…a slightly watered down version of the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance featuring a brand new unsatisfying civil war story line and a new over-hyped fusion power mechanic. There’s nothing really new about the super hero beat-em-up—Raven Software has been doing them for years going back to the X-Men Legends games—and there doesn’t have to be anything really revolutionary about them to make them fun. It’s a pretty tried and true formula: super powers + button mashing combat + lots of bad guys to pummel = fun. But oddly enough Activision chose to farm this series out to Vicarious Visions rather than stick with the veterans at Raven, and unfortunately MUA2 misses the mark in enough ways to make it less fun than it really should be.
What works best for MUA2 is that the core mechanics are still intact, and they still work as well here as they ever did. You get to pick out your team of four heroes from a stable of about two dozen, level them up, power up their abilities, and beat the snot out of a whole lot of dumb mooks who get in your way. Ability points can be shifted around at any time, so there’s no harm in trying out a new power or a new arrangement of skill points because you can always change your build around without penalty if you don’t like the results. The cast of heroes is a little more esoteric this time around, but there’s enough variety that most people should be able to find a team that they can get behind. There’s a decent number of missions, and with about half of the game begins slightly different depending on which faction you choose, there’s a fair excuse to replay it at least once not even counting the unlockable legendary difficulty setting, making for a solid amount of gaming bang for your buck.
What Doesn’t Work
What doesn’t work here is that pretty much everything that surrounds the core mechanic is either sloppy, unsatisfying, or both. The whole premise of the game revolves around a civil war type storyline, where heroes must choose whether they support a government initiative to register people with super powers, and the action of the game mostly involves heroes fighting other heroes rather than tacking some master villain. There is a twist at the end of course, but it wasn’t nearly enough to purge the bad taste from my mouth. Where as the level design is decent, the enemies are incredibly boring, and aside from boss battles you spend most of your time fighting guys with guns and some fairly lame robots. Seriously? That’s the best you could come up with in a super hero game? The original featured some terrific levels in Mephisto’s Hell dimension, Arcade’s demented robotic carnival, and even Asgard, with different enemies to match. By comparison the scenery and opposition in MUA2 is just sadly pedestrian.
The fusion power system which was supposed to be this edition’s claim to fame just replaces each character’s ultimate power with the ability to team up with other heroes to unleash one of three maneuvers: a clearing attack, a targeted attack, or a guided attack. Sure there are different animations depending on who specifically is involved, but it really isn’t anything special in terms of gameplay and functionally is another step back from the original. Likewise each character no longer has a personalized simulator mission and they only have one extra unlockable costume rather than the four found in the original, and the impressive array of equipment from the first game has been replaced with badges that grant bonuses to the team as a whole. Sure it’s approximately the same idea, but somehow it just isn’t as satisfying. It all feels like an attempt to streamline a game that didn’t need streamlining that then went way overboard in the process.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that this isn’t nearly as good, fun, or as satisfying a game as the original from either an action standpoint, a role-playing standpoint, or just a comic book standpoint. It is less than its predecessor in just about every way. Does that mean it’s completely unplayable? No, not at all. It still maintains enough of the standard beat-em-up formula to be an entertaining diversion, but that’s about all it can muster. If you’re not already a fan of the genre there’s no chance this game will change your mind, and if you are it’s likely to make you a little sad at what could of and almost certainly should have been a standout rather than a disappointment.