Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

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[[Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2]]

Marvel Ultimate Alliance's action/RPG/brawler style has been imitated many times, with mediocre (or less than mediocre) results--cough, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, cough. Fans, you no longer have to rely on the poor man's version of the gameplay you loved in 2006. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is on the horizon. We predict that among the sea of great games that arrive every fall, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 will stand out as one of the very best.

MUA 2 will be following the same style of gameplay as its predecessor, which means that you'll be hard-pressed to find another game this fall that offers a better four-player co-op experience. Comic book enthusiasts, this one's for you. From specialized trivia dealing with the utmost comic book minutiae to a roster of characters that'll make any decades-long soap opera blush, the game plays like the Marvel Encyclopedia reads. Even if your only exposure to comics has been the Spider-Man movies and that one Wolverine shaving cream commercial, you're still going to want to pick this one up come fall. MUA 2 is going to be an imaginative brawler that's as deep and varied as it is easy to pick up and play.

Naturally, the DS, PSP, PS2, and Wii versions are going to be quite different from the PC, 360, and PS3 versions developed by Vicarious Visions, which we will be primarily discussing in this preview. The DS, Wii, and PS2 versions are being developed by n-Space, while the PSP version is being developed by Savage Entertainment.

[[GAMEPLAY]]

Like the glorious brawlers of yore, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 will allow you to select and/or play as four different characters. Unlike those brawlers of yore (Bad Dudes, anyone?), MUA 2 offers a complex and captivating RPG-like upgrade system. During your playthrough, you'll be able to level up your characters and assign them a multitude of unlockable upgrades.

The big change to the series comes in the form of powerful Fusion moves (the game was originally known as Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2: Fusion). Two teammates can join up and use their attacks together to create powerful and unique Fusion moves. For example, Thor and the Human Torch can join together to create a fiery tornado that'll decimate anyone standing in your way. There are over 250 of these combinations to discover and use. The imagination and sheer variety of these attacks makes them the highlight of MUA 2's gameplay.

Cut scenes will allow the player to make dialogue choices that affect gameplay. You'll be allowed to choose from three responses, each of which fall in to one of the following categories: aggressive, defensive, and diplomatic (your safest choice). Aggressive dialogue choices will build your attacks, and defensive and diplomatic choices will give you different bonuses.

The game offers four different difficulty levels, giving you plenty of room to challenge yourself or make room for less experience players to join your team. There are also side missions, called Heroic Deeds, for you to complete. You'll also be able to answer Marvel trivia questions of varying difficulty for glory and upgrades, just like in the first MUA. Finally, 30 audio logs and 125 dossiers will be hidden around the game; pick them up to gain more insight into the Civil War and the lives of the heroes and villains who fight it.

[[TECHNOLOGY]]

Alchemy, the in-game engine Vicarious Visions used for the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance, has seen some big changes. Perhaps the biggest upgrade comes in the form of the Havok 6.0. Developed by the Irish company of the same name, the Havok physics engine allows for interaction between three-dimensional objects in a realistic and meaningful way. Havok employs dynamical simulation to give lifelike qualities to animated and non-animated characters and worlds, be it through the ragdoll physics of an enemy in the throes of death, or the way that a tumbling boulder rolls and skips along a mountainside. Alchemy also boasts a brand-new 3D sound system that'll have you breaking in to your kid's college fund for a new set of speakers. The camera's been upgraded, too, so hopefully this will alleviate some of MUA's few problems with characters falling prey to a fickle cameraman. Finally, in-game characters who speak will be granted the ability to have their lip movements match up with what they're saying. Mock if you must, but you might be surprised at the number of games that don't offer this seemingly basic feature.

[[STORY]]

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is based on the comic book events of Marvel's Civil War. In case you didn't take out a second mortgage in order to diligently follow this mega storyline, here's the gist: after an explosion during a fight between heroes and villains kills 612 civilians in Connecticut, the government accuses those involved of breaching the law through "super-powered negligence." The public wants to require all superheroes to register their secret identities so that they might be more easily tracked, and the government responds by passing the Superhuman Registration Act. Iron Man is all for it, but Captain America doesn't see anything patriotic about the government monitoring heroes' every move. Soon heroes and villains begin taking sides, and the Civil War starts brewing.

In the game, you'll choose whose team to back, which ostensibly will leave room for two fruitful and unique playthroughs. Activision has already confirmed multiply endings for the game, so if the greatness of the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance hasn't convince you to get your preorder in yet, maybe this game's replayability will. If you choose the pro-registration team, you'll be able to play as Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Songbird, or any of the other characters who aren't locked in on the anti-registration team. That team is made up of permanent members Captain America, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, and supported by any other characters you choose (besides, of course, the three heroes who permanently make up the pro-registration side).
All but one of the twenty-four playable characters have been confirmed so far. The X-Men are well represented, with Wolverine, Storm, Jean Grey, and Gambit (thankfully, bearing no resemblance to the Gambit we saw in the Wolverine movie) all ready to go. Everyone's been in The Avengers at one time or another, and playable characters Daredevil, Hulk, Luke Cage, Thor, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, and Captain America are no exception. The Fantastic Four will be there in full force, with Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, Thing, and the Human Torch all at your disposal. How fun will it be to play on the anti-registration team and battle Mr. Fantastic as his wife, the Invisible Woman? The only thing scarier than domestic violence is super-powered domestic violence. Rounding out the team are Thunderbolts members Songbird and Penance, villains Venom and Green Goblin, and lone wolves Iron Fist and Deadpool (once again, bearing no resemblance to Ryan Reynolds). Good guesses for the secret playable character include others involved in the Civil War, like Cable, Cyclops, Bishop, Doctor Strange, The Punisher, She-Hulk, Nick Fury, or even a member of The Runaways.

Activision has also stated that members of the team that have traditionally been less fun to play than others (I am looking at you, undervalued Jean Grey) will be bulked up for the sequel.

If you preordered from GameStop in the US, Amazon in the UK, or EB Games in Australia, you'll be able to play as Juggernaut in the PS3 and 360 versions as well. If not, this probably won't be your only chance to play as the hard-headed Cain Marko. Typically this type of content is released down the road as DLC (sometimes at a price). Preordering will get you exclusive VIP access to the website, however, which will let you get a sneak peek at goodies like unlockable costumes.

Unfortunately, when Activision announced Peter Parker's elderly Aunt May as a playable character, it was only an April Fool's joke. We'll be holding out for DLC. Not content with making a prolonged cameo in every single movie based on Marvel characters, co-creator of Marvel Comics Stan Lee will be making his very first in-game cameo in MUA 2.

[[FINAL THOUGHTS]]

Whether you missed the Civil War storyline or have every issue bagged and boarded, you're either going to be treated to a great introduction to Marvel Comics or an opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the world you've always wanted to inhabit (it's okay, we run around in tights in the privacy of our own homes, too).

Marvel Ultimate Alliance was one of the best team-ups of all time, and there's no reason to expect anything less than a repeat performance from Vicarious Visions.

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