Giant Bomb Review

33 Comments

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 Review

4
  • X360
  • PS3

It trades its predecessor's goofy fan-service enthusiasm for something approaching relevance and seriousness, but MUA2 still packs a superhero punch.

Raven Software sharpened its skills at blending Marvel superheroes and action RPG conventions with its Diablo-riffing X-Men Legends games, but it didn't really nail the formula until the 2006 release of Marvel Ultimate Alliance. This was an exuberant kitchen-sink love letter to the Marvel Universe, an all-star greatest-hits compilation of both highly recognizable and obscure Marvel characters and locations driven by a conflict big enough to justify what was essentially the greatest superhero team-up imaginable. As much as it was designed to make comic-book geeks giddy, MUA was also a remarkably engaging and accessible action RPG with just enough role-playing trappings to keep the button-mashy gameplay interesting.

 Hero up!
Vicarious Visions, the developer that created the technology that powered the first MUA and handled the PSP and Wii ports of that game, has picked up development duties for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. While Marvel Ultimate Alliance lovingly embraced the often corny history of the Marvel Universe, MUA2 opts to focus on a more serious, modern version of it. The net result is a game that's less expansive and enthusiastic than its predecessor, despite being mechanically streamlined and technologically superior.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 borrows much of its story and tone from the Civil War event that took place in the Marvel comic books a few years back. The central premise here is that, after a careless superhero-related disaster that cost hundreds of civilian lives, the US government decides there's been enough collateral damage and clamps down on all the unsanctioned superheroics with the passing of the Superhero Registration Act. While the pro-registration heroes see it as a necessary means of establishing accountability and regaining the public's trust, the anti-registration heroes see it as nothing short of a fascist attack on civil liberties. It's a security-versus-freedom parable that, at least in the Marvel comics, really resonated in a post-9/11 world.

I'll admit that I'm personally disappointed that MUA2 chooses not to pursue the cosmic cliffhanger left by the first game, but the Civil War concept is a strong one, and a terrific justification for pitting your favorite Marvel heroes against each other. The problem with its implementation in MUA2 is the way it pulls its punches with the story. While it's true to the Civil War's brother-on-brother turmoil and unlikely alliances, MUA2 ultimately uses the Civil War as setup for a more far-fetched and less satisfying crisis. The sole respite from all of MUA2's seriousness comes with the presence of Deadpool, the Merc with the Mouth, as a playable character. His fourth-wall-breaking shenanigans and free-floating psychosis bring some color to the proceedings, and ultimately made me wish there was more silliness of this nature in MUA2.

 Deadpool lightens the mood in more ways than one.
Despite these prominent but superficial differences, MUA2 still captures the gameplay of the original quite well. You'll assemble a team of four superheroes from a roster that eventually balloons up to 24 characters and smash your way through wave after wave of robots and quasi-military grunts, taking regular pause for boss battles. It's a slightly different roster from the original MUA, though it still covers all the expected bases with regards to major players like the Avengers, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. Like the original, you'll earn stat bonuses by playing as one of these teams, as well as more discrete teams like the Avengers (in Original, New, and Secret varieties), and the Thunderbolts. There are also thematic team-ups like agile warriors or femme fatales that you can assemble.

The nature of the Civil War story means that you'll be squaring off against other heroes more often than you will proper villains, and the locations you'll visit are comparatively less fantastical than those found in MUA. You'll still take a trip to recognizable hotspots like Latveria, Wakanda, and the Negative Zone, but much of your time is spent in less colorful military and industrial locales. The Civil War story also necessitates that, after the game's first act, you choose whether to follow a pro- or anti-registration act path. For a time, this limits which heroes you can use, and the story splinters in kind, though you'll visit the same locales either way, just from different perspectives.

Experience is earned through combat and spent on upgrading your heroes' stats and abilities, though heroes that aren't in use still earn experience. You can jump between any of the four currently equipped heroes on the fly when playing solo, and there's support for up to four players both online and off. Additionally, you can swap out any heroes you're currently using on the fly at any time, rather than having to wait until you hit specific checkpoints. These features encourage you to experiment with different combinations of heroes often, rather than just sticking with the same quartet throughout.

