Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 Review
This one is really tough. I've been a huge fan of the Marvel action/RPG games since the very beginning, the PS2 classic X-Men Legends. The two X-Men: Legends games and later, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, took the console Diablo-style experience to a new level, by draping the rich tapestry of the Marvel universe over the tried and true action/RPG gameplay that has kept so many of us up all night looking for that last weapon or piece of armor. Ultimate Alliance, more or less a launch title with the Xbox 360, earned tons of new fans in gamers looking for something to play on their new system, so the sequel has been rabidly awaited by both the superhero crowd and the RPG faithful. The problem is that Ultimate Alliance 2, for all its new bells and whistles, still feels almost identical to the original Ultimate Alliance, and by extension, the X-Men: Legends games. It's very difficult to rave about a game I'm pretty sure I've played no less than three or four times before.
Ultimate Alliance 2 does have some stuff that is both entirely fresh and extremely welcome. Unlike past games of this type, UA2 is based directly on a story found in actual Marvel Comics. UI1 and the Legends games had scenarios, in the form of collectibles that allowed players to fight through fan favorite storylines of comics past. These were great additions to the overall games, but its nice to see that UA2 went the full nine and based a whole game on one particular storyline. The Civil War crossover, though a more recent event in the Marvel Universe, manages to carry as much emotional weight as stories like The Age of Apocalypse, Days of Future Past and any of the other amazing tales from the past 60 years. I won't ruin it, but the tale is tailor-made for a video game - it pits good guys vs. bad guys, bad guys vs. bad guys and even good guys vs. good guys in the wake of government interference in the superhero community following a terrorist attack.
The problem is that UA2 doesn't cling to the story to move the player through the game. Large chunks of game time go by with nary a mention of the plot, and a good bit of the storytelling is left to collectable audio files and extras, which aren't as well executed as they were in past games, games that didn't have a strong story tying things together. Going into UA2, I had a basic idea of the story from the comics' crossover, but by the time the game was over, I didn't feel I'd gained much insight beyond the framework I had at the beginning. Some may value the gameplay over a strong narrative, but since there was one in place that wasn't utilized, it feels like a huge missed opportunity.
Another missed opportunity is found in the game's presentation. The first UI was only a step above a PS2 game in the graphics and sound department, but a few years have passed and UA2 doesn't look or sound too much better. The environments and characters have been dressed up a little, but they still look very last gen, especially when compared to a lot of the games just now hitting store shelves. Graphics don't make or break many games, but most gamers won't be pleased with what they see here.