Genre: Role Playing Developer: Vicarious Visions Publisher: Activision Classification: M Release Date: 17th Sep 2009 Platforms:XBOX360
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Marvel Ultimate Alliance holds a special place in my heart. A couple of my friends and I drank and played it every weekend until we finished it, primarily using Iron Man, Colossus, Deadpool and Ghost Rider. It was an excellent game to play with friends, maintaining the co-operative feel while also introducing elements of competition, as we all tried to cheat each other out of experience points and items. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 has dropped these competitive elements for a pure co-operative gameplay style, and it hasn't done itself any favours in the process.
The Ultimate Alliance series, like the X-men: Legends series before it, is a top down beat-em-up in which you control a team of four Marvel Universe heroes. You journey through each stage assaulting various henchmen and robots, gaining experience and stat boosting items along the way.
MUA2 introduces Fusions - special attacks combining the powers of two members of your team to do large amounts of damage. There are three types of Fusion attacks - Clearing, which destroys enemies in a large area, Targeted, which focuses a huge amount of damage in a small area and Guided, which allows you to loosely control the direction of your damage.
Every character supposedly has a unique Fusion attack with every other character in the game, although what this means is something similar to this: Ms Marvel launches a purple psychic beam at Captain America's shield and reflects it into the face of all of the enemies; and The Human Torch launches an orange fire beam at Captain America's shield for the exact same effect. This also means that depending on your team choice you could very well end up in the same situation I did - 4 heroes capable of Fusion attacks and each Fusion attack just a palette swap of the others.
As uninspiring as the Fusion attacks are, ordinary melee attacks seem worse. Standard attacks (light attacks executed with the A button and heavy attacks executed with the B button) are a complete waste of time for most characters, and using powers is usually just as dull. You are controlling a team of superheroes for god's sake, why are they getting beaten up by a group of middle aged men with limited career paths?
I was forced to use characters I disliked, simply because my favourite heroes were crippled. To top it off, the characters that aren't crippled usually only have one or two decent powers, making it necessary for you to spam those attacks over and over again.
The disappointment doesn't stop with the fighting however, as the new experience system and items have been stripped down to a mockery of the words they describe. Each hero has a total of 4 power attacks now, dropped down from the 8 available in the original, making it unnecessary to plan out your build.
The costume upgrades have been 'streamlined' into abilities, with each character starting with access to two and gaining others as they progress through the story. With the level caps to stop you from boosting any one power or ability too far, it seems like a waste to even bother allocating points at all - you end up allocating them the same way the AI would if auto-spend was on.
While in the first MUA individual characters could wear different items, MUA2 has opted for boosts, which give bonuses to all of the characters in your team. It's another step in the simplification process, and yet it adds another level of frustration to the game. Any boosts that would work great for individual characters end up being completely illogical - now when you boost Iceman's ice damage by 15% you have also added 15% ice damage to the melee attacks of The Human Torch.
The story in MUA2 is surprisingly good, although at around 9 hours it is a little short for an RPG. It begins with the events from the Secret War mini series and moves into the Civil War storyline, where your characters are forced to choose whether they are for or against the registration of superheroes. Your choice directly affects the path the game takes, and your missions change accordingly.
For example, if you are against the registration act you will have to break into a prison to rescue your fellow rebels, while if you are for it you will have to stop the break in. It then takes a turn from the canon, presumably to give fans familiar with the arcs something new, and there are different endings depending on the side you take in game.
The branching extends to your conversations too. While talking to others you can choose an aggressive, diplomatic or defensive approach to your answers, and your choice will affect their response. The responses themselves change depending on the character you are controlling - Spider-man and Deadpool crack jokes, Thor sounds ridiculous and Gambit refers to himself in the third person in an indecipherable Cajun drawl.
The branching story and conversation add significantly to the replay value of the game, but the button mashing gameplay and the noticeable lack of character customisation has a limited appeal. A hardcore comic fan might enjoy it - there is a definite lure to playing a game as your favourite Marvel superheroes, and it is mostly very faithful to the Marvel Universe (I'm miffed they didn't make Ms Marvel a pro-registration only character, but it did mean I could still use her while I fought for the other side.)
Unfortunately though, the game doesn't have the depth to keep the average gamer interested, especially not for a second round - even with the branching storyline.