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Review #303

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Publisher: Activision
Developer:
Genre: Action-RPG
Release Date: 09/15/2009

You know, I actually quite enjoyed the first Ultimate Alliance. It didn’t win any awards from us, but I liked it enough to have fun with the review by having Deadpool do colour commentary with me. As you can imagine, I was quite excited when they announced MUA2, at the time called Fusion. However as time passed, little deserved doubts crept into my head.

The first was that Vicarious Visions was doing the second game instead of Raven. VV, you may remember did the Wii version of MUA1, which was widely panned. They’re also known for doing the horrible port of Doom 3 for the Xbox 360, and classics like That’s So Raven and the horrible DS Guitar Hero games. In fact, Vicarious Visions are best known for making BAD licensed games, so this gave me serious pause.

Then, I learned they were going off the Civil War storyline for this game. My jaw dropped and I think i let out some profanity. Civil War basically destroyed the last vestiges of respect and fond memories I have for Marvel Comics and this is coming from a guy who has the Captain America and the Avengers arcade cabinet in my living room, a Captain America Cookie Jar, and who can quote huge chunks of Roger Stern’s “Cap for President” story . What do I read these days? I just collect trades of Jonah Hex , Booster Gold, and Blue Beetle. Between DC’s gore-o-rama and Marvel’s ability to churn out crap and only crap unless it’s a Marvel Adventures issues has pretty much killed my love of comics save for classics.

In my opinion the only good thing that came out of Civil war was Fabian Nicieza’s Thunderbolts and Cable & Deadpool issues. Also a certain Nextwave cover. Still, I liked the gameplay of the first and this promised to be more of the same just with an even worse storyline tacked on to it. Besides, I reckoned the game would do away with more of the unsavory aspects of the storyline, like Reed Richards and Tony Stark being war profiteers, Iron Man going full blown Red Skull/Doctor Doom in JMS’ Spider-Man, and Joss Weadon’s horrible tacked on ending that “resolved” the comic and eventually led to Captain America getting killed because people viewed him as the bad guy for standing up to a late 00’s equivalent to internment camps and egregious acts against the Constitution. I mean, this was going to be a video game, right? It would just be, “Me no like you now. Smash smash!”

So against all my instincts, I decided to stick with my review claim and give MUA2 the once-over. Let’s see how it fared.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Wow. Where to begin. The first third of the game is basically the Secret War mini series. This is not to be confused with Secret Wars, which actually would have made for a good video game now that I think about it. Yes, Marvel rehashes the word “Secret” like DC does “Crisis.” Anyway, this involves Nick Fury deciding to take the law into his own hands and forcing several super heroes into a Black Ops strike force where they attack a foreign country named Latveria (Home of Doctor Doom, but currently not there) because he considers them a terrorist nation. Now Ol’ Nick doesn’t have US jurisdiction to declare war on another country, but he does so anyway, lying to the heroes he gets to help him. As such all hell breaks loose and eventually Latveria does engage in terrorist acts on US soil because of this. This creates civilian anger against super heroes when the reasons for this violence is learned and Nick Fury goes underground and leaves as head of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This sets up for the Civil War war plot when a bunch of super heroes named the New Warriors, who have saved reality itself multiple times somehow piss off an old Captain Marvel villain who actually gave him the cancer that killed that super hero in the first place. This villain, Nitro, blows up a school and 500 civilians die. Everyone gets mad, and the government decided to institute a Superhuman Registration Act, which means all superhumans must be licensed and registered with the government and there is also the little caveat that they can be drafted into US service for any reason at any time. Now of course someone no one got mad when Kang blew up Washington DC just to get revenge on the Avengers, or when Ultron killed a whole country or various other incidents where tens of thousands of people died. But 500 kids, well, let’s line up people who are different and throw them into a camp where they are given a serial number and left to rot. Yeah, there weren’t some very strong parallels here that offended entire religious/ethnic groups were there. Of course, you’d also have to overlook that this is basically the Mutant Registration Act (which was originally meant to be a thinly veiled metaphor for racism) and how that similar act was deemed unconstitutional and how Reed Richards attacked that act in Congress but was utterly supportive of this one to the point where they ret-conned him into McCarthyism. Yes, this was one of the stupidest stories ever written in comics this decade, but it was Mark Milar, who gave us the Masters of Doom. It could have been worse though. They could have let Jeff Loeb write it…