 Fusion attacks are as explosive as they are necessary.
There are other minor changes to the MUA formula here, such as health pickups that you can use to revive downed comrades and badges that you can pick up which have team-wide stat effects, but the other big addition to the gameplay in MUA2 is the introduction of fusion attacks. These are basically super-powered team-up attacks that combine two of your heroes' abilities to devastating effect. While there are theoretically hundreds of different fusions to be used, they all break down into three basic types--targeted, guided, and clearing. Targeted attacks are great for knocking off a chunk of a boss's health bar, guided attacks let you run around and decimate any enemies in your path, and clearing attacks create a radius of destruction. These fusion attacks are as powerful as they are visually bombastic, but they lack the variety to keep them fresh throughout.

While MUA played almost exclusively from a bird's-eye, three-quarters perspective, MUA2 is much looser with the camera, allow you to get closer to the action, and locking the perspective when it needs to. Like the environments, the heroes have a grittier overall look, and there's no shortage of over-the-top visual effects. The heroes are plenty chatty, with lots of one-liners during combat and simple dialogue options in between missions, though the voices aren't always spot-on, and the one-liners repeat more often than they ought to.

It's hard not to let the experience of the first MUA color the expectations for MUA2. By those standards, MUA2 isn't as exciting a game, largely due to the choices it makes with the fiction. On its own, though, this is still an enjoyable action RPG romp that makes good use of the Marvel Universe in its own way.
33 Comments
Posted by Pie

Ill pick this up when it drops in price, theres just too many other games approaching!

Posted by AgentofChaos

Def just a rental.

Posted by MrMiyagi

Rented it today. About to play.

Posted by Banjo_ace

first and good review

Posted by Death_Burnout

I really really hate the character models...and that's crazy because i have zero interest in comics or really super heroes...but i like MUA, and whenever a sequel gets a new dev i just notice it far too much.
 
I seem to hung up on the costumes...is there only one alt?

Posted by SuperSambo
@Banjo_ace said:
" first and good review "
Love it when a first backfires :)
 
This should have arrived today for me but it didnt so guess ill have to wait... Love the look of it though.
Posted by JJOR64

The first one was fun but, I thought it got really repetitive really fast.

Posted by Jeffsekai

Having just beat the game I'd say the first game is defiantly better, more chars more choices. This game is still worth renting I;d say tho.

Posted by JoelTGM

very nice review ryan!  This game sounds good, but I'm saving my money to see if OP Flashpoint 2 is a better choice for me.

Posted by agentboolen

Really didn't care for the style of gameplay the 1st game had and this one looks more of the same.

Posted by Theresonlyone

I'm sorry this is the first review on this site i've disagreed with. This game is not worth 4 stars and i think Ryans personal opinion is tainting his fairness. The game is good i'll agree but its too buggy and has too many camera problems to warrant a 4 star review i feel it should be 2.5-3 maximum.

Posted by Shady
@Theresonlyone said:
" I'm sorry this is the first review on this site i've disagreed with. This game is not worth 4 stars and i think Ryans personal opinion is tainting his fairness. The game is good i'll agree but its too buggy and has too many camera problems to warrant a 4 star review i feel it should be 2.5-3 maximum. "
I'm surprised he didn't mention any of them. I saw Game Trailers' review and some of those bugs are down right unacceptable. Of course, it could be the case he didn't run across them and would justify the score.
Edited by crusader8463

I was chomping to go buy this game right up until i found out there was no PC version being released. Too bad because i loved the first one. Even so i think i would wait for this to drop to the $10-$20 range before i would have bought it. Deadpool is the only character in it that i like so its not all that for me. Now if they had Punisher and Task Master  as playable too i would have been much more inclined as i love those characters.

Posted by Undeadpool

I'm pretty excited about this, though I wish they would've gone the other way and made it a bit more RPGish than stripped it.

Posted by Delta_Ass

Isn't it strange that the game is called Ultimate Alliance 2, when it's about that very alliance being torn apart and battling itself?

Posted by raidingkvatch

Hmm, never got the first (not out of any particular choice, just didn't happen to pick it up) might get this after a price drop, we will have to see

Posted by Media_Master

Maybe later...

