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The first Marvel Ultimate Alliance brings together a lot of popular Marvel heroes and villains and takes players on an action-packed adventure. It lets them team up their favorite heroes and offers plenty to see and do. It was followed up by a sequel that features a new storyline, some new mechanics, and retains the accessible gameplay of its predecessor. Developed by Vicarious Visions and published by Activision, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in September, 2009. n-Space worked on the Wii, DS, and PlayStation 2 versions and Savage Entertainment worked on the PlayStation Portable version, all of which released that same month. A remastered version was released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in July, 2016 but was eventually delisted due to a licensing issue. For this review, I played the Xbox 360 version.
As a team of heroes are trying to prevent Lucia von Bardas from destroying New York City, parts of the city are destroyed and, afterwards, Nick Fury disappears and Maria Hill becomes the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Not too long after, Nitro creates an explosion in Connecticut which kills hundreds of civilians and the government responds by implementing the Superhuman Registration Act resulting in a Civil War among the heroes. At this point, the story splits into two arcs. The player can choose to register and side with Iron Man’s team or not register and side with Captain America’s team. The two story arcs eventually converge when the heroes learn that the nanite technology developed to control supervillians has not only gone haywire but is also spreading. In my opinion, the Civil War is the highlight of the story and after the two arcs converge, the plot becomes less compelling. The voice acting is solid and the dialogue exchanged during certain interactions can differ depending on the heroes selected.
When it comes to the gameplay, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is a lot like the first game. The story plays out in Acts, the hub location changes as you progress, and you control a team of four heroes. The game does support up to four players and I thought the roster of playable heroes was better in the first game. Although, you can play as the Green Goblin here which is pretty cool. Each hero can perform the same basic functions. They can move around, block, dodge, grab things, jump, double jump, some can fly, and they can each perform light and heavy attacks and combine attacks together to perform special attacks and combos.
What makes each hero unique is their powers. Each hero has their own set of powers and unleashing a power does drain energy which will recharge over time. Combat still involves a lot of button mashing and if it wasn’t for the powers, the heroes would basically all feel the same. However, the combat does feel more satisfying. Strikes and powers feel more impactful thanks to both the audiovisual effects and physics.
New to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is Fusion Attacks. A Fusion Attack is when two heroes combine powers for a devastating attack and there’s three different types, and the type you can perform will depend on the heroes that are paired. One type is designed to clear out a horde of foes. Another is designed to inflict damage on a single target. And the third type lets you guide an attack to damage multiple foes. The game indicates that each pair of heroes has their own unique power and while that’s true, a lot of them feel the same. And that’s because there’s only three types. They may differ in the type of elemental damage inflicted and/or the visual effects but a lot of them feel copy and pasted. Regardless, they are satisfying to pull off and are often great against bosses. If your Fusion Attack reaches a certain score, you’ll receive a Health Token and you can store two of them. These can be used to heal team mates and revive fallen ones.
Some of the mechanics that have been carried over from the first game have been refined or changed in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. You might even say “streamlined”. You can upgrade your heroes from a quick select menu or from the Teams screen and you can swap out heroes and their costumes at any time. When heroes defeat enemies, they earn experience and eventually level up which rewards you with power pips that can be spent to upgrade powers. Defeating enemies and breaking objects will often earn you ability points and red orbs which replenish health. Ability points can be spent on different abilities. Many heroes have abilities that need to be unlocked by siding with the Registration team or Anti-Registration team so to unlock all abilities for all the heroes, you would have to play through the game at least twice.
Like the first game, much of the fun comes down to teaming up your favorite heroes. Selecting specific sets will grant your team special bonuses and finding which heroes work best together is all part of the fun. Choosing the right set of heroes can be important but not so much that there’s a wrong set that will prevent you from progressing. I was able to bring any set of unlocked heroes with me and swap them out often and rarely had trouble getting through areas. At least on the difficulties under Legendary. Your entire roster basically levels up together and even when you unlock a hero later on or decide to use one you haven’t used in a while, they will always be at the same level as the others and come with the appropriate amount of power pips and ability points so they’re just as powerful as the rest. Maxing out the roster will require grinding and after beating the game, you can replay through it with all your unlocked heroes and their stats.