Anyway, Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic head up the Pro-Registration act, and are then written as mindless government butt monkeys while Captain America, who has always been painted in the Marvel Universe as the guy GODS listen to and would follow, is the head of the Anti-Registration side as this act violates the US Constitution and he sees how the current climate around this bill is similar to that of pre WWII Europe and also are own cultural treatment of African Americans. This of course makes it hard to take serious, because conservative or liberal, if the guy that Gods obey says, “This ain’t right,” or when Nazis like Baron Zemo say, “Wow, the pro-reg side is freakin’ EVIL,” you would think people would pause and say, “Hmmm, this is a pretty cut and dry matter.” But the Marvel Universe is populated by retards and morons, so now it’s up to you the gamer to pick a side and crush the opposition.

Key points of the story are left in, but they’ve also taken a lot out. You fight the Titanium Man for example, but it’s just a terrorist act. In the comics, you learn Iron man hired him to wreak havoc and cause fear to get more support for the act. Yes, Iron Man hired a super villain to commit terrorism so his side could look good. I’m sorry, but that’s not the Tony Stark I grew up with. You also get bits of the awesome Captain America speech from the JMS written Spider-Man issues as an audio unlockable that is thankfully easy to find. It’s just too bad they didn’t have a voice actor with a better presence reading it. After you pick a side, it’s two more acts of mindless combat until you beat the game. Then you can start over on a different difficulty setting and try the other side for some replay value. The end.

There’s not a lot here and the story is as insipid in the video game form as it was in the comic. They’ve taken out most of the controversial portrayals of characters and some of the stuff that offended fanboys. The end result is a shallow game that doesn’t try to show any of the complexities this issue should have. It’s just a button mashing fight-fest with unsatisfactory endings regardless of which side you play as. The game is nowhere near the level of awesome 70’s and 80’s fan service the original MUA1 and although both games are pretty shallow and strongly rely on you to be a bit of a comic book nerd to get any substance out of the game, what’s here plotwise is at least passable. If you’re looking for a solid story from a comic book game, there’s always Batman: Arkham Asylum or Spider-Man 2.

Story Rating: 4/10

2. Graphics

You know, I actually think the visuals of the first game were better than this. A super hero game should be brightly coloured and highly detailed with a lot of vivid images. For the entire first act of the game the game looks more like a top down version of Gears of War with how drab it is. It’s shades of blacks and grays and it’s very easy to not see what you’re doing . It really put me off and the fact that the backgrounds and character designed look like they were ripped straight out of the first game but with less texturing. Even weirder, there were more characters in the original game (As Activision has decided to go the DLC for extra characters route) and those characters had four costumes each instead of two as they do in this game. So, it’s three years later, and the characters are less detailed and they have less skins. Odd, isn’t it?

There are also a lot of graphical bugs. Occasionally something thrown in the air with stay there. Or at least a visual after image. Things can also be jag-ladden, which is especially noticeable during close ups with a high definition TV. You can even get some instances of slowdown, which is something that is surprising considering the power of the PS3. This isn’t the 16-Bit era after all, and for slowdown to occur with a semi-regular basis during large scale battles is a bit of an eye raiser.

Whether you’re talking character designs, background designs, power effects and even fusion attacks, everything seems sloppy, as if the game was rushed out the door. The reality is that Vicarious Visions just didn’t have the skills to develop this game, especially after the high bar set by Raven. The end result is a decent looking game that falls short of the visuals and vision we saw in the original game.

