Raven Software's 2006 action RPG Marvel Ultimate Alliance was nothing short of a love letter to fans of Marvel Comics, a big summer crossover event in video-game form. It took the basic framework of the X-Men: Legends games, and extended it to virtually every corner of the Marvel Universe, from Asgard to the Skrull homeworld. Many of the heavy-hitters of the Marvel Universe, both heroic and villainous, played some roll in the story, though there was also plenty of room for lesser-known fan-favorites and downright obscure cameos.
Perhaps most impressively, MUA was able to honor the source material while delivering a fun, action-packed game experience, with accessible and satisfying combat backed up by solid character-advancement and team-based systems. For me personally, it's probably the most enjoyable comic-based video game I've ever played. Needless to say, my expectations for the sequel are quite high. I got to see Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 in action for the first time on the Xbox 360 during GDC last week, and it seems intent on delivering as big and explosive an experience as its predecessor, though it's definitely going about it in a different way.
Since Raven's busy testing the limits of how gory a Marvel-licensed game can be with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Vicarious Visions is handling development duties on MUA2. Vicarious Visions doesn't have quite the same development track record as Raven, but it's certainly familiar with the franchise, having worked on the Wii and PSP ports of the original, in addition to building the Alchemy Engine that powered MUA. Unsurprisingly, with a new creative team comes a new creative direction for the series.
While MUA2 will acknowledge the apparent demise of Doctor Doom at the end of MUA, it won't be following the cosmic story line that was hinted at, much to my chagrin. (What can I say? I love Galactus and all that goofy Ditko cosmic stuff.) Instead it will take its cues primarily from the Civil War story arc, a huge comic-book crossover event that took place a few years, the repercussions of which are still being felt in the Marvel Universe today. MUA2 will take a few liberties with some of the specifics, but the basic idea of the US government passing the Super-Human Registration Act and the divide that created between heroes that are pro- and anti-registration will remain the same.
The Civil War won't just be window-dressing, either. No real specifics were given, but at a point in the game, you'll actually have to choose which side of the conflict you stand on, which will have a significant effect on how the rest of the game will play out. The decision to focus on the Civil War storyline seems indicative of the tone that Vicarious Visions is trying to establish with MUA2. The first game was happy to embrace some of the weirder, cornier bits of Marvel's history, but its sequel seems intent on capturing the grittier, more serious tone of modern Marvel comics.
Before you get to any of that, though, the game starts off with Nick Fury calling on Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine to investigate some strange goings-on back in Doctor Doom's home country of Latveria. This is where the actual demo that Vicarious Visions was showing off took place. As our fearsome foursome fought its way through the dank Latverian streets, the most immediately noticeable change was the camera angle. While the camera in MUA defaulted to an eye-in-the-sky perspective, here it was something closer to a third-person view. It provides more visibility at incoming enemies, though the camera will also zoom in or out depending on the action, giving the action a more dynamic feel.
In addition to the four heroes you'll start off with, we got to see a few of the other characters you'll play as, including Thor, Iron Fist, the Human Torch, and Songbird, and the demo culminated in a battle against regular Spider-Man baddie Electro. All told, MUA2 will ship with 24 playable characters, though while chatting with Vicarious Visions cofounder Guha Bala I learned that, much like the original, additional characters will be made available as post-release DLC.
You'll be able to build up these characters' abilities as you fight your way through the game, unlocking new moves and increasing the strength of existing moves, though the big combat twist in MUA2 is the way two of your heroes can team up to perform fusion moves, several of which were shown off during the demo. Thor and the Human Torch can combine their respective abilities to create a controllable tornado of electricity and flame. Captain America and Iron Fist can use their combined momentum to create a “freight train” attack, allowing them to bowl over enemies. Thor could hurl Wolverine at enemies for a classic fastball special attack. Songbird--who can turn sound into physical energy--created a large, diamond-shaped prism, which Iron Man shot with his repulsor rays, causing them to refract and shoot back out in multiple directions. The fusion attacks generally looked spectacular and quite powerful. Based on the number of different heroes you'll be able to play as, Vicarious Visions says that there will be more than 250 fusion attacks in the game, though it doesn't appear that all of the fusion attacks will necessarily be unique.
I was intrigued by what was shown of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. I came in fairly skeptical of the fusion attack stuff, but it looks cool, and it doesn't necessarily forsake the existing combat systems of the first game. The serious Civil War-inspired storyline isn't what I would've expected after the fantastical events of Marvel Ultimate Alliance, but I'm definitely curious to see how it will play out.