It's hard to make a good superhero game but nearly impossible to make a good superhero team game. Characters like Superman, Spider-Man or The Hulk are hard enough to make work when the entire game is focused on them, but trying to put a bunch of heroes into a single game usually leads to iffy results, such as the lackluster Justice League games. The one notable exception to this has been the Activision superhero titles, X-Men: Legends and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. The two games are effectively part of the same franchise, with Legends being focused around the X-Men, while Ultimate Alliance featured the whole Marvel universe. These games moved away from the action-style gameplay that usually characterized superhero games and made the heroes' adventures into more of an action-RPG, playing in a similar style to the arcade hit Gauntlet. Due to clever design and solid gameplay choices, these titles worked wonders at being fun for hardcore or casual gamers alike. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 looks to continue the trend by providing a few new interesting gameplay features, but nothing that is going to rock the boat or change the overall feel of the game.
For those unfamiliar with comic book lore, there have been a number of recent upheavals in the Marvel Universe in the past few years. The biggest of these was the Marvel Civil War. After an incident where a group of naive superheroes accidentally caused a super villain, Nitro, to self-destruct in middle of an elementary school playground, the government enacted the Superhero Registration Act. Among many other things, this act forced superheroes to register their names and identities with the government or give up their careers forever. This didn't sit well with some superheroes, who had philosophical or personal reasons for making sure their identities weren't on record in case a super villain tried to access it. The superhero community was divided into two factions: The pro-registration side was led by Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic, while the anti-registration group was lead by Captain America and Power Man Luke Cage. Every superhero who chose not to flee the country or give up their career was forced onto one of these sides. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is set during the Marvel Civil War, and while it begins with a united superhero front, the groups will quickly fracture, forcing players to choose a specific side.
Fans of the comics should note that just because it is based on the Marvel Civil War, this particular game is not going to completely follow the plotline. There are confirmed characters in the game who were completely gone during the Civil War. The Hulk is a playable character, for example, while in the comics, he had been sent away from the planet by a secret society led by Iron Man. Likewise, Thor was shown prominently in our E3 demo, despite being dead at the time of the Civil War. While the basic events are going to be similar, your actions in the game will lead to multiple possible outcomes, and there are certain to be surprises and twists that never occurred in the actual Civil War. For newcomers to the comic universe, most of this won't matter much, since it mostly exists to provide a justifiable reason for Captain America to punch Iron Man. For comic fans, though, there are certain to be a few worthwhile twists in store for you. At the very least, there will be plenty of fan service, including a number of appearances from fan favorite Deadpool, both as a playable character and a boss.
The basic gameplay in Ultimate Alliance 2 is not too different from the previous game. Players are given control of a group of four heroes (or villains) who battle their way through enemies in a Gauntlet-style beat-'em-up RPG. Each of the four heroes has his own unique strengths and weaknesses, which can influence how they play. The Juggernaut, for example, excels at absorbing damage and can brutalize nearby enemies, but isn't as good at fighting far away. On the other hand, the X-Men's Storm can use her weather-controlling powers to stun or damage enemies from a distance. Each character will gain new powers and new abilities as they level up, and certain moves will also grow more powerful as they level up. We saw the Human Torch summon a pillar of fire from the ground as a regular attack. When leveled up, he created multiple pillars of fire for substantially greater range and damage. There will also be special equipment and items you can collect, which can be equipped to a character in order to power up their abilities. Overall, it should feel very familiar to those who played the last game, although there were a few nice changes. The original Ultimate Alliance allowed you to equip different costumes to a character, but each costume came with different basic abilities. If you wanted to make your character best fit your play style, you generally had to equip a certain costume, which was a bit of a let-down if you really preferred a certain look for your character. In Ultimate Alliance 2, powers are not tied to the costume, so you'll have more freedom in who you play as.
However, one major new feature was the ability to perform a Power Fusion, which is a combination of the powers of any two heroes in order to form a ridiculously powerful new special move. Each possible variation of characters in the game gains a unique result. For example, if Storm and Captain America teamed up, they can perform a special move that involves Storm bouncing her electricity off of Captain America's invincible shield, which damages all enemies between them. It's not exactly clear why bouncing lightning off Captain America's shield makes it more powerful, but we've all learned not to question comic book physics by this point. Another interesting example is Juggernaut and newcomer Songbird. Songbird can use her powers to create a glowing pink hamster ball of energy around Juggernaut, who can then roll around and crush everything in his path. Fans of the comics will be glad to hear that it is indeed possible to have The Hulk and Wolverine team up to perform the iconic Fastball Special attack. Power Fusion lends an interesting new element to team building, and it looks to encourage players to try unique combinations of heroes.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 has a fairly tremendous cast. In our brief demo, we saw a number of classic Marvel characters and some surprising new faces. The playable characters include both heroes and villains fighting on the same side for various reasons. There will also be non-playable foes who are taking advantage of the Civil War to commit dastardly deeds. Depending on which side of the conflict they join, players can expect to see a number of popular characters. Some of these characters, such as Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-Man are veterans of the last Ultimate Alliance game, while others, like Songbird, Iron Fist and the GameStop-exclusive Juggernaut are new to the franchise. The cast looks substantially larger and more varied than in the last Ultimate Alliance title, although players should expect to find most of their favorite Marvel superhumans returning.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 looked quite a bit better than its predecessor. One of the levels we saw was set in Washington, D.C., during the eve of the Superhero Registration Act. As heroes, a group of superfolks had allied to protect the politicians from an evil assault by opportunistic super villains. This was a bright wide-open level, and it did a lot to make the stage feel like a war in Washington, not simply another trek through a super villain's fortress. Helicopters and hover carriers flew overhead, and we caught glimpses of the overall fight going on outside of our heroes' viewpoint. There seemed to be a fair bit of variety in the characters' animations as well, especially with the Power Fusions, and it really helped to give the entire proceedings the aura of a major superhero/supervillain fight, instead of just a group of heroes punching their way through corridors.All in all, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 looks like a solid follow-up to the last game. There don't appear to be any major changes to the overall formula, and the gameplay changes seem to rely on tweaks and fixes that make the basic gameplay flow better. The addition of Power Fusions adds an interesting new element to character customization, especially due to the tremendous variety in possible combinations. Despite the change, the Gauntlet-style gameplay looks to be as fun as ever, and it shouldn't be hard for players to hop back into the shoes of their favorite heroes. The Civil War setting should provide a fair bit of extra replay value by allowing gamers to take multiple paths through the game. Overall, Ultimate Alliance 2 looks like your fairly standard sequel, and anyone looking for more of the same basic gameplay should be quite happy.
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