Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 Review
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 for the XBox 360 is an exciting action-adventure game revolving around a growing conflict between the Marvel superheroes that pits them against some of their greatest foes, as well as each other, in a battle for the ages. In the game, a disastrous explosion caused by a supervillain taking part in a superhero reality show (it’s as stupid in the game as it sounds, trust me) wipes out an entire town on national television. The government takes action by passing the Superhuman Registration Act, which mandates all superheroes to reveal and register their identities and become law enforcement agents. Immediately our heroes take sides, with Captain America leading the anti-registration heroes underground and Iron Man being tasked as the one responsible for taking down Cap with his own retinue of registered masks.
This leads me to my first issue: why is Captain America, whom the game even states is already deputized as an agent of the US government, against registering the identities of superheroes? It seems like he’d be the one that would back the government, right or wrong. His rebellion is never explained in detail: he just sort of flips out after the law is enacted and turns on his own men, then flees. As much as the game tried to hand wave the decision away, it still irritated me throughout my entire playthrough.
A couple of missions into the game, the player is tasked with choosing to register or rebel. The two sides still progress through the same missions, they just have different objectives. (One side will attack a convoy, the other will defend the same, etc.) The choice really doesn’t mean a whole lot, since the game progresses along the same route either way. I chose pro-registration on the merits of Iron Man being a hell of a lot more interesting than Captain America. Well, that and the fact that if there were superhumans out there I definitely would not want them operating without lawful restrictions.
Between and during missions, you can converse with various NPCs with a branching conversation system. Yeah…because that idea’s never been done before. The choices for each conversation tree are labeled Aggressive, Diplomatic, and Defensive, but there’s no rhyme or reason to them. They’re all snarky as hell and don’t contribute much besides a few one-liners from Deadpool. There are bonuses attached to doing the conversations, but they’re generally low-ball stuff that you won’t use.
The gameplay is highly similar to the X-Men: Legends series from the same creators. You have a large, comprehensive roster of Marvel characters to choose from to craft a party of four. Most of the crowd-pleasers, like X-Men, Spiderman, and The Incredible Hulk are here, as well as some lower-profile characters like Deadpool. Each character possesses inherent strengths and weaknesses, and each has unique powers that bring something different to the table. Ultimately, though, they aren’t unique enough to where just throwing together four random heroes (which is what I did) puts you at a disadvantage. The heroes level up and give you “pips” to spend to power up their powers. Every enemy that you defeat and piece of environment that you smash grants you ability points, which you can spend to enhance your heroes’ attributes. Don’t want to interrupt your path of terror with RPG-esque navel-gazing? No problem! Put autospend on and the points will spend themselves evenly, ensuring that every hero is balanced, if not particularly specialized.
Enemies usually come in waves of weak faceless mooks, occasionally with a leader or two that you can take down and make the foot soldiers even weaker. The result is that no matter what you do, you will rarely be defeated unless you stop watching your health or fall asleep at the wheel. Hell, Jennifer tried standing around and doing nothing as an experiment and it took the enemies almost three minutes to actually kill her. I think this game would have had a more interesting challenge level if you were limited to two heroes, maybe three, in a party. As it stands, you outclass just about every enemy in the game. Even the bosses can just be hammered down with a combination of button-mashing and fusion attacks.
The latter of the two things I just mentioned is probably the coolest thing about MUA2. Each combination of two heroes has a unique fusion attack that can devastate every enemy on the screen. With a roster of 24 heroes, that comes out to 176 unique fusions. You can do a fusion after building up enough dealt damage throughout a level, and you can stockpile two fusions. That means you can do away with about a third of any boss’s health instantly if you pocket a couple of fusions and unleash them on the poor baddie. It is one thing among many that makes the game very easy, but man is it cool to watch.
Speaking of the bosses, there are quite a few, and a lot of them make for interesting fights. They definitely feel like battles out of a comic book, and beating them down never ceases to be satisfying. The most interesting one, in my opinion, was a battle against Colossus and Dagger toward the end of the game. While Colossus would hit you with combo attacks and tank your hits without flinching, Dagger would jump around flinging (you guessed it) daggers at you at simply insane speeds. If you tried to come within range of Dagger, she’d throw hundreds of knives and knock you back toward Colossus with about a fourth of your health gone. If you try to use a fusion attack, Colossus turns his body into steel, making himself immune to damage, while Dagger will teleport away if you get too close. It took Jen and I a couple tries to pin down a winning strategy, but the fight was exactly what I expect out of a boss: difficult without being agonizing, with a requirement that you follow some semblance of a plan. Below is a video of another player taking the fight on the hardest difficulty.
Besides bosses, though, there is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from running around bashing everything in sight. The levels are well-designed, linear paths that really look beautiful and are varied. You will go from the Lincoln memorial under attack by Titanium Man, to the depths of a grungy HYDRA base, to the terraces and palaces of an (astonishingly clean and slum-free) African city. Environments are highly destructible, and you are encouraged by the game mechanics to run into everything mashing the attack button. There are a lot of goodies to be had in doing so, including hidden easter eggs like concept art pieces, backstory in the form of audio clips, and dossiers detailing the intrepid heroes of the Marvel universe.
There are also incredibly annoying parts of the game that make you wonder if anybody playtested them. The best example is a test of endurance against wave upon wave of bald women with spears. The fight takes over half an hour to finish, is incredibly dull, and not much of a challenge, since they drop tons of health tokens that can be used to replenish wounded characters. Who thought taking ideas from World of Warcraft and implementing them into an action game was a good idea? Do us a favor, Vicarious Visions, and leave the grinding to the MMORPG crowd, thanks.
While there are a lot of noticeable flaws in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, there’s a lot of action to be had and the drawbacks can be pretty much ignored if you’re a fan of having one-button mass destruction erupt all over your TV set. You don’t even have to be a big fan of Marvel comics to understand the stories: I didn’t know who half the heroes were, or was only vaguely familiar with them through Linkara‘s Atop the Fourth Wall series, and it did not detract from my enjoyment of the game. It is a bit of an uneven game, and the “Heroic” difficulty is a breeze. My biggest gripe would have to be how short the game is. It’s filled with hidden unlockables to make up for this fact, but it’s still only 6-8 hours, which is way too short for the $59.99 price tag. It’s a worthy rental, not much more. Overall, I’m glad I played this game, and I do, in fact, look forward to playing MUA3, if such a game is in the works.
In a nutshell:
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
Please let me know what you think of this inaugural review in the comments!