The Ultimate Alliance series has become known as one of the most revered comic book games in history. Starting with the X-Men Legends series last generation developer Raven Software has created a Marvel fan’s dream come true with the collection of spandex-clad heroes in a Diablo-style action RPG. This time around Activision has handed the reigns off to a new developer and the results are mostly what you would expect. The game retains the same mindless, button-mashing enjoyment of the original, but a few tweaks and features help it stand out from the crowd. If you loved the original game you will likely enjoy this follow-up, just don’t expect anything revolutionary.
The storyline in Ultimate Alliance 2 spans three varied storylines including Secret Wars, Civil War and of course an original piece created just for the game. Marvel aficionados will likely cry foul at some of the liberties taken in the game, but on the whole it is an enjoyable, if not predictable plotline. The gist of the whole story is that the government is finally forcing super heroes to register their secret identities. Of course this splits the community right down the middle causing sides to be chosen and you have a choice in the game to side with either Captain America, or Iron Man depending on how you stand. This adds a nice chunk of replay value, if for nothing more than to just see how each side plays out.
One of the biggest draws to the original game was the ability to control a team of Marvel super heroes from the massive roster. This is once again one of the big selling points, but this time around your options become limited more often due to the split storylines. You can only pick certain characters depending on which side you choose, for instance if you like playing as Iron Man, choosing the Captain America side simply won’t cut it. The selection brings back old favorites such as Wolverine, Spider-Man and Deadpool, but also some new faces such as Phoenix and my personal favorite Gambit.
This brings me to one of the sour issues I had with the game. Not only do you have to choose which characters to play as depending on the side you go with, but like the first game it is impossible to focus on simply one character. I am positive this was designed this way on purpose, most people enjoy fluctuating between characters at will, but I like to build one and stick with it. This fails mostly because you cannot carry over your character from online to offline without overwriting your original save. I do like that multiple saves are still an option; this gives you a chance to enjoy both sides of the game, but just focusing on one character.
My other huge gripe is exclusive characters in various versions. This has become a trend in the industry, and frankly I am growing very tired of it. Ultimate Alliance 2 has a wide array of exclusive characters on various systems. For example Blade is only available on the PS2, PSP and Wii while Juggernaut was made available as a pre-order program for PS3 and 360 only through Gamestop. This creates confusion and anger because we all know that these characters are in the game and it is only a matter of time before they become paid downloadable content. Don’t get me wrong though, there is still more than enough content here to warrant the price tag, I just don’t like being strong-armed into buying games at certain places or worse yet specific versions.
If this is your first tour of duty through the series then let’s break down the basics. You assume control of a team of four super heroes (or one of your choosing in multi-player assuming you are playing with three friends) as you mash your way through levels in a Diablo-esque action RPG. The core game consists of melee attacks, each character has a weak and strong plus a block button and of course the quintessential jump. You are also equipped from the start with two powers that you can upgrade as you level up your character. Like any RPG before it you gain experience by defeating enemies. As your level increases you earn PIPs that allow you to distribute more power to your abilities. Certain levels also unlock a third and finally a fourth power.
Powers are activated by simply holding down the trigger and pressing the corresponding face button. The mechanic works great, and switching between melee and ranged powers quickly becomes second nature. The powers are also themed for each character making them feel unique and more effective against certain enemies. It really pays off to find a good team in single player and stick with it. Another new feature to Ultimate Alliance 2 are Fusion Attacks. These are combination attacks between two heroes. The cool thing is each one is unique depending on who you combine with. There are literally hundreds of variations in the game, and each one more powerful than any other attack.
Everything else feels lifted from the original game outside of a few tweaks. Instead of resurrecting at checkpoints you can now carry two healing items that can be used to revive fallen characters during combat, or simply to heal yourself. Leveling up can also be done via a quick menu that gives you the basics without pausing the action. The trivia game returns with a plethora of brain teasers for the Marvel faithful as well as the challenge rooms to divide your attention between the main game and the sidequests. As always there is a ton of stuff to collect, unlock and see throughout the game and attention to Marvel detail is well appreciated. If you are a fan, there is likely something here to spark your fancy. It is also worth noting that completing both storylines is a must for fans of the comics, which gives you around twenty hours of total game time if you really sink yourself into it.
Graphics have also received a face lift from the original. Some characters still look a bit on the wacky side, but for the most part things look good. Cut scenes suffer the most as they are stale and lifeless, not to mention feeling a bit on the archaic side. The voice acting and dialogue though will have you slapping your hand on your forehead at times. The amount of cheese is enough to make Wisconsin jealous and most of the voices are downright insulting to fans. Thankfully the story holds together for the most part and the redone menu system is a big plus. The camera is the worst offender in the game though. When playing co-op the zoomed-out mode makes keeping track of your hero nearly impossible, and again why do we have to share the same camera when playing online?
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is a solid successor to the original game, but not one that feels like it was three years in the making. Anyone who enjoyed the original will find enough content and fan service to keep them busy for quite some time, but anyone who grew tired of the original will likely call it quits long before the credits roll. Fans of the Marvel Universe need not hesitate. The sheer heart and soul poured in by the developers is admirable and well worth the price of admission. Just don’t expect this game to change the world and you won’t be disappointed.