Graphics Rating: 5.5/10

3. Sound

There’s a lot of recurring voice actors in this game. John Kassir is Deadpool once again. Steve Blum is Wolverine yet again which is awesome as he’s basically Wolverine in everything, making him the Kevin Conroy for the Marvel Universe. There’s also some new voices. Adam Bobrow replaces James Arnold Taylor as Iceman, for example, and Greg Eagles is out as Luke Cage, being replaced as Khary Payton. The new actors do a pretty good job and one of the new actors to the game is a young man named Stan Lee who I think is going to eventually make a name for himself with comic book related things.

The background music fits the mood of the game; somber and yet fast paced. There’s nothing truly amazing or catchy in the score, but it serves as proper background music for the game.

I really do like that unlike the first game, every character has scripted dialogue that occurs based on who you have on your team rather than a set team for each cut scene. For example, when it came time for me to choose sides, I had Iceman as my main character and he and Maria Hill had a nice dialogue about how the SRA is the same thing as the MRA with Iceman going, “Gasp! The X-Men doing something to piss over the government? No one saw THAT coming.” Oh Bobby, you, Mr. Storm, Mr. Parker and Mr. Wilson are a fun team.

Although the voice acting is a notch or two below the first game and the music isn’t very memorable, I still found this aspect of the game one of the strongest areas in the game. I found it quite odd that the one thing the game did better than the original was dynamic voice acting rather than static set comments.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

The controls of the game are pretty simple. You command a team of four heroes. While you play as one character, the horribly retarded A.I. plays as the other three. You have a button for weak but fast attacks, a button for strong but slow attacks, a jump button and a grapple button. You use one analog stick for movement, and the right stick is supposedly for camera control but it doesn’t work at all (which is awful considering the camera angles in this game are amazingly bad).

The D-pad controls what character you use. This should be fairly simple, but each time you access a different character, it shuffles which character is accessible by which of the four directions, which makes using it frustrating as hell. This was NOT a problem with the first game, so I have no idea why VV decided to make such a bone-headed programming decision.

Then we have the shoulder buttons. L1 controls the block and dodge options. This works pretty well, but you rarely use it. R1 lets you use a heal token when you press it in connection with one of the shape buttons. Each shape button equals one of your four character. HOWEVER, you can’t tell which button equates to which character half the time as the characters are generally out of your viewing range. This is annoying. The same aspect holds true for the Fusion powers, which makes them equally frustrating to use. I don’t like the idea of having to guess and check in the middle of a huge battle. The fusion powers are neat to watch, as each combination of two characters gives you a different effect, although not SO different that each time is a different animation. It might be something like a ball of webs crackling with electricity instead of fire. These are powerful attacks, but you have to charge a meter to get to use them so you might want to store them for a big battle.

There is some definite lag between pressing buttons and seeing their effect on the screen, especially in the heat of battle. Couple that with the occasional slowdown and the few times when your characters die is not because you suck at playing the game, but because the combo of slowdown and lag equates for your characters standing around like dumbasses while you hit buttons repeatedly.

Again, everything in MUA2 is basically a step or two backwards from the original. Controls aren’t as sharp, the A.I. is severely off (both allies and enemies) and everything has been simplified down to where you can barely consider this an action RPG. Even your range of selectable powers and options have been drastically reduced.

One of the biggest annoyances is that any team member you have that isn’t currently active automatically gets the autospend option, assigning points to powers and latent abilities without your choosing. Thankfully you are given the ability to switch these around at any time, but it is annoying beyond words to have to fix this every time you bring a character into active combat.

Again, what’s here is passable. It’s not good by any means and it definitely pales compared to the original MUA2, but at least it is playable. I’m still wondering why Activision switched dev teams for this game as Vicarious Visions certainly wasn’t up to the task. The end result is a mediocre game with a lot of bugs, poor A.I. and some sloppy controls. That on top of everything else in this game makes it very hard to recommend this.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

The original MUA had bits where, depending on what choices your characters made, the eventual ending of the game would be affected. There were a half dozen or so of these options and it gave a little bit of replay value to the game in addition to trying to unlock all the characters and costumes.