Edited by LordAndrew
@Delta_Ass: The Superhuman Registration Act and resulting Civil War did create some unlikely alliances though. So the name does still work to an extent.

I still haven't beaten the first X-Men Legends game. I'll have to finish that, then move on to X-Men Legends II, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and then eventually play Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. The use of the Civil War storyline certainly intrigues me, but I'm not going to run out and buy it just yet.
Posted by Nadril

Review seems to be right around the same ballpark as other reviewers (around the 70-80% range).

Posted by bshirk

I hated the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance, because of its terrible controls that didn't really work on Wii.  I'm curious as to how this one controls.

Posted by tactis

I loved the first game I am pretty excited for the 2nd I will pick it up soon always good to have a 4 person co-op game ready when friends come over and this game seems to be a lot of fun!!

Posted by JohnDudebro

I do like that they at least reference the first game's cliffhanger. You can ask Thor early on what role he had in repelling Galactus, and he basically says he'll tell you later. It's kind of funny that they at least acknowledge it happened, while completely skipping over it to do their own thing.

Posted by Vigilance

Was the Wii version not tested at all? I'd just like to know if its a decent port. 

Posted by RHCPfan24

I never get tired of giddy Ryan. But I am not interested in this because the first didn't really do it for me that much. Nonetheless I am sure it is a solid game.

Posted by Jolly_Lolly

Liked the first one, this one looks a bit too serious for my taste though.  
 
And some of the characters just look strange to me (like Wolverine and Hulk).

Posted by WinterSnowblind

First game was fun, but very repetitive, I can't see myself spending much to buy this one.
Especially as the character roster is largely the same as from the first game, and we have much less costumes now.
 
Considering Activision is the publisher, I think we can expect $10 character/costume packs weekly.
I think I'll wait to see if they release a "complete" version down the line.

Posted by DrLove
@WinterSnowblind:  for sure a rental at best.  i rented it and beat fairly quickly other than fusions there is nothing new to the gameplay.  also no real challenge.  The most fun i had was letting 3 of my party members die so i could play it solo.
Posted by Jedted

@DrLove:  There is a Legendary mode which is a lot harder than the normal difficulty.  Well the minions are pretty much the same but all the bosses take a lot more work to take down(you can't beat em with just one fusion attack). 
Edited by bluemanrule

Ryan! Man, I completely agree with your review.  I LOVED MUA and I still prefer it after playing this game.  The character roster in one was superior but MUA2 does several things right.  Great review again.  Game: 4/5 stars,  Review:  5/5 stars

Posted by darkjester74

To be honest, after watching the quick look and seeing other reviews on the web, I'm a little surprised at this score.  The impression I got, especially after watching the QL, is that this is a solid 3-star game.  4-stars seems to be to be a stretch, and I wonder if Ryan's love of the Marvel license isn't coloring the review just a tad. 

Posted by BABS

 Big complaint: Songbird? WHY? Where are all the cool characters like Psylocke and Emma Frost? Weak roster.

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

Why is everyone making such a craze about Deadpool? He's just a piece of crap that runs around with guns.  His guns are useless against other heroes that can easily thwart a gun-toting idiot.
 
I wish MUA 2 had stayed closer to the MUA game. MUA had the Marvel spirit in its storyline. You could feel the comic book-ness that it gave off...

Edited by TheWan

MUA 2: Streamlined MUA 1. Better or worse? 

I agree with Ryan's review, but i would definitely give it 2 1/2 or three stars out of five. They really cut out the heart and soul of the first MUA for easier gameplay and  more action than RPG.  The Fusions are a great addition, but finding loot like an amazing accessory for one of your characters shouldn't be replaced. MUA 1 was great for picking powers and abilities, but it seems a bit lacking in MUA 2. MUA 2 doesn't give you any additional powers or moves than the preset 4 button powers. I would have liked to seen a bit more variety in an RPG. 
 
Also, let's not forget the constant bugs in MUA2 compared to MUA1. I think I've had to restart my 360 six times already due to bugs where I was floating above everything else on the ground and couldn't get down.