The comic book dungeon nerd inside of me was impatiently screaming as I scurried to the PS3 and inserted the disc with my sweaty hands. I was greeted with a patch update notification, adding 36mb and six minutes to my wait before I could play. Nerdgasm has subsided. Another eight agonising minutes to install the game. (Yes, I timed it.) Nerdgasm has flatlined. Just when I thought it was done, a check for downloadable content appeared. I really wish there was an option to disable that!
The excitement returned when I was finally welcomed by a very patriotic title screen with Iron Man and Captain America looking at each other in a very disgruntled manner.
Thus always to tyrants!
The story of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (MUA2) revolves around the Civil War saga where heroes and villains are forced to take sides when the government decides to impose a Superhuman Registration Act. The sides are split as Iron Man leads the pro-registration team and (surprisingly) Captain America leads the rebellion. Couldn't they have just chosen to beat up those scrawny pencil pushers instead? This is definitely one of the most interesting and action packed Marvel story arcs as your favourite characters may not take the side you want. Much like Ghostbusters, cut-scenes are used as a convenient way of loading game data without distracting the player.
Before you begin a new game, MUA2 allows you to select the difficulty level. There is a slight twist to the usual difficulty curve though. Casual mode (easy) will only knock out your heroes for a short time and will not allow customisation of their abilities. Heroic (medium) will kill off defeated heroes until revived but also allow for customisation of abilities. Super heroic and Legendary round out the difficulty roster, with the lure of new rewards.
As mentioned, your characters can now be revived. Woohoo! No longer will you have to reload an old save game to get your character back. Thanks to the two little collectable life packs, characters can be healed or revived without penalty.
Your initial team will consist of Wolverine, Captain America, Spiderman and Iron Man as they throw you into a Latverian battlefield lead by Nick Fury. Once unlocked, eventually there will be more than 24 playable characters at your disposal.
GAMEPLAYA big plus goes towards removing those silly S.H.I.E.L.D. points which limit where and when you can save and swap characters. MUA2 now allows you to save and swap anywhere in the game, making it less bothersome when trying to collect items and trophies.
In-game voices add some life to characters and it seems that they've cleverly spread out the voice clips across the span of the game so you don’t hear all the witty remarks within the first hour of gaming, though it’s disappointing the voice acting is half-hearted. I felt morally obligated to repeat them in my head to make them sound better.
Another major improvement lies within the user interface. It just makes more sense, except the mind boggling abilities screen. Luckily there is a new easy to access "quick menu" for managing hero abilities. If you can’t be bothered to manage the abilities manually, then "auto spend" will automatically upgrade skill points on a per character basis.
On the job training can be tricky as there is far too much action going on during battles for you to concentrate on learning new tricks. Some tutorial like those in Viewtiful Joe would have been more effective than the popup texts. Luckily, there’s plenty of time to practice as your superheroes can take more of a beating than Rodney King.
There are a few puzzles scattered throughout the game, but nothing that requires more than a few minutes to figure out. If you’re feeling really lazy, call a couple of friends over. MUA2 allows up to four players simultaneously in co-op mode or online, so one of you is bound to solve the puzzle.
A few aspects of MUA2 have been slimmed down; primarily (and thankfully) the clunky inventory system. This has been replaced by a medal system which applies bonuses to the whole team. To the delight of many people who spent hours shuffling their inventory, you can also carry an unlimited number of medals.
A few RPG elements have also been cut down; such as simplified levelling, less character micromanagement, fewer side quests and the NPC dialogue has been severely nerfed.
One of the things I missed most about MUA1 was going around harassing NPCs with a silly Guybrush Threepwood attitude. Every NPC now has only 2 questions to ask and you can only hear each response once. After that you can no longer talk to them. Even the costume department has gone on a diet. Once upon a time, each character had four costumes. Now they only have an original and unlockable costume.
Despite the cutbacks, Marvel fanatics can still enjoy unlocking a whole heap of extras like characters, video clips, image galleries, artwork, trivia, bios, and audio logs. The statistics scorecard can help keep OCD players happy as there are a huge number of trophies to collect, prolonging the game life after completion.
ATTACKSYou can still beat up enemies, beat enemies up harder, grapple enemies then beat them up, pick up things to throw at them or beat enemies up with special attacks. If those weren’t enough options, you can now beat up enemies with special fusion attacks!
The fusion system allows two heroes to combine their attacks, dishing out massive amounts of damage in a very pretty way! Fusion attacks are interactive, so user input is required to maximise the damage potential. Luckily, there’s plenty of chances to practice as the fusion meter refills fairly quickly.
The controls kinda suck though. Even after completing the game I still found myself pressing the wrong buttons in times of desperation. The lack of a targeting feature also made the game a little bit harder to play.
Sadly, as with many other multi-platform Marvel games, the horrible marketing gimmick of locking certain characters to specific platforms is still alive and well. This is disappointing as nobody goes out to buy another version of the game, or even a new console, just because their favourite characters are on another platform.
On the topic of extra characters, Mr Marvel Stan Lee makes his first small in-game cameo, though I've yet to find any signs of Mickey or Donald anywhere.
GRAPHICSHot damn! The MUA transition to HD is absolutely fantastic! The cinematics are absolutely beautiful and the 720p in-game graphics are so nice that it is becoming a little tricky to distinguish between cinematics and in-game graphics.
Boasting a massively upgraded Alchemy game engine and a new Havok physics engine, every aspect of the game is shown in much finer detail. The screenshots may look like wallpapers, but they’re nothing until you see the game for yourself.
Despite the shiny new graphics engine, the quirks with the camera angles seem to have gotten worse. Occasionally you’ll find the camera being stubborn or swaying around in a hissy fit, frustratingly locked into an obscure view or having your vision obstructed when walking through doors.
Boundary clipping issues with the new physics engine also causes some enemies to get stuck in an area which they normally can’t reach. Using a ranged attack to reel ‘em back in can fix it, but this may involve changing characters.
Even though nearly everything in the environment can be destroyed, huge characters such as The Thing still seem to have an issue with being blocked by a park bench, forcing you to walk around or jump over it.
A subtle but cool thing about the new gaming engine is that small pieces of debris or movable objects like barrels will move or bounce according to the way the stage tilts or shakes due to explosions.
SUMMARYIt really is amazing how much of a difference three years can make in the development of MUA. This is definitely not a half-assed cash cow. This sequel extends the Ultimate Alliance franchise and brings another comic book saga into the living room TV, complete with witty and quirky humour expected from any Marvel production.
Despite the odd control scheme and sporadic camera angle spasm, MUA2 proves to be just as enjoyable and addictive as its predecessor thanks to a tried and proven formula, only slimmer. (Oh, and it seems they’ve heard my request for more Deadpool! Be sure to stick around for the credits.)
If you’re a Marvel nut, this is a no-brainer, go get it! If you loved the first game, you'll love this. Go get it! If you're after a simple beat em up, go get it!