Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 Review
Name your favourite comic book characters. While there may be a couple of other companies’ figures in your mind (Batman and Superman, most likely), your list will probably be populated mostly by Marvel characters. Be they Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man or any of the X-Men, the Marvel universe undoubtedly has a greater number of mainstream characters filling its roster. Individually, they’re all pretty cool characters, so how awesome would it be if there was a game where they all teamed up?
The concept’s been tried before in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, with mixed results. While it was fun stomping about smashing heads as your favourite Marvel heroes, the title left a lot to be desired. The graphics were average at best, there seemed to be little connection between your chosen foursome aside from the fact they were working together and the story was dire, its uninteresting locations only serving to make it exceptionally uninspiring and unoriginal. It was a bit of a blow for comics fans, so it’s excellent news that Vicarious Visions have more than made up for it with the spectacular (if not informatively named) Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. If this year’s Batman: Arkham Asylum perfected the template for titles focusing on lone heroes, MUA2 does the same for team-up titles.
The first indicator that this is something special hits you before you’ve even started playing. Upon loading, you’re greeted with possibly the most spectacular menu screens in recent memory. From the stunning start screen to the moody tableau’s of the main menu, the tone of the game is set from the get go. There’s a sense of reverence on display here: MUA2 treats itself as not just a game but an event, much like the Secret War and Civil War storylines the title’s plot takes its inspiration from.
Fueled by a tragedy resulting in the deaths of over 600 innocents in Stamford, Connecticut caused indirectly by a secret invasion of Latveria by Nick Fury a year earlier, the Superhero Registration Act is rushed through congress, decreeing that all active heroes must register their identities with the authorities in order to continue operating or face punishment. Naturally, this causes a rift between the adventurers and former allies quickly become sworn enemies. The choice falls on you to decide which side you’re on.
This story draws enough parallels with the comics to please fans while being different enough to keep things interesting. It also allows for the story structure to take an interesting flow: branching out at the approval of the SRA, it lets you follow one of two story arcs (depending on which side you’ve chosen) before cohesively merging into one path again as events become more menacing than anyone could ever have previously imagined, effectively explaining why heroes and villains alike are working together. It’s also quite long, which isn’t a bad thing since you’ll want to find out how the saga concludes.
It’s the characters that make this game. The attention to detail is superb: the developers obviously adore their source material and it shows. They may pass regular gamers, but Marvel fans will love all the little touches found in their favourite characters, be it Spider-Man’s self-referential belters (“would you say that was amazing or spectacular?”), the inclusion of Wolverine’s fastball special and Stan Lee’s cameo as a politician. The character that steals the show however, no matter what your thoughts on him, is easily Deadpool. The Merc with a Mouth’s constant wisecracks and hilarious dialogue choices, alongside his unwavering belief that’s he a pawn in some kind of videogame, makes it worth the price of admission alone. Trivia offering experience points and in-depth dossiers on characters and locations help to ensure that once your time with the title is finished, your Marvel knowledge will be up to snuff.
One major flaw with the original was the soulless grouping of your four chosen characters: they may have worked as a team, but there was no gelling of personalities or any sense of teamwork, meaning that most of the action felt cold and dispassionate. The exact opposite is true of the sequel. Your chosen four convey their personalities and emotions through improved, colourful dialogue (although Thor sounds a bit like Tigger from Winnie The Pooh) and fusion moves– where two characters combine their abilities in a unique and devastating display to eradicate large groups of enemies– giving a greater sense of teamwork than the first title ever could. The fact that there are over 250 combinations of these pairings shows Vicarious Visions’ knowledge and respect for both the universe’s creators and its fans.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 betters its predecessor in every way. The overall presentation is far slicker, the story is infinitely more engaging and the graphics, with their glossy sheen giving a comic-like yet grounded look, are unequivocally superior. The niggles, such as subtitles taking up large portions of the screen, the removal of certain characters (no Moon Knight?) and the occasional moment where it’s hard to tell what’s going on don’t come into question when you’re simply having so much fun. Like Batman before it, it’s the faithfulness to the source material that makes this title so good. Marvellous stuff.