Marvel Ultimate Alliance returns in its much awaited sequel, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. Three years in the making MUA2 returns with a plot line ripped straight from the comics. Marvel fans, you don’t want to miss this one.
The Marvel Ultimate Alliance (MUA) series has come along way from its original release of X-Men: Legends in 2004. After a sequel and a name change we finally have the next installment in the series, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (MUA2). MUA2 isn’t anything overly new for all those who have been following the action RPG series over the years. The signature button mashing/team focused gameplay is still the reliable engine that drives the series, only now MUA2 has a fresh coat of paint and a brand new story injected into its pistons.
“The Raven, flew the coop”
Interesting enough Raven Software who has developed the previous games in the series didn’t act as lead on this one. Activision has gone another route by putting long-time Guitar Hero rockers Vicarious Visions into the Marvel spotlight. In the past Vicarious has worked on the series by developing the PSP and Wii version of the first Ultimate Alliance title, so the source material isn't anything new. The privilege of developing the other versions goes to N-Space (DS, Wii, PS2) and Savage Entertainment (PSP). Unless you followed such news, or took a lot of interest in developers, you wouldn’t know Raven didn't create this game. Yes, MUA2 is better looking then the original, and a marginal step up from the last game; however all the gameplay mechanics and presentation is still the same. From X-Men Legends, to the current release, the Marvel action RPG series has kept the core game the same throughout the years without any major changes.
If you haven’t played any of Marvel's action RPG games, MUA2 follows its predecessors lead with its solid beat em’ up, action gaming philosophy. Four players fight in a top down perspective, beating up enemies with melee attacks and super-powers as the scroll from one environment to the next. This type of gameplay is usually referenced as a "dungeon crawler", and like other crawlers the can be highly repetitive and extremely charming at the same time. Thankfully, MUA has always faired good in the dungeon crawler category.
The most alluring feature in MUA2 crawling gameplay is that you can hook up on live and play through the game simultaneously with up to four friends. This makes the game a lot more enjoyable and a fun diversion from all the co-op shooters. Along with locking up with friends, the core element of leveling up and finding unlockables and gear is a main staple. The dungeon crawler, or urban crawler in this case is still alive and well, and as the amount of crawling games fade away, MUA has always one crawler we can count upon.
Along side the co-op feature and all the other crawling goodies comes another innovation, and this time around it is the ability to combine two characters powers to make a super-attack. These "super-attacks" are called “Fusion” attacks and can be set off with any two characters. The number of combinations is staggering when you look at the size of the roster. The fusion results are interesting to see how each pair links up for their own flashy results. There are few types of attacks that can be accessed like targeted, running and multiple enemy attacks, all of which usually clear the room while looking cool as it happens. The fusion is a great addition and a must-have feature that should never be kept out of another Marvel Ultimate Alliance title... if anything lets see 4 character power fusions. Now that would be something.
“The Buttons to Mash”
The controls this time around have been tweaked and are a little more involved then previously games because of the new fusion powers and the ability to heal you teammates. The face buttons act as your primary moves with the triggers setting up the face buttons for a fusion, or the use of your powers. All four face buttons are mapped to powers and the fusions corresponds with each character. I had to adjust to the controls in the start of the first mission, and even though I couldn't change the "A"/"X" button to the jump command, I had the controller rocking in no time, it doesn't take long. For the amount of action going on the screen the controls feel natural and any level of gamers should be able to feel powerful within minutes.
“The Secret Reviled”
The plot behind MUA2 combines two comic book series, Secret War which printed in 2004-2005, and Civil War 2006-2007. Both comic book series involved a large scale crossover between a number of Marvel Comics which lasted several months. Secret War takes place in the first few chapters of the video-game which leads right into the Civil War epic. The Secret War comic follows S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury as he leads a special un-authorized taskforce of super-heroes into the fictional country of Latveria to confront Latveria’s new Prime Minister, Lucia Von Bardas about plans to attack American soil. The supes included in this mission are Captain America, Daredevil, Black Widow (unplayable in game), Luke Cage, Wolverine and Spider-Man. After a successful mission into Latveria time fast forwards one year when New York City is attacked by a mutated cyborg version of Lucia Von Bardas who is seeking revenge. This opens a whole can of worms and Nick Fury goes into hiding asan unnecessary conflict has started between the two countries.
“Who’s Side Are You On?”
Lucia Von Bardas retaliation falls on mutant kinds shoulders as the government steps up to pass a Superhuman Registration Act in the United States that would force any superhuman to register with the government as a “Human Weapon of Mass Destruction”. This forces the mutant community to split between those who believe in the Act, and those who oppose it. This forces a number of mutants to take sides which follows suit in the game where you have to pick between the two disgruntled factions. The two main driving forces on each end of spectrum is Tony Stark (Iron Man) who is pro-registration, and Captain America who opposes it. The story follows this plot line as friend fights friend in one of Marvel’s most brilliant storylines (thank Mark Millar). The Civil War story is fun to play through, although like a lot of “big” comic series the endings never quite live up to the hype of the concept, and this is true in Civil War. Putting the last few chapters aside, MUA2 is worth your investment and one of the most interesting Marvel stories put to paper. Best aspect yet, is that you can play through the story on either side of the Registration act which begs for multiple plays.
