I don't think I've been as disappointed by a game all year as I am with Marvel Nemesis. Developed by the ex-StarCraft: Ghost team at Nihilistic Software, Rise of the Imperfects should have been one of the premier superhero titles around (it seems like it should have been on paper anyway). After all, this is a game with one of the best comic book writers in the business penning its script in Mark Millar, and the influential artist Jae Lee doing its character designs. This is a project that was overseen by Electronic Arts' finest production house in EA Canada (SSX, NBA Live, Need for Speed) and has been in the design stages in some form or another since the beginning of 2004. At the very least it should have been something decent, but the sad truth of the matter is... it isn't.
It seems that Marvel Nemesis' biggest problem is that it never really decided what kind of a game it wanted to be. Billed as a one-on-one fighter, it's actually split between that and a low-level beat 'em up. Sure, you can go into the versus mode at any time and slug it out against a friend or the CPU, but in order to get a healthy number of combatants to play with beyond the sparse default selection, you have to trudge through the single-player campaign and unlock them. In other words, if you want to play one you have to play the other.
Normally that kind of setup isn't so bad (the Soulcalibur series, for example, does a great job of keeping you involved in its various sub-modes to enhance the main one), but in Marvel Nemesis the single-player quest comes across as more of a chore than anything. On the plus side, the solo campaign does have a couple of cool little features to make it more enjoyable (namely interweaving storylines and the ability to play through the plot from multiple character viewpoints) and the narrative itself is very good (what else would you expect from Millar?). But it's the act of actually playing through the action bits to get to that storyline that's the hard part -- the means just don't justify the end.
The reason for this is that Marvel Nemesis' single-player never graduates beyond a series of mindless smack-battles with AI-sparse no-names. If this were Dynasty Warriors that simplistic approach would be okay because there are a ton of enemies onscreen in that game and plowing through hundreds of medieval idiots is all part of the fun. Unfortunately there aren't anywhere near the amount of bad guys to fight against in Rise of the Imperfects, so when you're left to go up against a handful of less than challenging bad guys it gets boring really quick.
This problem is further perpetuated by the fact that your characters don't have a wide variety of moves, and all you have to choose from is block, jump, attack, and throw with two modifier triggers (Mobility and Super Power) to mix things up. When combined together, you're left with an arsenal that, while on par with most modern beat 'em up games, is significantly lower than just about every other fighter out there. And when you're in control of heroes with a ton of different powers, being limited in what you can do is the last thing you want to be (especially when you consider how many great abilities you've had in recent comic titles like Hulk, Ultimate Spider-Man, and X-Men Legends II).
Where Marvel Nemesis improves, is with its boss battles scattered between regular stages. A mirror image of the fighting mode, the boss battles are the only challenging segments of the entire experience. In these situations, players will have to do their best to use environments and destructible objects to combat the scripted and unscripted behaviors of their opponents (beyond the simple punch combos that typically eliminate normal foes). In some instances, these battles do manage to provide a little bit of fun, but sadly, the game still feels somewhat floaty and under-realized no matter which scenario (boss or standard) that you're playing (not to mention the fact that it seems that there are too many obstacle-throwing contests more often than not).
Once you've unlocked enough of the characters to really battle it out with variety in the versus mode, Marvel Nemesis does move beyond its status as a poor action game. This is especially true when battling it out against another person rather than a CPU opponent, and when played online (via PS2 or Xbox) it is admittedly fun to fight other people for awhile. Regrettably, this kind of fun doesn't last for very long -- because once you figure out how to do the small set of moves for one character, you have everyone else figured out as well. You see, that's one of Marvel Nemesis' other big problems is that it takes away one of the most rewarding aspects you have in your typical fighter... the desire to learn the ins and outs of every character. Because all your heroes play the same and are mostly contextual when it comes to their attacks (be they Venom, Spidey, Logan, or whoever), once you've learned one guy, you've pretty much learned them all -- everyone is essentially the same person, only animated differently with a couple of exceptions. In short, there's not a lot of depth to the combat.
To its credit, Marvel Nemesis does try and make up for its gameplay shortcomings by trying to present as well as it possibly can, and on the Xbox and GameCube manages to show off some strong lighting effects and texture work. The PS2 version, however, isn't quite as lucky and suffers from a couple of collision issues, texture glitches, and lighting bugs that don't seem to pop up as often on other platforms. Xbox owners also get the benefit of 480p progressive scan... the lucky dogs, while the rest of us are left out in the cols. There are a couple of other cool little production bonuses too, like fully narrated secret comic books that can be found as you progress, some pretty solid voice-overs, and cutscenes that are of the utmost quality.
©2005, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved