Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 Review
Posted by Sean Aaron
Ultimate? Not quite.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance was one of the launch titles for the Wii in 2006 and despite being a port of a game also released on the PS3 and Xbox 360, it was still good fun. As a love letter to Marvel fans over the decades it provided a virtual travelogue of the people and places of the Marvel universe and was a wonderful beat-'em-up-cum-RPG. Three years later you'd think that the experience of the first game and decades of Marvel stories to draw upon would make a great sequel a shoe-in, but sadly that's not the case. The removal of many fun elements, some serious QA problems and lacklustre storyline combine to deliver an experience that fails to live up to its name.
By simplifying the controls the major complaint about the first game has been nicely resolved. Ultimate Alliance 2 gives you instant access to four powers, each mapped to a different direction on the . It might sound awkward, but it actually works quite well given the responsiveness of the and the ability to instantly access a few abilities rather than shuffling through a collection of low-res icons. As in the first game is used for jumping and flying and for blocking, dodging and interacting with game objects. is your light melee attack and is the strong melee attack/telekinesis; pressing them together grapples or picks up items. Holding and twisting the Remote rotates the camera and pressing pauses the game, allowing you to review character stats and upgrade abilities. If you're playing with fewer than four players - and + will switch between the members of your hero team.
Whilst motion has been downplayed it's not completely absent: whirlwinds and throws still use vertical rotation of the Remote. You'll also see motions used in a few quicktime sessions, though using the pointer to click on targets or navigate mazes has replaced many of these. The main control problem in the first game was the finishing moves for which there were no non-motion workarounds. Trip, pop-up and stun attacks are all performed with combinations of alternating and button presses; more importantly enemies which are vulnerable to finishers can still be taken out with other attacks, it's just that they take less damage from them.
Powers have been reworked to fit this new simplified control scheme with largely good results. Some powers have been removed and others turned into "Passive Abilities" which don't require activation but boost stats as they increase in level. You can still manually assign skill points earned through experience gained in the course of the game, though the ability to prioritise automatic point spending makes it easier to leave this up to the computer. Replacing the Special Abilities of the first game are Fusions, where two heroes combine their powers to devastating effect. There are a handful of different fusions possible; some require player input to direct the slamming of a charged piece of rubble or manoeuvring an energy "clothesline" using the pointer or . Fusions also reactivate fallen team members which is good since you're now only able to change out characters at save points.
The formerly bewildering array of character stats has been reduced to four and outside of the odd bonuses for Body, Focus and Strike there is no player involvement in changing them. Character-specific bonuses from costumes and special items have been replaced by "Boost Medals" which are earned in the course of the game. Initially you can only equip one, but by the end you can have four in play from a choice of a dozen or so. Game statisticians will probably be a little disappointed, but the focus on powers and a more robust auto-levelling system is definitely an overall improvement that allows players to focus on playing the game rather than constantly playing with hero configurations.
Ultimate Alliance 2 boasts the largest hero collection ever with 26 playable characters in all - although some of the heroes from the previous game have been replaced by villains. Fans of characters like Black Panther or Elektra are unlikely to be excited that they can play with the Green Goblin or Songbird instead. The omission of DLC from the Wii version of the game looks like simple laziness and is quite disappointing. At the very least the launch roster should have included characters exclusive to the PS/360 version of the game (Iron Fist and Juggernaut) since it's likely the Wii's exclusive characters (Blade, Cyclops and Psylocke) will be showing up for purchase on the other systems.
Also absent from the Wii version are alternate costumes along with all the other extras from the first game -- you cannot even view the cut scenes in the game outside of playing it. The lack of pick-ups seems minor, but finding items that unlocked bonus content like comic book covers, concept art and bonus missions was part of the fun of the first game; exploration in the sequel gets you little more than a couple of stat boosts. Bonus missions are automatically presented to you as the game progresses with the notion being to "recruit" (read: unlock) the characters featured therein. There are fewer bonus missions and once the characters are unlocked there's not much incentive to replay them.
