Saturday, September 19, 2009

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 Review

As a nerd, if there's two things I love (besides the many other things I love) it's comic books and dungeon crawlers. As such, I enjoyed X-Men Legends and its sequel, X-Men Legends II. But as more of a Spider-Man and Avengers fan than an X-Men fan, I really loved the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and I was really looking forward to the sequel.

A lot has changed in the last three years, though. The two biggest affecting MUA2 are that development was handed from Raven, who developed the first one and the two X-Men Legends games, to Vicarious Visions, a company best known for taking over other developer's franchises, and that in the last three years Marvel's actually been turning out some major company-wide crossovers. The end result is something that's worse in some areas and better in others than the original.

The gameplay, especially the RPG elements, have been dumbed down quite a bit from the previous games. Each character is restricted to four powers, one for each face button. When you level up, you get a pip that can be put into a power. Your stats also go up, but you have no control over them aside from picking up one-time, one point boosts hidden throughout the game. You also collect some other kind of experience points that can be invested into ability boots. If this all sounds too complicated, you can let the computer auto-allocate pips and points. In fact, if you don't level up a character for awhile, the game will do it for you anyway. You can remove pips and points and re-allocate them yourself, but due to high point costs for ability boosts and level restrictions on powers, there's not a lot you can do differently than the computer.

There's also no equipment in the game anymore, which is a major let down. Half the fun of dungeon crawling is collecting loot. Instead, either hidden in the levels or obtained by completing certain goals, are medals. You can equip three medals at a time. The medals provide a boost for the entire team, such as an attribute bonus or resistance to certain types of damage.

With the RPG elements eliminated or dumbed-down, the game really plays more like a brawler than a dungeon crawler.

Lastly, the save locations are gone. The game simply autosaves at certain checkpoints, and if you blink you'll miss the little "saving" message on the bottom of the screen, often leading you to wonder if it's okay to stop playing or not. You can switch team members at any time now, although that hero will have health equal to the hero that was replaced.

The roster is also a mixed bag. Out of the box, without any DLC, the original MUA actually had one hero more than the sequel. Most of the characters are holdovers from the original. Some characters from the original are simply not in the game, or have been reduced to NPC status. Most of the new characters are there because they better fit the story, although some of the holdovers really had nothing to do with the story. There are also a lot fewer NPCs and villians in the game, but this is again somewhat story-related.

Speaking of the story, the story is one of the areas where MUA2 really shines. While the first one was almost a glorified fan-fiction of an excuse to get a bunch of characters from the Marvel Universe to team up and visit several locations in the Marvel Universe, MUA2 borrows heavily from two of the best Marvel crossover stories in the actual comic books, Secret War and Civil War. The end of the game does totally re-write the ending to keep it more self-contained in the game, but that still leaves the plot of MUA2 as one of the best in a comic book-based videogame.

The graphics are also more polished than the first one. MUA was originally going to be cel-shaded, like the X-Men Legends games, but the developers decided not to go that route for the next-gen versions. The result wasn't cel-shaded, but still cartoony. Vicarious Visions really cleaned it up and made it look a little more realistic, as well as added more effects for the powers that are going off. The news-style cutscenes especially really evoke the simplistic style of the Civil War comic books. The Civil War story also forces you to chose a side. Which side you chose will determine which heroes you can use, what story you see, and what abilities you can upgrade.

Another plus in MUA2's corner are the Fusion attacks. By filling up a meter, two of your heroes can team up for a powerful combination attack. This is an interesting idea that can be really handy in the thick of a fight. The only problem is that they all break down into either guided, targeted, or clearing types, and even in each type there are only a few combinations. For example, there's one where Spider-Man webs up a bunch of guys so that Iron Man can blast them. It looks pretty much the same as when Spider-Man webs them up for Ms. Marvel to blast, or for Venom to web up for Iron Man (or Ms. Marvel) to blast.

If push comes to shove, I'd have to say that the dumbing down of the RPG elements mean that MUA2 doesn't quite live up to the original. However, the story is very good, and trashing hordes of robots with your favorite super heroes is very satisfying anyway. I enjoyed it enough that I already finished it once, and will replay it to see the other side.

Final Score: B+


Mike said...

Hey Rick, why'd you want me to get the PS3 version? Lens of Truth's Head to Head gave the advantage to the 360 version.

Rick said...

because i have the ps3 version. see when i first bought my ps3 back at launch, mua was one of the ones i bought. and being that i'm an obsessive compulsive idiot i can't have one game from a series on one system and another on a different one or i'll explode haha. and i need someone to play the damn thing with everyone i know except jeremy (who never plays online except in rare circumstances) got it on 360.