“The New Mutants”
The new storyline in MUA2 brings in a few new heroes and villains that we haven’t been able to play, or seen in previous Marvel games. This helps MUA2 feel as fresh as it can. Besides the typical Fantastic Four, Wolverine, Iron Man, Spider-Man deal we also get to play as the Green Goblin, Venom, Penance and Songbird, all new characters to MUA. A few other characters (non-playable) that I can’t recall from other Marvel games include Yellowjacket, Molten Man, Firestar, Justice, Grim Reaper, Diamonback, Wizard, and that’s just for starters. MUA2 has a wide range of bosses, some that are common enemies that everyone will fight and others that are specific to each side of the registration act. The variety in the characters goes a long way, making MUA2 more interesting then the average Marvel run, and worth firing up a second time.
“Fancy a Little Destruction?”
MUA2 wouldn’t be a Marvel game without a lot of destruction and unimaginable powers, and in both of these categories MUA2 has more than enough. Like pervious versions most of environment is destructible, although the still haven’t made the walls destructible like in the old X-Men titles. Maybe in the future Red Factions idealism of a feel free-to-destroy everything attitude could be approached because it would fit perfectly in MAU's world. Causing all this damage is a number of special powers that can be upgraded with points as you advance in the game. The more you play MUA2, the more powerful your mutant army grows. MUA has always had the perfect touch at making each character believable and fun to play. Its remarkable how they do it, even the Invisible Woman is fun to cause havoc with!? of course Wolverine and the big hitters like The Thing and Luke Cage are fun too... but its the little touches that go a long way. Everything has its balance and once again MUA walks the fine line and gets it right.
“Skills, Stats, Powers, Costumes, and all that Good Stuff”
Don’t worry if MUA2 seems like a lot to take in, it’s really not, and the game helps you along with a nice auto spend feature that can let the computer do all the nip-picking calculations for you. The skill trees are too in-depth, but have enough substance to feel like they are relevant. Along with updating your skills and getting the most out of your powers you can unlock new power-ups and costumes for your heroes. Unfortunately you can only earn one alternative costume per character which is a little disappointing. Unlockables is one driving force to keep us in the game and the more is better in a game design like MUA2. Again with the sides, some characters will need to be played on either side to unlock all these goodies, so make sure you check out the stats while you’re playing to see what is what.
“Haven’t I been here before”
As far as other extras you have the trivia and unlockable art and character rosters that were available in the other games. MUA2 still operates on the HUB hide-out in-between missions. Depending on what road to take in the story these change as well. This area of the game is one spot that seems untouched by Vicarious Visions, actually it seems like re-used locals from the previous game. It’s not like its hurts the product, but it does feel like they could have used a little more innovation in that area. Aside from these static locations MUA2 is impressive and as always the graphics showcase a lot of flair and cool effects along with detailed backgrounds. Compared to the first game in the series, MUA2 is more polished, but not distinctly better.
.... Lastly, MUA2 offers up a small choice when conversing with characters in-between missions. Each conversation has two dialog lines you can discuss with a response that can be filtered into three categories; aggressive, diplomatic and defensive. Your answers doesn’t effect the story in anyway, except for the characters non-verbal dialog response, however you can earn new boots for making certain choices multiple times. The choices here aren’t anything to write home about, but it’s better than nothing. I think MUA2 needs a little more development in this area, a little more RPG would be perfectly suiting to what MUA has going on. Really this is an action RPG, but its about 90% action and 10% rpg.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is more of the same, and that’s a good thing, if you enjoyed the pervious editions in the series. Vicarious Visions has made some tweaks to Raven’s little darling and it helps make the game feel more complete, however its nothing staggering enough to win over any new fans. If you’re a Marvel fan then none of this matters anyways as MUA2 serves up to be a fanboys wet dream. You just can’t beat reliving one of the best Marvel comic-book series in game form.
With the inclusion of the two parallel storylines and the amount of unlockables, MUA2 should be put into the purchase category over a rental... it’s simply a game that can be revisited over-and-over. Non-Marvel fans, there is still a lot of excitement to have in the basic joy of a simple beat em’ up game, and lets not forget about the excellent co-op multiplayer. So brave the tights and capes and give MUA2 a shot, its really not that bad, or should I say "geeky".
Bottom line, MUA2 doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel it only wants to make run smoother, and that it does. MUA2 is a great game filled with a lot of memorable moments making it one of the best Marvel games to be released (right along side X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Hopefully Activision doesn’t make us wait another three years because I am ready for the next adventure now. Choose your side and enjoy the ride.
Gameplay:8.5, Graphics:8.0, Sound:7.5, Innovation:7.0, Mojo:8.5 Final: 7.9 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 10.05.09