When the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance came out in late 2006, the multi-platform game generated some of the highest sales for the year. Literally, this game was released on eight systems, including the original Xbox and PC. The storyline was interesting and the cinematics were exciting. However, the game really made its statement in the multiplayer department. You and three other friends could play through the entire game as your favorite superheroes, beating your enemies to a pulp. Despite these great features, there were definitely certain fallbacks as well. The RPG elements were somewhat lacking and character customization was limited. The dialogue was made of solid cheese and you ultimately end up button-mashing throughout the entire game, spamming one or two powers over and over and over. But alas, this review isn’t focused on the first installment, but rather, its recent sequel Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.
Let me begin by saying that Activision has taken on a huge task by choosing the time period between the Marvel Secret and Civil Wars as the setting. There are elements of the comics in this game and the basic structure is mostly there. However, there is a lot lacking – and this is expected (similar to reading a book and then seeing the movie).
MUA2 opens with a covert mission led by Nick Fury into Latveria. Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, and Spiderman are playable from the start and accompany the headstrong colonel. One of the first things shown in the opening scene is how heros can now combine their powers to perform ‘fusion moves.’ These are interesting to try with different hero combinations and add a nice diversity to the game. Further things happen in the plot as the game progresses and you ultimately come to a point where you must choose a side between the divided superheroes. From this point, the game itself has two plots – Pro-Registration with Iron Man and Anti-Registration with Captain America. Even though these plots offer different dialogue and characters, the levels are identical in design. This is a big downer when you are playing through the game a second time, only to find that both sides have the same formula for each level (just replace such and such superhero with another).
On top of the redundant plot ‘choices,’ the game features one of the most boring dialogue interaction systems I have ever seen. It looks like this:
Random Superhero: Hello, I am unsure about this registration act.
Player’s (usually non-voiced) Character: Tell me more.
Random Superhero: (insert generic dialogue here) what do you think?
The player then chooses one of three responses:
Random Superhero: Well, I’m really busy standing here. Bye.
This is –literally– the extent of the dialogue in this game.
On a higher note, Activision has definitely improved the menu system from the first game. The original menu was confusing and full of way too much information. Now, each hero unlocks four basic moves and can improve them by spending points. While there are fewer moves than the first game, this actually works better because you don’t have to constantly assign different powers to a specific hot key. Each hero also has certain abilities that can be upgraded and a series of medals can be awarded to enhance certain aspects of the team. While the menu is indeed better, it is still not as good as it could have been. Loading times between submenus are uncomfortably lengthy and there is only one unlockable alternate costume for each hero (as opposed to MUA’s three).
Despite these shortcomings, the game is really fun to play and offers hours of enjoyment. It’s the same button-mashing as the first game, but you still get that rush after taking out twenty peons with one of Storm’s lightning strikes. The plot does get better and the concept of working with villains as the game progresses is pretty cool as well. However, the redundant level design between Registration sides is disappointing and the camera angles are often constricting. Ironically, the cinematics were much more impressive in the first game and the story was a little longer. The menu/quick menu improvements and unique fusion powers do add a lot to this game, but there are still issues when moving between submenu screens and specific multiplayer fusions can be difficult to pull off in a group of four. This game is definitely worth playing if you enjoyed the first installment, but I suggest renting it for a week instead of dropping $50.