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Marvel Nemesis: Rise Of The Imperfects

Platform(s): GameCube, PSP, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: Action
Publisher: EA
Developer: Nihilistic

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Xbox Review - 'Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects'

by Hugh McHarg on Nov. 11, 2005 @ 12:27 a.m. PST

Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects will feature more than a dozen fighters in fully interactive and destructible environments. Gamers will have full control over the individual characters with each fighter having unique attributes and super powers that are true to their background adding more depth and fighting strategy to the game.

Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Nihilistic Software
Release Date: September 20, 2005

Buy 'MARVEL NEMESIS: Rise of the Imperfects':
Xbox | GameCube | NDS | PlayStation 2 | PSP

Birth of a Supervillain

The arrival of new supervillain gangs is an occasion for much hope. New powers, new diabolical designs on world destruction, new stories of mutation and invasion, and, of course, loads and loads of combat. The potential is great, especially when the new crew is bringing all their badness to bear on the Marvel universe, where Spider-Man, some X-Men, and others wait to take them on.

Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects is an arena brawler that puts a solid first foot forward on the Xbox, impressing with a slick interface, a decent-sized roster of good-looking characters and trashable environments, and the seeds of an engaging story line. First impressions aside--and despite a respectable comic pedigree and the participation of industry talent to bring the new villains to life--Rise of the Imperfects squanders its early promise on a too-casual fighting system and unremarkable superpowers, leaving online multiplayer action as the closest thing to super the game has to offer.

He Means Well, Really

As far as motives for alien invasions go, Niles Van Roekel's aren't so bad. In fact, it's his inescapable good nature that's led him to set up a warrior-building factory in the bowels of New York City. It seems his world is under siege by another alien race, but his people are genetically disinclined toward violence. So Roekel's come to harvest earthly meanness in the form of altered super warriors--the EA-branded Imperfects--and send them back to fight for his homeworld's freedom.

The interstellar export of humanity's violent tendencies isn't a bad idea, but Rise of the Imperfects' single-player story mode does little to explore the interesting context behind the brawling. Only the most fragile, writes-itself narrative links random arena battles pitting Marvel favorites against the Imperfects and masses of run-of-the-mill alien troopers. So if it's story you're after, you'll have to take what you can get from the cutscenes and leave it at that.

The reason to play through story mode, then, is to score the many unlockables the game dishes out. These include cards and comics that reveal back story (like how Ben Grimm defended bookish Reed Richards from bullies in their pre-cosmic ray school days), but most importantly, advancing through the campaign unlocks new arenas and characters. The ever-popular Brooklyn Bridge is there, as are the Avengers' Mansion and the rooftop of the Daily Bugle building. You fight in the thoroughly destructible venues with a cross-franchise alliance of Marvel heroes, including, from X-Men, Wolverine, Storm and Magneto; Fantastic Four's The Thing and Human Torch; Spider-Man, of course, and even Venom.

The Imperfects themselves become playable, too, but don't expect too many novel powers or startlingly original character ideas. The Wink sports a Nightcrawler-ish, smokey teleportation move, while Solara is essentially a female Human Torch. Johnny Ohm, at least as far as his powers go, is a male Storm with more lightning and less wind.

With little superhero drama to engage fans of the characters, the fighting itself had better deliver. It does for a bit, as long as you're still exploring everyone's moves. Many of the Marvel characters' familiar powers hold up well. The Thing's ability to hoist and toss even the most massive environmental objects while stomping around with huge clobbering force satisfies thoroughly, as do Spidey's ranged web attacks and his talent for snatching cars and barrels from a distance and pitching them at opponents. The Imperfects' combat abilities, from Paragon's blades to Hazmat's swinging, are largely retreads of other characters' moves.

When the semi-thrill of exploring new powers wears off, you realize that, for a game full of characters with rich combat potential, the fighting ultimately disappoints with a shallow attack-grapple-block battle system. Sure, the super-powered variations allow Hazmat to blast opponents with sludge projectiles, Venom to sling them around by their feet, and Storm to put up a wall of impenetrable wind, but with no real combo system to require anything other than selecting which button to mash, repetition is the name of the game. The so-called mobility moves--web swinging, teleporting, flying--provide little relief once you've given them all a try.

The most frustrating aspect of putting the super moves to good use is the meter that requires constant recharging for anything more than basic punching and dumpster-tossing. Nonsensical in concept and exasperating in practice, the meter does help level the field somewhat when facing a much stronger or faster opponent, but it's mostly a contrived annoyance that's no substitute for properly balanced characters. Meter or no meter, Hazmat's sluggish response still makes him no match for Spider-Man, even though they share the same basic set of moves with different names and visual packaging. The biggest impact of the super meter on gameplay ends up being that you spend too much time trying to hide and recharge before rejoining the battle.

Multiplayer, both online and offline versus matches, is where Rise of the Imperfects shines, or at least sparkles for a few hours. Character selection is a touchy business, however, as you must have sufficiently mastered your character of choice before entering a match. Otherwise, you risk being outmatched by someone who's just using a stronger hero. If you hastily go online with a new character, don't be surprised when some Spidey bashes you with a car, snatches it back with his web, pounds you again, and repeats until the car explodes. Online play is an admirably smooth experience, but when the gameplay comes down to learning how to catch, longevity loses out.

When Is It Not Clobbering Time?

The characters enjoy a much richer visual treatment than in other recent appearances, like this summer's Fantastic Four movie tie-in. Most of them give off a heavy gym vibe, even the more acrobatic types like Spider-Man and The Wink. They all occupy their space with much weighty menace as they leap and swing through the environments. And though it's frustrating from a gameplay point of view when you set it off accidentally, it's a nice touch that weaker characters struggle for a couple seconds to pick up cars and other large objects, even though they don't have the power-lifting chops of their beefier brethren.

The story of Rise of the Imperfects' audio is the story of the voice actors doing their best with wannabe signature lines like Johnny Ohm's "You've gone and done it now--you're grounded!" and Solara's "And I was just getting warmed up." As old as it gets when The Thing announces it's clobbering time before every match, at least it helps you appreciate the classics. The writing, in fact, suffers even down to the story mode mission titles ("Deadlier than Males" stands out in that department). The rank and file of the invading army--Invaders, Eviscerators, Ravagers--sound like discarded Depeche Mode album titles.

Expectation Management is Not a Superpower

When you first get a load of the tough character designs and the New York City arenas littered with chuckable benches, barrels and trucks, Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects teases with a potential for some speedy, brawny combat and hints at an engaging story to back it all up. The super-simplified combat soon trounces those expectations, however, as you realize that many characters' moves are gussied-up versions of web attacks and fireballs. If you can forego any desire to actually engage the story of the Imperfects' rise, Xbox Live play delivers some decent brawls, but get your rent on now while enough players are still out there to make it worth your while.

Score: 6.8/10


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