Marvelous for a Second Time!
When the first X-Men Legends title hit, I remember thinking how awesome it would be if there was a title with the entire Marvel Universe. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one thinking this, since we finally received said concept near the beginning of the current generation of consoles. Even though it was nearly everything that fans had asked for, there was something missing from the first title.
The story, as good as it was, felt disconnected from the overall elements that made these characters epic when they got together in comics. Sure, there were elements from certain stories that we knew, but it always felt like a typical comic book video game coming up with its own story. As we know from past experiences, this is not always the best way to go. For this second outing of Ultimate Alliance those trappings aren’t there. Instead, we receive a few storylines meshed together in more of a master stroke. Admittedly, when I first heard the basics of the storyline I was a little more than worried with how it would play out considering most fans and even people who were not entirely in the loop with this storyline would know the climax and end result before even pressing the start button.
The story piggy-backs on the concept of two, with a partial third, story archs, which works in favor of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. Beginning at the end of the Secret Wars mini-series, players will take control of four of the most currently prominent Marvel Universe characters – Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America. You are following orders from Nick Fury who has waged war on Latveria, after discovering Lucia von Bardas has been using the Tinkerer to arm certain tech-based villains with Dr. Doom’s technology. The story briefly touches on whether Fury is in the right or not and, in true comic book fashion, things spiral out of control as a direct result of the actions of the heroes. The introduction of the Superhuman Registration Act begins to drive a wedge between certain heroes, and then the horrific tragedy of Stamford, Connecticut occurs. This incident, causing over 600 civilian deaths, ignites the public and the government to swing the SRA into full effect. However, the divide amongst the hero community wouldn’t have been as strong if Captain America hadn’t taken a stand against it and, let’s face it, Captain America is always right.
The game’s story wraps tightly with the end results of the Secret War, most of the Civil War, and dashes in some warped reality version of Secret Invasion throughout. It makes you decide what side you are on. This directly affects not only your own sense of morality, but also changes the way the rest of the game is played out. Choosing Cap’s side will change the way you play certain missions: whether you will protect a convoy or destroy it; if you will ambush a friend or fight back a trap. Granted you can play back through to get the other side’s missions, but the first time you can almost feel the pressure of choosing the “right side”. It also makes all of those old Marvel banner ads of “Choose Your Side” seem to mean something.
The gameplay doesn’t really change from which side you play though. Nor does it stray too far from the original title. Still present is the simplistic approach to the controls. Players will be doing the devastating hero moves within minutes, thanks in large part to the recharging power gauge. In the first title, players had to find blue power charge packs to get their heroes enough energy to perform their signature moves. This time they ditched that approach and it made the gameplay more enjoyable. Even though you can do each character’s moves with the same controls, they are generally unique to that character – though there are strong similarities amongst projectile-based heroes and likewise with the hand to hand combat heroes. These effects will probably go unnoticed by most considering the amount of heroes you will be able to play as. Twenty-four playable characters in all with the likes of Gambit, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, and Deadpool to name a few. There has also been a promise of other characters becoming available as DLC down the line.
While there are a lot of similarities to the first title as far as combat is concerned, there is one noticeable difference, Fusions. This interesting gameplay mechanic was shown off near the game’s debut. It was also, at one time, attached to the title of the game, with good reason too; this coupling of the heroes’ powers gives players some of the most devastating attacks in the game. Each fusion plays to the characters’ strengths no matter how you pair them. For example, if you pair up Jean Grey and Deadpool in a Fusion attack, Deadpool will throw grenades before he begins firing his semi-automatics randomly at enemies. While this is going on, Jean will use her telekinesis to throw the grenades a little further and cause more damage to the surrounding enemies. Her added TK attack even amplifies the damage from Deadpool’s guns. This is why these all-powerful attacks are recommended during the boss battles.
One other new feature is the Boost Medals. These are earned from boss battles and found throughout the game. They do exactly as they imply, they give you a boost during gameplay. Whether it is combat damage, more defense, etc., these little things can usually swing an obvious failed boss battle into an easy victory. A returning favorite, as far as the boosts, is the teaming of the characters. Going with an all X-Men team can give you a boost in stamina, and an all female team of femme fatales can give you a boost in attack. These were hidden boosts from the first game and it is great to see them present this time around.
In addition to the impressive cast of characters already mentioned in the game, there are other NPCs in the game which add to the dynamic storyline, just like how the first entry used NPCs to add more texture to the game. Characters like Patriot from the Young Avengers and Bishop from the X-Men, along with many others, will help move the story forward and give a few fan nuggets of appreciation. Their voices don’t always match up to the character, but the delivery isn’t completely horrible. While the lines are traditional, over-the-top comic character dialogue, there are a few exceptions – most notable are Captain America and Iron Man. This is fitting since it is their sides from which you will be choosing. Even though they too have the over-the-top dialogue from time to time, their delivery never really makes you fall out of the current scene.
This brings me to probably my favorite part of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2: the cinematics. While I can admit I love cinemas in-game, after all I am an MGS fan, the first Ultimate Alliance didn’t have quite as many as I would have hoped. The second game makes up for that. What is even better this time around are the scenes ripped right out of the comic books. The physical movements of certain scenes with the next-gen graphics will make any fan happy. The in-game graphics are a step above the first title, but there are a few noteworthy blemishes. Occasionally there’s a lag in the performance. This wouldn’t be a big deal if a few of those instances didn’t have to do with you trying to avoid incoming fire from a boss. The only other major complaint also stems from the boss battles. At times, with all of the chaos of everyone using their special abilities, you can loose sight of the character you are controlling. Again, not a truly horrendous thing, just more of an annoyance at those certain times.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, it just tightens a few of the lug nuts. This works wonderfully in its favor. Adding a new gameplay mechanic that you don’t have to rely on in order to enjoy the same type of game you already experienced will make purists happy. Continuing the online functionality introduced with the first title doesn’t harm the game either. There are way too many similar features in this title to not enjoy it, ranging from the trivia questions, the simulator missions, and the ditching of the need to have a save location to save or change out characters will increase repeat playthroughs. With the possibility of future fan favorite characters coming as DLC, Ultimate Alliance 2 could potentially have all of the Marvel Universe characters under one title. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance does nearly everything right with its second outing with one exception: not enough Stan Lee cameos.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
A step up from the previous title. Though nothing revolutionary, it is pleasing to notice the advances. 4.0 Control
The controls don’t really hinder the experience, they still thrive on the pick up and play mechanic. Except this time around, you’ll have a few extra things to remember. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Same over-the-top acting with exceptions to a few of the cast. The background music is similar to the first, but the cutscenes are where they strive to send the messages home with orchestrated harmony. 4.6 Play Value
If you had fun with the first, you will have even more with this one. If you happen to be new to the series, this is a better place to jump in. Lots of fun and small comic book references will keep you playing for hours on end. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.