Developer: Vicarious Visions
Release Date: Available now
There’s a certain rinse and repeat sensation that every Diablo-clone inspires. When you strip away their trappings, be it an orc-strewn fantasy land or superhero-laden stronghold, these action RPGs amount to little more than bashing the hell out of everything not bolted down, scoring mad piles of loot and moving on to the next trigger point to engage a new stream of foes. While this game play can be addictive and certainly scratches that innate itch to cause untold amounts of mayhem, modern dungeon crawlers need to apply their own secret identity to make it all worth a gamer’s while. A few years back, Vicarious Visions updated the template they crafted with last generation’s X-Men Legends titles and drafted the entire Marvel roster with Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The ability to join forces with all of the great heroes that have inhabited that potent universe was a big draw and the game was a genuine success. Three years later, Vicarious Visions is back with the sequel, aptly titled Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.
The new game begins with the blueprint laid from the last title and grabs its story line from the “funny pages” – taking elements of the Marvel crossover series’ Secret War and Civil War. This tale, focused on the dividing lines erected between super powers when a Registration Act is unveiled, forcing them to reveal their secret identities and play nice with the world governments, throws a compelling twist to the game play formula. In the first game, players could cobble together teams of any four superheroes they wanted and set them loose in the various dungeons and enemy encampments to hunt down a rogue’s gallery of super villains. Once players encounter the Registration Act early in this game, they are forced to take sides on the issue, thereby eliminating half of the heroes they can team up with.
As in the prior game, players choose a team of four superheroes and then battle through a series of environments ripped from the comics. Beginning in Dr. Doom’s Latveria, they’ll fight through these arenas while leveling up their heroes with the assorted orbs and experience points earned. These points are used to augment the heroes’ abilities, with each starting at two powers and gaining the ability to unlock two more. The game provides a strong focus on team work, and special bonuses are allotted when a player pairs characters from the same niche – therefore, if you pull together the Fantastic Four, your team will benefit from their shared history. It also supports 4-player cooperative play over Xbox Live (or PSN), allowing friends to drop in and help with the skirmish.
It’s been over a decade since Diablo perfected this gaming archetype. In that time, we’ve seen a number of engaging dungeon crawlers and it really takes something special to suck a player back in. Vicarious Visions seized on that by applying the genre to the Marvel Universe, thereby allowing players to realize their fondest fanboy role-playing dreams. The ability to pair X-Men up, or cobble together The Avengers, and get to work smashing stuff is certainly compelling. For those that played the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance, aside from the new storyline and the introduction of some fan favorite heroes from all corners of the Universe, there’s not much new here. The most notable addition is the introduction of Fusion Powers – essentially, special abilities between pairs of heroes that are unlocked when you’ve killed enough goons to raise your Fusion Gauge. These room clearing attacks are cool and the animations are a treat to watch the first few times, but after a while they become as redundant as the rest of the attacks. Eventually you’re just mashing away on buttons, attacking everything that moves and some that don’t (once again, crates and inanimate barrels have been singled out for elimination).
While playing this game solo can get redundant, it is a genuine kick to get together with friends and play alongside each other. While the action runs a little too fast and frantic to really pull together anything in the way of a strategic attack, it’s a lot of fun HULK SMASHING the night away with buddies by your side. To their credit, the developers did a nice job of eliminating the need to pause the action in order to equip new abilities by providing a Quick Upgrade option. This allows a player to drop from action and upgrade their leveled-up character while the other players continue with the fight. Computer-assisted AI kicks in at this point so the other players don’t lose a beat. Visually, the game looks identical to the last title, however, with the camera held at the overhead shot and the action coming fast and furious, there isn’t much time to stare at the scenery.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 offers a good deal of game play (including the return of the optional Simulator Missions and Trivia contests) even if it’s simply running the same routes as its predecessor. It’s a competent dungeon crawler that can wear on the single player but provides a genuine kick for a group of gamers. While it’s commendable that the storyline is ripped from the comics, the way it’s presented here with some boring cut scenes is simply window dressing – just enough of a reason to propel the player from Point A to Point B and get back to work bashing heads. It’s worth a play but best if you have your own squad looking to save the day.