One of the downsides to the changed upgrade system is the reduction of some depth. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 retains the accessibility of the first game but loses some of the strategic aspects. What heroes you select is less important and there’s less management. Abilities are no longer tied to costumes which are now cosmetic only and there’s not as many of them. The Gear from the first game has been replaced with Team Boosts. They offer bonuses to your entire team and you can equip up to three and swap them out at any time. There is a lot of them and different mixes of Boosts can be beneficial for certain encounters. They can be found in the environments and are earned by meeting certain requirements. I think the best thing about all these changes is that you’ll spend less time in menus.
There are multiple difficulty modes and the hardest, Legendary, does need to be unlocked. There’s less enemy variety than that of the first game and foes get tougher as you progress. Some are vulnerable to certain types of attacks and knowing when to block and dodge can be very important during some of the tougher encounters but it’s the Fusion Attacks that will really help you out when you’re in a pinch. Like the first game, the gameplay is repetitive. You will primarily be button mashing from beginning to end. And the reduced strategic elements and depth make it feel even more repetitive. The bosses still make up the more interesting encounters but surviving tough fights and getting through the game in general requires less thinking compared to its predecessor.
The hub areas are where you can interact with NPCs, access the simulator, play trivia, and progress to the next mission. Unlike the first game, interactions with NPCs always seem to focus on the current events. Characters won’t go into a lot of detail about their past or relationships. The different story arcs will offer different missions and bosses but they don’t differentiate that much in terms of gameplay. The missions will have you completing different objectives, avoiding environmental hazards, and sometimes you’ll have to solve very basic puzzles. The friendly AI seems to be improved. In my experience, my AI team mates were able to navigate around hazards pretty well but they would still get stuck behind things from time to time.
While the first game takes you to a variety of exotic locations like Atlantis and outer space among other areas, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 will only take you to different locations around the world. You’ll battle enemies in Latveria, New York City, Washington D.C., and Wakanda. The maps also don’t feel as open-ended as those in the first game. There are areas and rooms off to the side that you can explore but there’s less branching paths. Exploration will lead you to pickups and collectibles but the maps feel more linear and contained. You can find simulator discs which unlock challenges in the Simulator in the hub areas. These challenges will require you to complete different objectives and reaching certain scores will earn you rewards.
Right from the start I noticed the tone of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is different than that of its predecessor and accompanying that is a less colorful and more washed out presentation. On the plus side, the character models and environments are more detailed. The visual improvements are nice but I prefer the colorful and vibrant look and feel of the first game. The audio is pretty good overall with satisfying sounds of strikes and smashes and I enjoyed several of the tunes accompanying the action. On the technical side, the frame rate did tank on me quite often when there was a lot of action on screen. The game also crashed on me a few times but, luckily, it autosaves frequently and at one point I noticed dialogue options failed to appear.
I enjoyed Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 but I prefer the gameplay in the first game. I think the combat in 2 is the biggest improvement. It feels better, it’s more satisfying, and it can become addictive. It’s always fun decimating mobs and seeing bodies fly and things explode as you punch, kick, smash, and unleash powers. But the gameplay is still repetitive, the Fusion Attacks are not as diverse as the game would have you believe, and the changes to the upgrade system have reduced much of the strategy and depth that was found in the first game. These changes also reduce some of the replay value. Multiplayer and the numerous difficulties should keep you coming back for a little while but I think much of what made the first game so much fun has been stripped down or away. I also didn’t care for the map design changes. There’s less focus on exploration and discovery. Overall, I think there’s a lot of unnecessary changes that make this sequel less engaging as a whole. That’s not to say it’s a bad game. Just disappointing.
I would recommend Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 to fans of Marvel and action games. It may lack the depth of its predecessor but it’s still a good action game that can be played solo or with friends. It’s accessible and it should keep you occupied for some time. You can find a copy for pretty cheap as of this review so if you have any interest in it, I would say definitely check it out.