September 19, 2009

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 | First Impressions

Troy Benedict Says It seems that you can't throw a rock very far today without hitting a news story relating in some way to Marvel and its superheroes. Whether it's the hotly-anticipated movies, like Iron Man 2, or the jokes about Disney's recent acquisition of the Marvel license: like how you're going to see Mickey Mouse battling crime with Spider-Man.

Activision just released Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, and I had the opportunity to sit down with a copy of the PlayStation 3 version. The game takes place during Marvel's very popular Civil War story arc. For those who do not follow comic books and are unfamiliar with Marvel's Civil War series, I will attempt to explain it very quickly in layman's terms.

In my opinion, the Civil War is a more realistic approach to the existence of superheroes and villains, especially focusing on the consequences of the battles between good and evil. The graphic novel (and recent movie) Watchmen and Pixar's The Incredibles, touched on this more realistic portrayal of superheroes.

"Civil War" begins when over 600 civilians are killed by a massive explosion during a battle between superheroes and villains. The public is horrified and angry and no longer feels safe living under the protective wing of superhumans. In response to the outcry, the government issues the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring all superhumans to give up their secret identities, to be labeled as a weapon of mass destruction, and undergo "formal training." This registration act causes a rift between many of Marvel's popular superheroes. Some are for the act ("Pro-Registration") while others are against it ("Anti-Registration"). Those who are against it are immediately considered rogue and are labeled as threats. No longer are there good guys and bad guys, it's now a matter of ideals and beliefs.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 plays a lot like the first game, which is essentially a suped-up brawler, allowing you to control one of four superheroes. Each superhero has his own set of unique actions and superpowers, and you can quickly jump between characters with a directional press on the D-pad. New Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 are fusion moves, which allows two superheroes to combine their powers for one massive superpower attack.

As you work your way through the game, smashing boxes and defeating enemies, you'll gain points with which you can upgrade each character's superpowers and unlock new ones. You will eventually gain access to additional heroes. You swap out team members at any time from the menu screen. That is the basic explanation of the game.

I'll have to admit, that I had issues with the game from the start. For one, I had to immediately update the game--not a big deal, as games are patched all the time, even "Day One" patches--but the update was slow to download. I'm not sure if that was a PS3 network issue, as the file size was only about 35 MB. Upon completing that game patch/update, I was then presented with a countdown screen, that I had no control over. Essential parts of the game were being installed to the PS3 HDD. While the countdown gave about an 8-minute countdown, it was a fast countdown and probably only took about 5 minutes. Like I said, there was also no option to skip this installation. I'm assuming that this is exclusive only to the PS3 version, as required game installs often are. While it wasn't necessarily a bad impression, it makes me wonder why you can't "just play" the game from disc without installing these files. Chalk this up to being one of the necessary evils of game installations with certain PlayStation 3 titles.

During the first hour, I found myself not quite enjoying the gameplay as much as I had hoped. It took me awhile to adjust to the control scheme and at times the action on the screen became so cluttered and was zoomed-out too far that I lost track of the character I was controlling. Even now my biggest issue with the controls is accidentally wasting my healing abilities when I'm trying to do my superpower attacks. To enable a superpower attack, you have to hold down the R2 trigger and press one of the face buttons. To heal one of your characters, you have to hold down the R1 bumper and press the face buttons that corresponds to one of the four heroes. This may be an instance of me "just not getting it" but I feel that a better implementation of using super power attacks vs. normal attacks could have been done better.

After the first hour, I started getting a better feel for the game, and actually found myself really enjoying it. I'll probably get hateful comments about the comparison I'm about to make, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 reminded me of Too Human, especially it's cooperative mode. That is meant as a compliment. Too Human had this Diablo way of pitting you against a large group of enemies and letting you go to town on them. While there aren't any loot drops, you do gain experience to level up your characters, and there are some pretty impressive superpower attacks that can be used to subdue large groups of enemies.

While I haven't experienced the game's online mode, I can only imagine that it is pretty fun, especially if you're playing with a friend. A lot of people claim to favor the Xbox 360 version of a multiplatform game over the PlayStation 3 version simply for the achievement points, and while not all PS3 games don't have trophies, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 does have them. I'm also really becoming a fan of the trend, in more recent games, where your achievement/trophy progress is displayed occasionally via pop-ups to give you an idea of how close you are to getting the much sought after "nerd points."

At this time, I'm having a pretty good time with this game. The action seems well-paced, the objectives are pretty straight-forward, and the puzzle-solving aspects don't detract from the action. Look for my official review of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 in the near future, after I've completed the game.