canuckeh's Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (PlayStation 3) review

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I Pledge alligiance to the flag...

 

A little while back, a pre-Mickey Mouse Marvel Comics made a bit of noise with the Civil War storyline that pitted heroes against heroes over government legislation. It was intriguing in its parlaying of real-life events and made for an eventful time to be a comic book fan…or at least eventful enough to mark the one time in history I consistently read a comic book series as it happened. So now we have a video game, put together by what I assume was also a pre-Mickey Mouse Marvel Comics, based on the Civil War and some other War that happened afterwards, I think. My love for reading comics died with Captain America.

Ultimate 2 is the sequel to a heartfelt favorite game of mine. That first game shamelessly plucked out characters from all facets of comic book-dom and merged them into the NBA East vs West All Star Game battle of Superhumans. On the other hand, Ultimate Alliance 2 tries to be coherent with the comics and focus on bit-players in the War. But in doing so, the dream team aspect of the game has faded. I appreciate seeing Songbird and Iron Fist being added to the roster, but doing so has taken away Elektra, Ghost Rider, Blade, Black Panther, Spider Woman, Moon Knight, Colossus, Doctor Strange, Moon Knight (typo I can't really go back and delete due to being called out on it in the comments!), real Nick Fury, Silver Surfer, Magneto (going into the realm of downloaded characters), Sabretooth, Dr Doom, Hawkeye, Cyclops and Nightcrawler…okay there’s no way for me to complete with rant without coming off as a snorting nerd, but I must do what my heart tells me to do. In addition, Thor and Hulk have to be unlocked through a difficult fetch quest that I couldn’t complete on my first playthrough, and you don’t get the game’s most novel characters, Venom and the Green Goblin, until the final level.

Not to mention, that whole Civil War thingy. There will come a point where you must choose to either sign the Superhero Registration Act and side with Iron Man, or do the patriotic thing with Captain America and rebel against your own government. Cap, Luke Cage and Iron Fist can only stick it to the man while Iron Man, Mr Fantastic and Songbird can only play the side of upstanding civlians. Those aforementioned characters will sometimes be rendered unplayable for storyline purposes. Ergo, high probability is that you’ll have a team consisting of scattered X-Men and Fantastic Four members and not quite the all-encompassing dream team roster you may have hoped. And I hate hearing that the answer to this is downloadable content; I shouldn’t have to pay money to fix this game’s inherent deficiency. Further torturing my inner true believer, heroes only have one alternate costume instead of three, and they’re not all winners. But alas, I’ve had my petty dweeb rant, people that just want to cut fools with Wolverine will be just satisfied with what’s given to them.

On the bright side, the Civil War story does make for a semi-intriguing backdrop for violence. A series of tragic events leads to the government looking to regulate heroism and…well the game presents this concept in a much more intriguing manner than I ever could. The political and ethical themes played in those comics that I loved so much are somewhat prevalent here, and it’s kind of intriguing to view the storyline from both perspectives. However, an evil power of decided insipidness surfaces to upset the battle, and all sides will have to unite to challenge this lame duck force. As thrilled as I was to have the whole character roster open up to me once again, it still came at the expense of a faltered plot twist and my least favorite trend in gaming today: repeating boss fights. The first time the game dramatically introduces a Marvel villain (or hero!) for me to duel, I geeked out in joy. The second or third time, I was annoyed. And that’s keeping in mind that most bosses consist of your party surrounding and throwing fists at the one target like they were the school football team beating up a comic book geek. Like me.

The core gameplay is left unchanged from before. You and three other costumed fetishists go from one point of a stage to the other, beating up the many anti-American foes that get in your way. You’ve got your punches, your…stronger punches, and your super powers to keep the action interesting. New to this game is the Fusion attacks, where two characters will heterosexually unite to unleash a tandem, screen-blasting attack. And while you’ll quickly realize that there isn’t a wealth of variety to these team attacks (Storm will almost always summon a tornado that an ally will fill with their gimmick projectile of choice,) they’re still an always-welcome means of brushing aside some 10-15 goons with relative ease, and causing plenty of physics-based environmental damage in the process. So thumbs up to Fusions.

Your senseless violence will level up your character, though the RPG aspects of this action-RPG are a bit more streamlined. Here, you only have four power-ups to level up, a small amount of stat-areas, and stat-altering “medals” to assign your team in place of individual equipment drops. While it simplifies the whole customization process, I feel as though a sense of individual customization is lost. I miss having a choice of powers to assign my hero, instead of having to settle with The Thing’s bland set of radial attacks. I just ended up letting the game automate the whole process and save me the trouble.

Which isn’t too big of a deal. After all, if you’re causing a pause in the action during a multiplayer game to individually assign stat points to your Iceman, you’re a tool. Four players, online or off, can join in the violence seamlessly and with next-to-no lag, making this a more people-friendly Marvel game. Even the trivia game is multiplayer-friendly. This is all assuming, though, that you can cope with the technical deficiencies. Songs and voice clips get cut off at random intervals, and I’ve twice found myself having to reload my last game save because of some kind of glitch that halted progression. And while you can change superheroes at any time from the pause menu, a nagging load time presents itself as your mighty hero webswings his way onto your television screen.

As a multiplayer co-operative beat-em-up, Marvel 2 gets the job done. You and your friends will still enjoy yourselves, especially if you can not compare it to the first Marvel. It’s just that the game is a bit unpolished and bare in spots. And on top of all that, Ultimate Alliance 2 is stuck in the shadow of its superior predecessor…and caught in the eclipse of the much better Batman game.

3 ½ stars

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