Heroes Hit Hard Times…
The great Marvel pantheon of heroes is once again tapped in this latest action RPG from Activision. Developed by n-Space for PS2, does this last-generation sequel to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance live up to its predecessor’s might, or do these superheroes suffer ultimate defeat?
Simply entitled Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, this next entry in the series pits some of your favorite Marvel personalities against a fictional terrorist threat. Nick Fury heads up a rag-tag collection of heroes, including Iron Man, The Hulk, Wolverine, and quite a few others, and though the story is a bit slow to take off, things eventually do get pretty interesting.
The tale is told through a generous number of cutscenes planted strategically throughout the game, but unfortunately, poor optimization stymies almost every aspect of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 on PS2. The dialogue coincides nicely with what comic book fans are used to, and the story takes a few interesting turns here and there. A chuggy framerate and abhorrently long load times, however, suck the life out of what might have otherwise been a very entertaining ride through the Marvel universe.
Story and presentation aside, Alliance 2 doesn’t put its best foot forward in terms of gameplay, either. You’ve got a respectable variety of heroes to choose from; each with his or her own unique abilities, but the game is more of a brawler on valium than a worthwhile action RPG.
The gameplay is broken up into missions, and your team, at any given time, is comprised of four heroes. Regardless of which hero you choose to play as, you’ll mostly be performing a lot of fisticuffs, with a few special-power moves thrown in to form simple combos. Both the ally and enemy A.I. have their good and bad points, but collision and hit detection are wonky, regardless.
To the credit of your allies, they’ll make liberal use of their special powers and usually run off to attack any nearby enemies without having to be prompted by your lead. On the flipside, your hero buddies will often get stuck on environmental objects or run in circles, making themselves completely useless at times due to terrible pathing.
Enemies don’t fare much better, either. It’s not uncommon to see foes stand idly by until you’re right up in their face, and even then they’ll sometimes walk right past you without a care. Other times, enemies will completely disregard your teammates in favor of mobbing you instead.
The hero selection available to you is quite varied, and the arsenal of superpowers is pretty impressive as well. Controls are mapped a little awkwardly, though, with jump/fly being assigned to the triangle button. There’s a lot to keep track of, as well, in terms of combined attacks, using special powers and switching out characters on the fly. In spite of these minor complaints, character movement and control feels adequate in light of the game being presented as an RPG of sorts.
Character customization and role-play elements are very limited, however, and “ultimately” the game boils down to being a simplified brawler. Missions quickly become a grind, mired further by visuals that have a significant, negative effect on gameplay. Muddy textures and archaic visual effects are unsightly to be sure, but the framerate labors desperately throughout the whole of the adventure. Being unable to distinguish your heroes from their enemies becomes routine, and the camera often flips wildly, causing you to completely lose your sense of direction.
Perhaps the worst offense of Alliance 2 is the incredibly buggy state in which the game shipped. We literally spent hours combing levels for new objectives only to discover that, by some glitch or malfunction, the objectives were never actually assigned for a particular mission, even though we’d completed the necessary tasks. So, after time wasted searching for some way to progress, we would be forced to reload and redo entire missions. Character models regularly appear through walls, and though it can be mildly entertaining to watch your allies convulse spastically when stuck in parts of a level, these aren’t the sorts of additions most folks look for when sitting down to enjoy their favorite comic book superheroes.
In addition to bugs and flubs, the game hasn’t been optimized well at all. Loads and saves can take up to a full minute or two, and the screen will often be completely blank during these waiting periods. Assigning stars to your heroes’ abilities is a fairly straightforward process, but you’ll have to endure more load screens each time you enter or exit the menu. Alliance 2 on PS2 is an ugly, irritating mess of a game.
Even without these blemishes, the gameplay still wouldn’t be compelling enough to inspire most folks to trudge through to the end. You’ll be doing mostly the same things throughout each mission, and objectives are either too easy or too hard due solely to technical issues inherent in the game’s design. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 either wants to hold your hand the entire time, or it will demand that you push blindly forward for hours, meandering without reason. There is an option to play two-player co-op, but you’d only be inviting someone to suffer through the experience with you.
Adding bitter insult to the game’s epic injuries is a presentation utterly unworthy of the Marvel name. Character models are passable, and some of the animations are admittedly fun to watch. Most times, however, your heroes move about with a jerky gait. The environments occasionally look presentable, but on the whole, Alliance 2 is a very unattractive game. This isn’t due to limitations of the hardware, either. When compared to its contemporaries on the system, it’s a production that simply doesn’t come close to cutting the mustard.
The aural compliments, surprisingly, aren’t too bad, though loops are short and repetitive. Some themes swell with great emotion, temporarily inspiring you to overlook the game’s many shortcomings and fight the good fight. Sound effects are barely serviceable, however, and though the voice work is well delivered, none of the audio comes through with great fidelity.
The first Ultimate Alliance seemed to strike a chord with many Marvel fans, and an action RPG starring your favorite heroes sure does seem like a great idea for a game. Other systems may have fared better with the sequel, but folks hoping to milk the PS2 for one more foray into the Marvel universe are in for a very rude awakening. Alliance 2 is buggy, it’s ugly, and the gameplay is repetitive and frustrating. Combat can be mildly entertaining for a short while, and there is a neat selection of superpowers to tinker with. In the end, though, the game’s problems are piled sky high, making it simply too frustrating to be worth bothering with.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.2 Graphics
Character models look pretty good, and some of the animations aren’t too shabby, either. But this is one game where the graphics actually bring down the gameplay. 3.4 Control
Though the controls seem overly complicated, everything works for the most part. A sloppy camera, poor hit detection, and other issues all mar the experience. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There are some powerful cadences that are sure to briefly inspire. Voice work is competent, though it sounds like only a handful of actors covering most bases. Sound effects are unimpressive. 2.1 Play Value
There are some powerful cadences that are sure to briefly inspire. Voice work is competent, though it sounds like only a handful of actors covering most bases. Sound effects are unimpressive. 2.3 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.