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Review: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (360, PS3)


Image courtesy Activision

Unlike movies (I’m looking at you, Sophie’s Choice: The Squeakuel), video game sequels generally improve on the original—or at least aren’t substantially worse than their predecessors. While Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 isn’t worse by far than the original, it lacks the creativity, joy, and gameplay that made Marvel: Ultimate Alliance a must-have title.

MUA 2 is, in the style of X-Men Legends, is an action RPG brawler/crawler that lets you slip into the snugly-fitting tights of your favorite superheroes. Based on the comic book events of the Marvel Civil War, this entry into the series is far narrower in scope than the original. 

Instead of traveling to the watery realm of Namor (who doesn’t appear at all in MUA2), the hell of Mephisto (no, not here either), or the twisted mind of Loki (nope), you’ll be traveling through the United States. Even the one reprieve from action in the U.S., the Black Panther’s Wakanda, is as bland as puffed rice. And bosses? Don’t get me started, seriously. I won’t ruin anything for you, but be prepared for an anti-climax. Several of them, in fact. Good luck following the story, too, unless you’ve read the Civil War books. I don’t particularly blame the game designers here. It is my opinion that Civil War isn’t the best choice to base a video game on. It was a huge event, no doubt, and fun to read. But it lacks the settings, memorable villains, and action to make a great game. Wouldn’t you rather play Marvel Zombies: Ultimate Alliance than a game based on a political act?

I appreciated the opportunity to play as both pro- and anti-registration teams through two different stories, though. While the action isn’t totally different in each version, you do get to experience events from another angle and fight against those you had previously allied with. 

Rather than picking up memorable relics, enchanted objects, or powers specific to the defeated characters that drop them, you’ll pick up bland orbs like “Attack +2” and the like. After excitedly looting my enemies in the original MUA to see what they had, I quickly became bored of gathering non-descript items in MUA2. It’s a small issue, but one that sucked some whimsy out of this version.
Despite the number of these power-ups I collected and applied, I never felt much different towards then end than when I started the game. My powers, after quickly unlocking the ability to use all four of each characters attacks, never changed. The only evidence I had that I had powered up at all was that the hit points had changed. But since the enemies became tougher right along with me without really changing in intensity, enemies took the same amount (and type) of hits to bring down, leaving everything the same. MUA2 should’ve taken a page from games like Prototype that really convey the feeling of gaining power.
One way this game did excel at conveying ultimate super powers is through the game’s main innovation: fusion powers. Every pairing of the game’s playable characters yields a different fusion power. Fill up your fusion meter through combat, hook up with a partner, and unleash a devastating attack. Fusions fall into a few basic categories, including targeted and clearing attacks. While some are repetitive (Deadpool with pretty much everyone, for example), unexpectedly awesome pairings like Wolverine and Songbird make you feel truly super. And that’s what we came here for. Uncovering new fusions (there are a lot of different pairings to be made with so many characters) and making use of faves is what sends this game over the edge from average to good.
While I wasn’t looking forward to playing as no-names like Penance and Songbird, it was these characters that I had the most fun with. Penance, who after killing civilians dons a suit with hundreds of inward pointing spikes because he draws power from pain, looks bad-ass and makes you feel bad-ass. So when choosing your squad, make sure to switch it up a bit and try out some of the new guys. Just keep Deadpool on your team the whole time—Activision really managed to nail his personality in this one.
Here’s the deal. If you’re a Marvel fan, you’re going to want to play this game, but you won't be as happy as you were with the first version.
Vicarious Visions had the lead on this project, instead of the original’s developer Raven. Sorry, VV, but Raven generally produces superior titles (like X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Here’s hoping that they get back on board for the inevitable MUA3.

MUA2 iron fists its way to 7.8 Stan Lee cameos out of 10.