With MUA2, you have less costumes to unlock. In fact you have only one per character. However, you also have two boosts per character to unlock which can be used to power up your team. To get these boosts you have to perform a heroic dead. These range from defeating fifty enemies with a character to playing an entire level with one character and not switching out to anyone else. This is kind of neat and means that you can go back and replay the game trying out characters you didn’t use the first time around.

Simulations have also returned, however there are only twelve this time. In the original you had one for each playable character and then several extras. All of those were solo character missions, while the ones in MUA are for a full team. So once again you have less options in this area and what’s here is nowhere as interesting. At least there is still some replay, but nowhere as much as the original.

The big thing here is how differently the last two thirds of the game play out depending on which side of the SHRA you play as. You’ll get different objectives, bosses and even some level variance. This makes it well worth your while to play through the game twice to see what happens. There’s even more reason to play as both sides as some boosts and costumes can only be unlocked playing as one side or the other. There are also some characters only available to a specific side. Of course this further limits the amount of playable characters at any one time compared to the original game but what can you do?

There are also art dossiers, audio clips and Nick Fury files to unlock by finding them hidden across the game, along with Power Pips. Sure the replay value is quite limited compared to the original MUA, but the fact two thirds of the game will be quite different depending on which side you play as, there’s a lot of reason to come back to the game, as long as you can stand the fact it’s nowhere as good as the original game.

Replayability Rating: 6.5/10

6. Balance

Although the game is pretty easy, regardless of what difficulty setting you are on, you’ll find your partner A.I. to be so awful, that it hurts you far more often than it helps you. When a character dies, it is because they were being controlled by the computer A.I. Yes, let’s walk up to a grenade and just stand there. Or walk into energy bars. Or never use our powers and just wail away on the boss when you have multiple distance-based attacks. Holy god, it’s really bad. The difficulty setting also controls when you can bring your characters back to life, which means the higher the difficulty setting, the more you will be swearing at how stupid your partners are. “Why are you punching people Johnny Storm? You can fly and shoot fireballs. You are a distance attacker. You can not go toe to toe with giant killer robots!”

Thankfully the computer A.I. is also retarded when it comes to enemy attacks. As in, they will always wait for you to get close or for you to attack first before they do anything. Boss fights are generally the only challenge and that’s because you’re also dealing with waves of cannon fodder. While your character should be fine, you’ll lose at least one ally due to the numbers and they’re just standing around taking abuse while you’re actually fighting.

Seriously, the game offers no challenge, just frustration. Thankfully it’s 10-20 hours long (AT BEST), which again is a huge reduction in time compared to the original, but due to how bad the A.I. is (along with the other severe issues that plague this game), it feels like it takes forever to get through a map, much less an act.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality

Hmmm. Well, it’s a sequel, which never really helps here. It’s also the fourth game in a row to use this basic engine and gameplay style (Both X-Men Legends and the first MUA). That doesn’t help either. It’s also a stripped down version of those games offering less options, powers, and fan service. Ouch. How bad is that when the first X-Men Legends , released back in 2004 for the previous console generation, offered a deeper game with more options? WTF Vicarious Visions?

The only real new things here are a few characters that haven’t been used before, like the Hulk, the poorly implemented fusion system, and the useage of the awful Civil War storyline. At least Deadpool is the narrator of the gaming tricks and tidbits part. That was cute.

Really, this is a pale mockery to the Raven trilogy of games using this engine. There’s nothing really new or exciting that makes the game stand out.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

Even with the obvious flaws in this game, I can’t deny it’s hard to put down the controller once you start. There’s something about getting to do your own Marvel Team-Up that makes the game fun even in spite of its flaws and awful plot. The Juggernaut, Captain America, Jean Grey and Deadpool all on a team. What about teaming up Spider-Man and the Green Goblin? There are so many team combinations that you’ll have fun trying to make the weirdest or the most powerful team you can. I will admit that most of the characters I would have liked to have seen aren’t playable in this game, like Cable, Hercules, Hawkeye/Ronin, Mockingbird, Captain Britain, Man-Thing, Howard the Duck and the like, but some of them are in the game and others will probably be available as downloadable characters. If the other DLC’s are anything like Juggernaut, they’ll be massively overpowered.