The CG cut scenes are of excellent quality (even if Tony Stark looks like he had an ear transplant from Mr. Potato Head) with good lip-syncing to the English dialogue. Whilst there is less voice work in the game, it's still pretty good quality with loads of one-liners (some revoiced from the original) to add comic book zest. Visuals are improved overall from the first game: the camera appears to be focused in tighter with more detail apparent and rather than putting different icons in the corners of the screen which change depending upon which hero is active, each hero has their own display on all the time. At a glance you can see the health and power levels of each character; activating a power will display the icons for the four available. They're larger and better-detailed eliminating the confusion in the first game as to which was which. Character models in the hero configuration screens are larger than in the first game, though this isn't always a good thing since it appears that some character models have been re-used rather than re-done. Contrast the look of Ms. Marvel with Psylocke or Jean Gray and you'll have to wonder what the army of QA people mentioned in the end credits were doing!
This lack of polish is seen throughout the game from navigation issues in the menus to game crashing bugs. Choosing items in menus can be done with the , or pointer, however all of these are enabled at once requiring you to either decide to use the pointer or ensure it's aimed off to the side lest it interfere with other navigation methods. Frequent lack of camera control is a big issue due to enemies blocking doorways where you cannot see them, and because the game likes to change camera angles at certain points, reversing the direction of travel after the switch. If you continue to press in the direction you were before the camera flips you'll find yourself heading back to the transition point and spinning the camera again - repeat until you approach it slowly to keep your bearings or fall over from dizziness!
The pro-registration version of the Chemical Plant mission sees the biggest game crashing bug (the second QT event in the final mission is another, though it's not as consistent or as bad). You'll know you're in the problem area because the special effects for powers are absent. The loading screen at the end of the mission hangs, requiring a power off with the Remote if you're lucky or doing it at the console if not. After two failed attempts we were able to start the next section from the autosave point, though it meant a score of zero for the level when it was complete. This level is so buggy in both pro- and anti-reg versions that it's hard to see how this could possibly have gotten past QA; combined with the other issues it's clear the game needed more work before it was released - though thankfully it's not game-breakingly bad.
Sadly Ultimate Alliance 2 lacks as much in the story department as it does in QA. Being part of Colonel Fury's illegal Secret War against Latveria is well-executed with interesting environments and quality cut scenes; likewise later sections in the Negative Zone prison and Wakanda capture some of the feeling of the first game, but the Civil War story in the middle is a real let-down. It's not the story itself which is problematic, but the way it's presented and quickly discarded. The leaders of the two factions, Captain America and Iron Man, never really discuss their points of view: NPCs just talk vaguely about not knuckling under or arresting the rebels because they're breaking the law. At the end you get the sanguine message that everyone needs heroes to look up to and they're just people under the mask, but neither of these things addresses what the Civil War was actually about.
This is not to say that this game had to be another galaxy-spanning, dimension-hopping affair, but if you're going to base the game on a major storyline like Civil War then commit to it fully and explore it - if this is a superhero Civil War, why is it that the pro-registration forces are largely met with resistance by hordes of faceless mutant clones? Changing the structure of the game and fleshing out the story could have provided a fresh new experience; instead the middle section of this sequel feels like re-tread of the original with mutants and S.H.I.E.L.D. replacing A.I.M. and H.Y.D.R.A. It would have been better to simply create a new story based around Galactus attacking Earth as suggested in the teaser after the credits in the first game than present this half-baked affair.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is a perfect example of how a sequel can go wrong: by forgetting the details that made the first game such a treat and substituting exciting settings with bland ones, a lot of the charm of the original has been lost. The lack of QA - most strongly felt when playing the pro-registration side - means that only one "version" of the game is worth replaying, though in reality there's not much difference to the structure of the game whatever side you choose.
It's pretty clear that the Wii version was given the bare minimum of effort, but considering it repeats the formula of the first game it's not completely without merit. If you're a Wii owner who really enjoyed the first game you'll be able to have some fun with this one, just don't pay full price. If you've never played Marvel Ultimate Alliance you're better off getting the first game which should be easy to find cheaply - you might struggle a little with the controls, but you'll have a lot more fun.