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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Score: 92%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4, (2 - 4 Online)
Genre: Arcade/ Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Marvel Ultimate Alliance was a pretty game. I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 actually improved the graphics, in general, and allowed the camera to get up close and personal, as opposed to the much more stand-offish camera work in the original game.

While the character models and environments are detailed and nice looking, some of the special effects are large and very bright, occasionally making it difficult to tell what's happening. Several times, I would activate some Fusion attack or some large explosion onscreen and then get confused and started watching a character other than the one I was controlling until I realized it wasn't reacting to my controls. This doesn't ruin the game, but it does happen from time to time.

As you progress through the game, you can unlock various concept art, dossiers, 3D models and alternative costumes, amoong other goodies. For example, Spider-Man's "Iron-Spider" costume (which was designed for Spider-Man by Tony Stark during the Superhero "Civil War") is an unlockable costume.

The sound effects are well done and there is a whole lot of voicework that helps to flavor the game, with lots of puns and references that make it fun for Marvel fans. Speaking of which, there is a scene in which you have to rescue a certain senator by the name of Stan Lieber, which is a cameo by none-other-than Stan Lee.

The Ultimate Alliance series (now) is back again, as Ultimate Alliance 2. This time, you're playing through the events of the controversial Civil War between the superheroes that comply with the Superhero Registration Act and those who form a resistance against it. Heading up the Pro-Registration side is Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man. Leading the fight against registration is Captain America; he's fighting against the government's decision, but he is fighting for freedom.

Each superhero has his or her own version of the common punch, grapple, jump and block, but certain characters can fly when you double jump, such as Iron-Man and the Human Torch. To really show off your stuff (and put the hurt on some bad-guys), you'll want to use your super powers. These are easy to use: you simply hold down R2 and press the appropriate action button for the powers you have available. Each character has a super power available via the (X) and (Square) buttons from the beginning of the game, but can upgrade these powers and add others as you progress in the game.

Speaking of upgrading, one important aspect in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is experience, or "XP," as the cool kids call it*. Gaining XP is a good thing and is something that you'll want to do. A lot. If you can find a way to gain some extra XP, that's a good thing. And, as it turns out, I happen to know a couple of ways to bag some extra XP. First of all, there is a Marvel trivia game built into Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. This can be accessed via terminals with a Question mark over them. Some of these questions are easy, while others are much more difficult. However, if you watch the bottom of the screen during the (rather long) loading screens when you start a mission, these same factoids are displayed randomly on the screen as a distraction. Pay attention and your knowledge will be worth some XP. Also, when playing the trivia game, try to get as many friends to play with you as you can. If you can get four players playing and you all get the right answers - and quickly - you can rack up some major XP points. A second way to get additional XP is to play the game multiple times. Any time there is something that you can collect (such as artwork, dossiers, etc.) but you've already collected that specific item once, you will, instead, find an XP token. Collecting these goes straight to your XP levels.

There are three different difficulty levels to choose from: Casual, Heroic, Super Heroic and Legendary. The average player would most likely want to start out on Heroic. Casual is easier, and your super heroes can only be temporarily knocked out, never defeated, but you can't customize your characters in Casual mode and you can't get most of the rewards. In general, as the difficulty levels increase in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, the challenge increases, but the customization options and the rewards increase, as well. Legendary is the most difficult setting in MUA2, and it appears to be locked until you've beaten the game once (possibly on the Super Heroic difficulty setting).

One thing that will help you out if you're finding the game harder than you expected is to keep your health up. You'll want to collect as many red orbs as possible, in order to build up your health. These orbs appear when you defeat an enemy (not including robotic units) and when you destroy certain items in the environment, such as crates. It is usually to your advantage to take things slow as you progress through a level, leaving no crate un-broken and keeping an eye peeled for pickups, which can include boosts for your characters. In addition to health, ability points can be found in the same manner. Collect these golden ability points to upgrade your characters' abilities. If you want to tailor your superheroes just how you want them, you can manage these ability upgrades by hand. For most people, however, the Auto-manage feature that is turned on by default does a good enough job of upgrading your characters as you play.

Game Mechanics:
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 introduces a new element with Fusion moves. These moves allow two superheroes (any two superheroes) to combine their powers into a unified attack that can have different effects. These Fusion moves can be of three general types: Targeted, Guiding and Clearing. Targeted Fusions let you select a specific target, while Clearing Fusion moves sweep a huge area, knocking enemies to the ground and possibly finishing off weaker enemies. Guiding Fusions let you interactively control where the attack is targeted. This can be the best of both worlds, if you learn to control these attacks accurately; you can attack a lot of different enemies by guiding the attack into a crowd or you can attack the same enemy multiple times, if you can manage to steer the attack back into the same enemy while the timer is still going. These moves are quite often visually stunning, and sometimes to a fault, as mentioned above. Even if the mechanics of some of the Fusion moves are similar, the co-op moves have as much visceral impact as the original "Fastball Special," which is basically when any sufficiently large superhero uses Wolverine as one short, mad, pointy, cigar-smoking projectile with a short temper.

Team Bonuses are back, where players familiar with existing Marvel teams (past or present) can choose to populate their four person team with members from an existing team to get an instant team bonus. This is pretty cool; I liked this feature in the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance and I was glad to see it survived a sequel and a change of development teams.

The one thing that simply aggravated me were the load times. It was cool for them to add trivia at the bottom of the screen during these load times, but it simply shouldn't take a minute to get our heroes into a level, what with the streaming technology that is so prevalent in the game development industry these days. Perhaps it has something to do with the highly destructible environments, but it occasionally would have me turning to Psibabe and asking what we should do why we wait. Seriously.

I have to admit that the "Civil War" storyline was something I never read, but, instead, merely grumbled from afar from the various outrages that I heard related to it. (For one thing, I don't like Spider-Man choosing to be Pro-Registration.) However, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2's "Civil War" storyline showed me some of the events a little closer, making me understand them a bit better and - better yet - allowed me to have an effect on my own little version of the superhero "Civil War," even if it is on my own console. If you're a Marvel fan, you're bound to get a kick out of some of the fan service they've thrown into Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. Even if your not, however, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 makes a great superhero Action RPG / Multiplayer Cooperative brawler. If I get to pick only one videogame for myself and two or three other reviewers to be locked in a cabin in the mountains with... make mine Marvel (Ultimate Alliance 2).

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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