Action RPG’s are games that have always been easy for a gamer to get sucked in by. Whether it’s an old school classic like River City Ransom or last gen’s Dark Alliance series, these games give you the best of beat ‘em ups and RPG’ing. Mindless action and character customization goes a long way. MUA2 is no exception, even if you do find yourself getting bored at times due to the poor level design and A.I.

Addictiveness Rating: 6.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Look, most everyone loves superheroes. Even if we don’t read comics anymore, we still love those iconic characters from our youth. When a superhero game is done right, like Batman: Arkham Asylum or the original MUA, it not only sells a lot of copies, but it tend to be praised by critics and gamers alike. MUA2 isn’t quite at the level of the other Marvel Team-Up games, and it’s not even as good as Spider-Man: Friend or Foe which had a better storyline and was far more satisfying at the end of the day, but it will still sell and provide gamers with some definite amusement. Is it a game that comic book fans will keep? Probably not. This is definitely eventual trade-in fodder. It won’t be staying on shelves like the Raven developed Marvel titles and it certainly takes a back seat to the remake of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, but the game is FUN in spite of its many issues and that’s what the average gamer cares about most.

From a technical and critical standpoint, MUA2 has a lot of bugs and issues that are hard to overlook. However, each time I put this in my PS3, it took a strong act of will to turn it off.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

To charge sixty dollars for a game with less characters, options, and depth than the original game that came out several years ago (and which can be found for about ten bucks these days) is a bit of a rip-off to say the least. I’m also a bit aghast at new characters being 1.99 each and that people who don’t buy them will have to get patches to play online with their friends. I was also shocked at how poorly Activision and Gamestop handled the Juggernaut give-away code crisis, with no apologies on either end to thousands of gamers who missed out on the pre-order they were supposed to receive. That was just tacky and it didn’t really help Activision in the PR department. (By the way, I do have an extra Juggernaut code for the PS3 if someone would like it…)

That aside, MUA2 just feels rushed. It’s got quite a few bugs and it’s shallower than the original game. If you’re going to do a sequel, each one should offer more content, characters and options that the previous game, especially if it’s going to be nearly the same experience gameplay wise. MUA2 made the same mistakes that Game Freak did with Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. That generation of Pokemon was for a next gen handheld and was released four or so years after Pokemon Gold and Silver and yet it had only a fraction of the content. All it had was more Pokemon to catch. With MUA2, you don’t even have more playable characters (Unless a bunch come out via DLC); you just have less content across the board. That sucks.

If there is going to be a MUA3, then Activision really needs to give the series back to Raven or Vicarious Visions needs to kick their butts in gear and start to develop an actually solid quality gaming experience instead of yet another merely “acceptable” product using character licenses to sell copies.

In the end, I’m really disappointed by Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. What should have been bigger and better, was shallow and dull when compared to the first game. That’s not the way sequels are supposed to go if you’re looking for longevity in a gaming franchise. Sorry Activision, but this was a flop, especially when a month before offered us the two best super hero video games of all time.

Miscellaneous Rating: 4/10

The Scores
Story: 4/10
Graphics: 5.5/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 6.5/10
Balance: 3/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 6.5/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 4 /10
Total Score: 51
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (MEDIOCRE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
If you’re looking for a quality super hero gaming experience, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 isn’t it. Compared to Batman: Arkham Asylum Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 or even the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance,, MUA2 is a notably shallow affair, littered with bad A.I., bugs that affect both visuals and gameplay, an incredibly trite storyline and less content, characters, and options that could be found in its predecessor or even the X-Men Legends titles. That doesn’t mean the game is a total washout. The voice acting and music are both nicely done, and there is something timeless in the button mashing goodness of an action RPG. MUA2 is certainly playable and it certainly has its moments of fun and fanservice, but it just pales compared to the first game and even more so compared to August’s super hero offerings. This is really only for Marvel diehards only. Everyone else should just get the original for a fraction of the cost.

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