, the new feature of using charges that would otherwise activate multi-character fusion attacks to revive downed teammates is quite useful for the occasions on which the foes are deadly. A sizable number of missions feature segments in which the camera angle cannot be altered, and this can easily lead to missing a key jump or taking hits from a bad spot. Otherwise the difficulty stays manageable throughout, though the return of QTEs from the first Ultimate Alliance will not be welcome news to all.

Listen very closely, and one of these four might say something during the plot.  Might. Listen very closely, and one of these four might say something during the plot. Might.

   Much of the character organization from the first Ultimate Alliance has been trimmed, though players still have the choice of which powers to strengthen for each hero. The only equipment is now a selection of medals which automatically provide benefits to everyone on the team, a disappointment after the multiple costumes each character could access with unique statistic bonuses in the first game. Unique effects of putting certain characters together are also gone, despite the possibility of some interesting ones given this character lineup. The only use of money is to enhance powers more than characters can currently support with the points they gain from leveling, but at least the cash has a reason to be.

   The cutscenes do look quite good in Ultimate Alliance 2, and they sport pretty good voice acting. So does the rest of the game, but the constant technical issues make the otherwise-appealing visuals less impressive. The voice acting is much sparser than in Raven Software's titles even during plot sequences, and characters can be rendered silent in battle thanks to glitches elsewhere, but what lines do get delivered receive a workmanlike performance at worst. The music would easily fit into a film about the Marvel universe, and its large number of entertaining tracks is quite rousing to hear.

   Ultimate Alliance 2 is not a bad game on the whole, just a disappointing one considering it took three years after the first Ultimate Alliance for this to see release. Its PS2 incarnation is also filled with technical difficulties that make it impossible to recommend over other incarnations. What's here still offers a decent brawler, but attempting to adapt the mammoth Civil War story and doing it poorly is hard to excuse. If an Ultimate Alliance 3 ever comes into existence, it won't have to work very hard to improve on this.

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