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Reviewed: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: December 17th, 2009

The first Marvel: Ultimate Alliance followed strongly in the same line from Activision's X-Men fighting series, X-Men Legends. The format for the games has remained remarkably simple; beat down enemies in largely linear levels, gain experience to level up, unlock new characters in between-level discussions at "home base", and eventually, face off against the Big Bad Nasty. It's a formula that has worked well for Activision, and so they've not given it up as they passed the line through various development teams, in this case handing Marvel: Ultimate Alliance's engine off from Raven Software (their go-to guys for new ideas) to Vicarious Visions (their go-to guys for sequels and "tightening up" work).

The underlying storyline premise for, and unfortunately fault within, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is a somewhat confused storyline. For approximately the first half, the game involves slavish adherence to the Marvel Civil War storyline; heroes are fighting against heroes, some working with Tony Stark towards the registration of all superheroes, some doggedly fighting back and determined to keep their identities secret. Towards the end, it veers off into wierdness, to try to come up with a reason why heroes and villains would all put aside their differences to make whatever team the player wants. In short, the storyline's a bust.

The "improvement" for the engine is Fusion powers, the ability for the player to build up a fusion meter and launch team-based attacks designed to clear a room, punish a boss, or generally wreak havoc. For certain characters, these were obviously well planned, while for others, it really feels like the game designers even got bored and started making their effects generic. In trade for these abilities, alas, the game's options are seriously curtailed. Gone are multiple options for powers for the heroes, now everyone simply gets four powers with add-on abilities to "increase" their effectiveness. In many senses, the heroes are further just reduced to generic clones. Yes, there are standouts, but putting a team together is much more a matter of going "blaster, healer, beater, tank, check" rather than truly making up interesting teams.

Activision also didn't help matters with a rather lackluster set of DLC characters, starting out with Carnage (OK, I'm confused, the psychopathic murderer is going to play nicely on teams?) and working their way down a rather B-list set while ignoring certain characters who are in the game as NPC-only.

The final straw for Ultimate Alliance 2, alas, is the fact that the screen and level design is simply too busy to work properly. Yes, it's a beat-em-up and yes, there will be "hordes of enemies", but the interface makes it difficult to tell what's going on, especially when bringing in friends to play in a cooperative setting. Especially in the earlier, "almost too dark to see where I'm going" levels, it is all too easy to get confused as to which character is who.

If you're one of the rare Marvel fans who liked the Civil War storyline and can overlook blaring plot silliness, plus don't mind simply level-grinding your characters, this might be for you. For everyone else? Wait for Ultimate Alliance 3. You know they're working on it.

Added:  Thursday, December 17, 2009
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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