October 1, 2009

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 | Review

Troy Benedict Says Growing up, I enjoyed the stories of comic book superheroes, and the epic battles of good versus evil. We all had our favorites heroes. Mine were Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman. Some of my more brainy friends enjoyed The Uncanny X-Men (do they even call them that anymore?). My wife swears by the 80’s Incredible Hulk television show. While the stories were generally predictable, we all loved seeing how Superman would out-do Lex Luthor for the one-hundredth time, or how Batman would yet again, save Gotham City from the likes of The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler.

However, as we all grew older, one only had to turn on the evening news to see that defining the world's "good" and "bad" wasn't always easy. Sometimes bad things happened to good people, or people who were considered good did horrible and shocking things. The distinction between good and bad wasn't quite so clear. Your parents, teachers, coaches, etc. probably gave you positive reinforcement by telling you to believe in yourself and strive for your goals.

But what if those goals, beliefs, or methods were considered wrong or evil by others?

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 takes place during Marvel's Civil War story line, where there is no "good superhero." Heroes and villains are working together believing that their side is right and good. Civil War begins after a horrific disaster, caused by a battle between heroes and villains, kills hundreds of innocent civilians. The government attempts to ease the public's fearful outcrys by controlling the superhuman population by creating the Superhuman Registration Act. This act essentially requires all superhumans to publically reveal their true identity and undergo proper training.

Of course, revealing a superhero's true identity doesn't go over well when Captain America finds himself forced to register. He rebels and becomes the leader of the Anti-Registration movement. Iron Man, attempts to arrest the rogue superheroes, and leads the Pro-Registration side.

The game takes place before, during, and after the events in the Civil War comic miniseries, and is separated into three Acts. While choosing a side becomes an important decision, it doesn't actually come into play until Act II, where you're forced to choose whether to register or resist.

The gameplay is a glorified beat-em-up with some RPG elements thrown in for good measure. As you beat up the "bad guys," break crates, and smash up all sorts of expensive-looking equipment and set pieces, you can earn points with which to upgrade your team of superheroes. The upgrades increase different elements of the heroes' attributes.

There are over 20 playable superheroes (and villains) that you'll unlock throughout the storyline, and each one has it's own unique set of attacks and powerups. Superheroes can also work together for massive power attacks called fusion attacks. Certain powerups are only accessible after you have chosen a side in the Civil War.

Along the way, you'll find hidden items like audio logs, biographies, artwork, and other collectables that might encourage you to explore the levels rather than simply brute-forcing your way from point A to Z.

Once you make it to Act II, you can unlock alternate hero outfits by defeating 50 enemies with each character. Some outfits harken back to an older comic book style, while others give a nod to Hollywood's influence on superhero costume design.

You can also choose to play online with three additional players, which makes for a better experience considering the game's A.I. for your teammates is very passive.

The game took me just over 7.5 hours to complete on the default difficulty. In all honesty, I was ready for the game to be over at about the 2-hour mark. If it hadn't been for this review, I probably would not have played through the game to completion. While the game offers an interesting storyline, the gameplay quickly becomes painfully repetitive. Each Act consists of about three levels, and each level is broken down into approximately three "chapters." Each chapter pretty much goes like this: Heroes arrive. Heroes battle an endless horde or bad guys while trying to fulfill their mission objective. Heroes finish the objective and conveniently find themself in a large and open, boss-friendly room. Heroes are introduced to a hero or villian who acts as the boss character. Heroes beat the boss and move on.

Rinse and repeat.

For 7.5 hours.

I've always thought that the world was better off with just a handful of superheroes, but the story of Civil War introduces SO many Marvel characters, that I found it to be overwhelming. There were too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. Hardcore Marvel fans might appreciate some of the obscure superheroes (and painfully unoriginally-named, in my opinion) like Titanium Man, Wonder Man (really?!!), Multiple Man, Molten Man, and Wizard. The main story revolves primarily around Nick Fury, Captain America, and Iron Man. The other cast of characters really seems to offer very little quality content and are there to act as NPCs, to talk to between missions, to unlock and play, and/or are there for you to beat the living crap out of.

While I didn't care much for the large ensemble cast of superheroes, Vicarious Visions certainly played up the fan service for the Marvel enthusiasts.

The game is heavy on the button-mashing. My main choice of hero was Wolverine, primarily because he regenerated health over time. He also had a very cool and powerful attack that I found myself using over, and over, and over, and over. You get the point. I know there is more strategy that can or should have been used, but button-mashing worked wonderfully while using Wolverine, and I hardly found myself depleated of health.

I didn't necessarily dislike the Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, but I certainly didn't like it either. Fans of the Marvel universe might appreciate the insane amounts of obscure characters, character history, and artwork that can be accessed. The gameplay, and it's insanely repetitive nature, was my biggest issue with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. The game might be best enjoyed in small doses, where the repetition isn't as noticeable, and/or while playing with a friend online. I'd recommend renting this game, buying it used, or better yet requesting it through Goozex. If you were to buy it, I'd wait until it drops to about $40.