Before I even get into the real review of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, I need to say something: PlayStation 2 owners deserve better. I can't tell you how many times I cover a cross-platform title and find this once great system getting watered down versions of games and stories the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 people are eating up.
That's what's happening here with Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. This is a port of the Wii version of the game, which was a ho-hum, watered down version of the PS3/360 storyline.
It's clobberin' time.
Ultimate Alliance 2 actually combines two of Marvel's best, fairly recent storylines -- Secret War and Civil War. The game opens with SHIELD Badass Nick Fury leading Captain America, Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Iron Man into Latveria to take down the new prime minister. Seems even though she's been making nice with the U.S. brass, Lucia von Bardas has really been supplying villains with deadly technology. Trouble is, Fury didn't mention to the supers that this wasn't a government-sanctioned mission, so when Latveria retaliates by attacking New York, people kind of flip out about the team's "Secret War."
With feathers ruffled over the terror attack, people begin kicking around the idea of a superhero registration act that would require capes to register with the government, give up their secret identities, and take orders from commanders and such. Anyone who refuses to register would be a criminal, and suddenly, we have the superhero world split in two -- there are the people ready to fall in line with the law and those ready to go underground and fight it.
When you're dropped into this battle, you'll have control of one character who is part of a four-person team. You can cycle through the active players with the D-pad to control whomever you want and then have access to all of that person's superpowers. Spider-Man's got his webbing, Iron Man can fire off his repulsors, and Cap can throw his shield. As you play the game, you'll unlock 26 characters you can put into your squad. There are most of the folks from the PS3/360 versions of the game such as the Green Goblin, the Thing, and Venom as well as new folks such as Blade, Psylocke, and Cyclops. You'll be able to sub these characters into your lineup and move ahead with them from preset points in the game.
When you have a hero or villain on your team, you can pop into his or her menus and start toying with their stats. As you play, you're going to earn SHIELD tokens that you can then take and put toward your super-moves. Hulk's Pulverizing Punch and Deadpool's Assassin Strike have 10 stars a piece, and you can pour your tokens into unlocking those stars to make the moves that much more destructive. Similarly, you're earning XP as you play and leveling up each of your characters as you go. These levels grant you the ability to make your moves better.
Speaking of making your moves better, Ultimate Alliance 2 introduces the ability to use Fusion powers -- co-op moves that make use of both characters' abilities. You hold down L1 and R1 and tap the D-pad direction of the character you want to combine moves with. The heroes will team-up -- such as Spider-Man webbing a bunch of baddies and pulling them in so Wolverine can slice them all at once or Hulk hurling Wolvie for the Fastball Special -- and a name for the move pops up in comic book font. You'll need to fill a quartet of stars around your hero's icon to be able to do a Fusion, but the attack does a hefty amount of damage and helps heal the party. If you like, you can spend the stars on reviving a fallen teammate and forgo the attack.
Trouble is, none of the stuff I just described works all that well.
The idea of Fusion moves is a great one, but the action begins to get super-framey (and it was already chockfull of framerate issues) when you pull two heroes together. I mean, I was fighting a bunch of Doombots and yanked them together as Spider-Man and the action slowed to a crawl. Meanwhile, just web-slinging over the environment made everything get herky-jerky.
One of the coolest things about the Ultimate Alliance series is getting to have this massive stable of superheroes you can pick and choose from -- it's like having a box full of toys where you can grab your favorite action figures at will. Trouble is, you can't switch your characters on the fly on the PS2. Rather than be able to change out characters at anytime, you can only do so from the blue SHIELD spaces at the beginning and middle of most levels. (These are the only places to save, as well.) This kind of sucks. It means you're free to pick the Human Torch, Blade, or whomever you like, but if they stink, you're stuck with them for the next healthy portion of the level.
Is this game a memorable villian?
Sometimes, this can be a real pain in the ass because of goofy difficulty spikes in this game that don't appear to be on purpose. You're constantly being attacked by Doombots and different soldiers, which are whittling down your health. Boxes and stuff will give you a few red orbs to bring you back to a healthy state. Adding to the frustration level is the fact that nothing feels right here. You'll burn through your blue meter representing your superpowers in a flash with attacks that just don't feel powerful. As Wolverine, I was clawing and clawing with my special spin attack and slash move, but enemies weren't really dropping. When the blue stuff was gone, I was left to slug it out with simple punches. Add in the fact that it takes multiple punches to drop a trash can, and you're left feeling like an under-the-weather hero.
Visually, this game isn't doing anything for me. The characters are blocky and the environments muddy. There are even framerate dips in the pre-rendered cutscenes pulled from the PS3/360 versions.
On top of all this, the objectives are weak and the AI opponents are a bunch of boneheads. When Lucia was deploying a bomb in the middle of Times Square, I had to beat down some shield generators before making my move on the explosive. Now, I was told to defuse it, but in this world, that meant punching this device to death. Of course, this thing had an insane health meter, so I had to punch forever -- more than a minute of just punching away. Thing was, my attacks actually moved me off target, so I'd have to readjust after every swing.
When I finally had those shield generators destroyed and I was just sitting there punching the thing, my other three teammates just ran in circles around the bomb -- not helping -- and Lucia and her troops ran around the area below the platform I was on.
Although four players can join up and play the game locally on the Wii, you're limited to just one other in-house player joining your quest here. At the end of each chapter, you'll get a score card telling how well you just did, but the ability to share them online like the Wii doesn't exist.
Sigh. PS2 owners deserve better than this.
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