Singularity

Sam reviews… MUA2

Oct.03, 2009, filed under games, Miscellany, Reviews

I’ve got a couple of game reviews for you today. To start with, let’s take a look at Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.

Do I need to repeat the whole Marvel Fan Girl thing? Yes? No? Tell you what, take a look at my Marvel games collection:

There are a few, yes.

Yes. There are two versions of the original Ultimate Alliance. One for PS2 and one for PS3. Guess what. I liked it. A lot.

I mean, there are some real turkeys there. The Official X-Men game at the bottom left is a pile of shite. I can’t put that any more kindly. It is dreadful. Rise of the Imperfects isn’t really any better, but it’s made by EA so I was rather dubious before I bought it.

Y’see, my experience is that Activision are the guys who know how to make good Marvel games. One of my favourite games ever is X-Men: Wolverine’s Revenge, in which the smelly, short, hairy, bad-tempered Canucklehead takes a trip up to Alkali Lake and stealth kills his way most righteously through thousands of mooks and some super villains. Apart from the end level it’s a corker of a game. The end just gets a bit button-mashy frenetic for my tastes.

The series of co-op games that started with X-Men Legends has always been top of our list for acquisition because Frood and I enjoyed the first one so much. It was our first proper co-op game in which we got to beat the crap out of things together. We’ve bought each one since then and, with every iteration, Activision has seen fit to simplify the game and introduce more characters and yet make them more similar.

X-Men Legends had very customisable characters and your choice of spending your XP was very flexible. If you decided you liked one power over another you could preferentially load that one up and ignore the one you didn’t like. You could buy points for a power. You could assign those powers to different buttons. More to the point, the unlockable extreme powers were for each character. There were different items of kit that each character could wear, affecting their abilities and their resistances. It was possible (at least for Frood) to spend almost as much time playing with character levelling as it was fighting bad guys.

Rise of Apocalypse simplified the character levelling, but not so much that we were complaining. It made it less fun but it didn’t stop that aspect of the game being worth spending time on.

The first Ultimate Alliance simplified by a whole order of magnitude. If I were being unkind I might suggest that this was a direct reflection of Jemas’s rather hubris-filled statement that the Ultimates was there to bring success where all the regular Marvel story arcs were falling into a pit of failure constructed out of what-ifs and untold stories (see the statement at the end of The Tomorrow People). Personally, having read nearly all of the Ultimate X-Men, I can’t help but note that the fifteen-year olds who started out in that grew up pretty damn fast, and feel this is unsurprising because, unless you are going to deal realistically with what happens psychologically to child-soldiers, you can’t have child killers at all. Hormonal teenagers running around snogging one minute and slaughtering baddies the next with nary a blink is entirely implausible.

What I’m trying to say is that, for me, the amount of death and destruction in the Marvel Universe, the darkness of characters like Wolverine (epitomised in the Barry Windsor Smith one-shot) and Emma Frost (femme fatale indeed) is too adult on many levels for the sort of “X-Men as teenagers reboot” that the Ultimates tried to provide to be plausible.

Which is only slightly out of context, because it seems to me that the simplification of the Ultimate Alliance games is a direct result of a rather similar attempt to appeal to a more mass or younger audience whereas the early ones were aimed at fans. This despite the fact that the younger players would probably be happier dealing with complex gameplay than a lot of us more — ahem — mature players.

Other than the irritating simplification of character levelling, the gameplay itself has become incredibly linear. Incredibly linear. Do not show me an open door if I can’t enter that room because there’s an invisible barrier of code in the way. I want scenery, not set-dressing. Given the obviously upgraded graphics — the reflections on Iron Man’s suit are glorious — why can’t we have game arenas confined by the walls rather than inevitable plot? We had that in the previous games. Why not this one? If there’s a rooftop I can see and I have a flier, I should be able to go there. While I’m at it, as we have such gorgeous reflections on Iron Man’s suit, why in the hell do the others all look like they’re made out of plasticine?

Where previous games had levels that required certain characters (Ice Man for putting out fires, or fliers for retrieving objects), we merrily hacked, slashed and slaughtered our way through this one without any real thought for character choice. It makes no difference. Gone are the individual extreme powers in favour of this ridiculous “fusion” notion. They claim more than 200 different powers, but really there are only about five, as we discovered by taking every team combination we could through the basic training simulator before we got bored seeing the same thing over and over again. Playing Wolverine and Deadpool to Frood’s Spiderman and Jean Grey (he’s missing Toad and Blade, bless him), we could either suck everyone into a pile and whale on them; get Wolverine to run around in a very homoerotic fashion holding hands with someone else; or have someone pick Wolvie up and chuck him at the bad guy. If you’ve got someone who has beamy powers, including Storm’s lightning, you can add to this a sort of laser-death ray sort of affair.

For true entertainment, though, Susan Storm putting a hamster ball force field around the Thing is worth a shot.

Gone, too, are the individual boosts provided by cunning outfits of gloves and hats and things. Instead we have three slots for team boosts, each of which provides a power like an extra 15% stamina or resistance to fire. These apply to the whole team, not individual members. Rubbish. Just rubbish. You might as well pick three you like and forget about it.

Each level takes an absolute age to load, this being because all the cut scenes are pre-loaded. This is not for your convenience, oh no. This is so, when you inadvertently reach the boundary condition at the end of a segment, the cut scene can whisk you away before you’ve finished smashing all the crates and looking for secrets. Frood and I both swore at the screen a lot over this. We haven’t got all the collectibles. Some of them we haven’t found. Some of them we couldn’t pick up because the cut scene interrupted. On one notable occasion we went from a sewer in Latveria to a boat in New York two weeks later in the space of a second. I mean. What the hell, Activision?

Seriously. WHAT THE HELL, ACTIVISION? What gaming company lets the cut scene stop the players from destroying crates?

Plus points. Let’s find some. Doesn’t take long to play through the first time? Hardly a plus point. The graphics are great. Really they are. The dialogue in-game is pretty good, and the conversations in the headquarter sections between maps are written to be pretty well in character. Spiderman and Deadpool get some great lines. The Civil/Secret War storyline is nice, in that it reflects material that has been going on in continuity, although it’s material that I mostly haven’t read because I don’t have the six-figure income needed to keep up with everything these days (mind you, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Iron Man Nick Fury sent to Latveria, at least not in the Bendis/Del’Otto version). Captain America is voiced by a guy who is apparently trying to sound like Steve Austin, and he looks quite a lot like Steve Austin, so a point for consistency there. (I’m stretching, aren’t I?)

Dammit. I really wanted to like this game. It’s number 4 in a series of games I still dig out and play sometimes. It’s an Activision Marvel game. It should have been freakin’ awesome.

But it wasn’t. The powers are meh, the fusion powers not spectacular or varied enough, the gameplay is frighteningly — I mean, frighteningly — linear. There is no going back after each segment, and if you thought you could hold off the end and make your way back there’s a cut scene waiting to abduct you. You can save and swap characters wherever you like (in the previous games you could only do this at special check points) but there’s no point because the game only saves to the start of a level and there isn’t any need to swap out characters. You don’t have the option of portalling to a previous section of map from the central hubs so you can go back solo to kick some butt and find missing collectibles while your gameplay partner is busy making dinner.

In short, MUA2 is a disappointing outing for Activision that has got me wanting to go back and play X-Men Legends again. Which is a shame, because we liked it so much and have played it through so often that our characters are now too powerful: the game can’t cope and falls over when we try to play it.

Bah.

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