Still reeling from the news about Disney acquiring Marvel Entertainment? Well, have no fear, as there’s one sure-fire way to get your Marvel kicks on the horizon. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, developed by Vicarious Visions and published by Activision, is on its way, and should prove to be a suitable way to assuage any misplaced anxiety over the House of Ideas’ future. We had a chance to check out the Xbox 360 version of the game, and chat with Executive Producer Jennifer Oneal (interview here) at one of London’s best comic stores (where better?), Orbital Comics.
A sequel to 2006’s well-received action-RPG, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 builds on the gameplay that has been embellished and reiterated since last generation’s X-Men Legends series. The player chooses a team of 4 from a selection of 25 of the Marvel Universe’s finest heroes, in order to progress through stages of combat, light puzzling, and boss fights, with a levelling-up system that boosts the characters’ powers. Like a spruced-up, spandex-clad version of the classic co-op game Gauntlet, Ultimate Alliance 2 is about action and mayhem, and is best enjoyed with buddies (up to 3, online or locally).
This time around, Ultimate Alliance 2’s story is based on 2006-7 Marvel crossover event Civil War, masterminded by Wanted and Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar, which deals with the introduction of the Superhero Registration Act, effectively calling for all heroes to disrobe, declare their secret identities to the public, and become government agents. This causes a schism, with Iron Man supporting the Act, and Captain America choosing to fight against it, with the rest of the heroes taking sides.
Even though it’s not one of the sharper event series in recent memory, Civil War nevertheless provides a perfect context for the game, allowing an impressive grab-bag of playable characters, and plenty of big encounters – not to mention a nifty nod towards replayability, as the player gets to choose which side they back near the start of the story, and get to see the consequences of their decision right through beyond the end of the conflict.
The main innovation for Ultimate Alliance 2 is the Fusion system. Whereas previously, the player had to make do with a mixture of light, heavy and special attacks, they can now mix-and-match, with characters working together to pull off powerful combo moves. As each character interacts differently, there is a dazzling amount of variety at play, with three classes of Fusion: guided, room-clearing and targeted. Guided attacks are controlled by the player, and feature team-ups like the Human Torch and the Invisible Woman – with Johnny shooting fire at Sue, who absorbs the energy, and creates a clothes-line of fire – whereas a targeted attack from Hulk and Gambit involves the Jade Giant ripping concrete out of the ground, waiting for the Cajun to embed a full deck of charged cards into it, and then chucking the resulting concoction at nearby enemies. It’s a great addition, bringing in extra tactics and gameplay possibilities, and providing something fresh for the veteran players.
We got a chance to play through the early part of the game, which takes inspiration from Brian Michael Bendis and Gabriele Dell’Otto’s Civil War-anticipating miniseries Secret War. Essentially an extended tutorial section, this chapter sees a small group of heroes (Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man and Wolverine) infiltrate Latveria, Doctor Doom’s native country, in order to investigate an apparent link with American super-villains. Ultimate Alliance 2’s basic, solid gameplay is relatively unchanged, and is still wonderfully accessible: generic attacks, throws and jumping are controlled by the face buttons, with the same buttons governing special attacks when the right trigger is depressed.
Characters generally seem to start with two or three powers, which reflect their hero type – with Wolverine trading in close-quarters slashing and pounce attacks, Iron Man offering heavier, ranged offensives, and Spidey and Cap having a mix of the two. The RPG-lite system is still in place, with experience points earned by dealing out damage, discovering hidden items, and defeating bosses (including, in this case, Shocker, Wizard, Scorcher and the Tinkerer), and levelling-up granting points to be spent upgrading abilities and powers.
Just over half-way through the level, the game allowed you to start swapping characters in and out of your chosen team. Initially, over a dozen characters were available, including the Fantastic Four, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Storm, Iceman and Gambit.
Unlike in the previous game, where characters could only be exchanged at designated extraction points, team substitutions can be done on the fly. Already, that was a giddy number of characters to choose from, and provoked nostalgia-laced playground debates about who would make up ‘the bestest group of Marvel heroes EVER’.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 seems poised to capture that fun, nerdy spirit of being a comics fan – giving even lesser-known characters moments in the spotlight, with short, text-based conversations with NPCs written to reflect the distinct personalities of the current lead character. It also allows you to indulge in little fantasies – like having Luke Cage as a top-tier hero, or figuring out odd team-ups. Throw a couple of pals in the mix, and you should be set.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is currently due to be released on September 25th, for Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii and DS.
Some more pics…