There were a couple of warning signs when it came to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 on the PSP. For starters, Activision never showed this version of the game -- like, ever. Then, this version shipped well after every other version of the title did, and that's never a good sign. When I finally did get my hands on the UMD version of the Civil War-inspired story, I found a game that's a shoddy port of a ho-hum experience.
Brace yourself, reader, this is going to be a bumpy one.
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."
Go get'em, Tiger.
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 the L button and select whichever character you want to combine moves with via the D-Pad. 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 -- especially on the PSP.
Yes, fair reader, most of what you just read was repurposed text from my Wii review of MUA2. This PSP version is that game hacked up and shoved on a UMD. Before I get to the complaints with the port, let's discuss why the stuff I just mentioned isn't fun. For starters, you can barely see the D-pad icon on each character's onscreen icon so that you know what to hit in order to become them or team your powers with them.
One of the coolest things about the Ultimate Alliance series is getting to have this massive stable of superheroes you can pick and choose to be -- 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 PSP. 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.
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, but the best way to fix this is by pulling off Fusions and clearing out the bad guys, but the PSP can barely run these animations.
In fact, MUA2 on the PSP can barely run at all.
I play a lot of PSP games, and this has to be one of the worst performing games I've seen this year. From the very start, the game is struggling to get a decent framerate, and it's failing. When you introduce more enemies, things only get worse, and when you go for a Fusion, things basically freeze. It's terrible.
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.
Of course, the Ultimate Alliance franchise is known for the ability to team up with friends and take on the sprawling RPG in front of you, but you'll find that even though the PSP is a system capable of ad-hoc and infrastructure multiplayer modes, there is no multiplayer to speak of in MUA2. It's just you against the world, chum.
If you want to talk graphics, the PSP doesn't look that bad but it definitely doesn't look great and that means the long loads between chapters and the terrible framerate are even more inexcusable.
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