The Action RPG is becoming something of a tradition for Marvel, as this is effectively the fourth installment in the series. The first two, of course, were purely based around the X-Men franchise, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance paved the way for the rest of Marvel's superheroes to get involved. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 looks to push this series even further, and Activision have handed the reins over to Vicarious Visions to try and make this happen.
Those familiar with Marvel know that there are generally strong storylines to go alongside the action. Marvel Ultimate Alliance's story seemed very sporadic, so it's good to see that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2's is much more sensible. After a rogue mission comes back to haunt Nick Fury, the American Government, along with the public, decide to pass the Superhuman Registration Act. However, amongst the hero population there is unrest at the decision, and instead of going along with it, there are those who choose to stand beside Captain America and fight. This ultimately ends up with the player having to decide which faction he wants to support. He can either try to contain heroes alongside Iron Man, or fight for their freedom alongside Captain America.
The morality behind the decision that players have to make adds an extra level of investment and means there is more purpose to beating the pulp out of generic foot soldiers. Throughout, the story maintains plausibility, within the Marvel Universe of course, and it also flows well, retaining a certain sense of continuity. However, there are some needless elements, like the various conversations that can be had with superheroes between missions. They seem completely unnecessary and don't really help to shed any light on anything.
Gameplay in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is almost identical to that of the original. Each character has a normal attack and a strong attack, which can be charged. They can also jump, which feels very awkward, and perform evasive manoeuvres. It's nothing ground breaking, and like in the original, there isn't really any kind of combo system. It's disappointing to see this stay the same, as seeing a character repeat the same moves over and over can get extremely dull. However, to spruce things up, each character does have four unique moves which can be performed provided the character has enough energy. Generally they don't seem to be that effective though, and the only real incentive to use them is to unlock new costumes for characters.
In an odd move, the role-playing elements present in the game have been marginalised. The whole system has become much more streamlined and it's actually quite easy to forget there is even a role-playing back-end at all. The in-menu user interface for the characters also looks really clunky and doesn't seem very intuitive. Many of the elements are again retained though and there is essentially nothing new. Superheroes still have 8 powers, although the split is different this time and boosts can still be equipped, but they are now assigned to the entire team, and not specific heroes. One good thing though, is that many of the RPG elements can now be accessed without having to trawl through the menu system. A nice, quick and easy option now exists as part of the general hud upon pressing the back button.
One area where Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 does generally improve on its predecessor is with its presentation. Many of the in-game graphics are very crisp, and the environments are a lot more detailed. There's definitely a lot more happening on screen, and in some instances, it does lead to some framerate drops. However, for the most part the framerate holds up pretty well. The character models in the cutscenes aren't overly convincing though, and in some situations, they just look odd. The sound effects are generally pretty decent, and the comments characters make are somewhat context sensitive. It's a nice touch, and stops them from getting too repetitive.
Where Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 excels though, is its sheer replay value and depth. While the single-player campaign isn't the longest at face value, the decision making aspect means that player may want to experience it from both sides. There are also tons of unlockable items to find, simulator missions to fight through and of course, harder difficulties, which offer different items. Aside from this, there is also a detailed stat-tracking system, documentation on all of the characters and intel. Couple this with online play, and the fact it's a four-player experience and it actually becomes one hell of a package to be enjoyed with friends.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 disappoints majorly from the perspective of originality. Aside from the story, there is essentially nothing new. If anything, certain elements of the game have actually been taken away to try and make it more accessible. However, there's no denying that the game delivers on its sheer replayability and fun-factor and with friends, this game is extremely enjoyable.