Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 – PS2
Platform: PlayStation 2 (PS2)
Publisher(s): Activision, Vivendi Games
Release Date (NA): September 15, 2009
Nerd Rating: 4.5 out of 10
There was a time in my life when I thought that the PlayStation 2 would never be phased out. Well, that’s a lie, I knew it would happen eventually, but I figured it would retire at its peak, its last games being some of the best works it’s ever made. I never thought I’d see the day when I started noticing that the only “new” games for the once-great console were FIFA titles, disappointing Track Packs for Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and insultingly dumbed-down ports of next-gen console games. But that day came when I got my hands on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, sequel to my favorite action-RPG for the PS2. I thought it would be tons of fun, I thought it would be just as good as the original, but it turned out to be so depressingly lackluster that it forced me to look at my favorite console like one might look at a relative with late-set Alzheimer’s, trying to keep a smile on my face as I saw it enter a slump from which it would never recover. This game signaled the end of an era for me, and I’m going to tell you why, so remember to load your auto-save and brace yourself for some pain.
Now, what I’m not gonna do is spend all day comparing this one with the original. I won’t let a sense of wistful nostalgia drag down my professionalism, especially not when this game is legitimately bad by its own token. I will say that it both Marvel Ultimate Alliance games follow certain standards in their control schemes, graphic style, music score, and so on. Being an action RPG, it’s basically a top-down isometric beat-em-up where you get levels and upgrade your powers and can collect money to spend on equippable items and costume enhancements. It’s a formula proven by the X-Men Legends series to be a successful one, so there’s little incentive to wander too far outside of the lines. What changes Marvel Ultimate Alliance made simply perfected the gameplay, allowing the player to focus more of their arcade energy beating up bad guys and just having fun. This comparison drawn, you now know the basic foundation that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was built on, and quite possibly the only parts that the developer of this game couldn’t screw up too badly. In other words, it all goes downhill from here.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was made at the time of Marvel’s Civil War arc, when the superheroes had divided along political lines due to the Superhuman Registration Act, which would make heroes have to compromise their identities. This has a tangible effect in-game when the start of the second act has you choose to play with Iron Man and his Pro-Registration party or Captain America and his Anti-Registration party. This causes the game to fork and sends you down a different story path with access to different heroes, though some heroes can be played regardless of the side you pick. At the end of the day, it doesn’t change much, since ultimately the sides are drawn back together when Nick Fury finds a bigger threat that you have to face. It may not be a significant long-term decision, as once you’re back together, the only role that your choice makes is in what ending you get, but in a better-programmed game, this would be incentive to play the game more than once. But even before you hit this landmark decision, there’s a problem that I need to explain.
When I first played Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, I was psyched. I know that, being a port of a next-gen game on a last-gen console, it was automatically inferior to the big-budget one, but I didn’t care. It was the next chapter in a game that I came to love over long evenings of playing it, and I was ready to continue the journey. I played an hour or two in and then got to a part of the game where Manhattan was under attack from some unknown force. I was teleported into the area, my game auto-saved, and I went out exploring the area for bad guys to punch. It didn’t take long for me to knock them all out and get ready to head to the next area, so I go to the corner of the map where I know I have to go if I want to move on and…nothing happened. I couldn’t progress. I wondered what was happening, so I checked my objectives to see if I had missed something, and it turns out that I did: The objectives weren’t there. I loaded the game again, playing up to the same point, still nothing. My immediate thought was “did I get a bad copy of the game or something?” So I take it to the store at another day and exchange it for another copy, playing all the way up to the point where I left, and STILL nothing happened. And then I looked up the problem on the Internet, and learned that apparently, I had to load my auto-save because the game had utterly failed to do that on its own upon entering the section normally.
It’s a show-stopping bug, shipped in not just one, but every copy of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. You can load the auto-save and continue on with the game, and that’s what I did, but this event wasn’t even two hours in! It happens multiple times through the game too, each time needing you to load your auto-save so that you can actually play the damn game. Did n-Space even bother with play-testing or did they just decide that nobody was going to care about bugs in a game for a dying console and just shoved it out in time to be one of 2009’s Black Friday doorbuster deals? It astounded me then and it still astounds me to this day how this game could be shipped with such a vital problem and nobody would care. If somebody cared, it would have been released in October or even mid-November with at least this problem gone, and this might have been more than a mediocre game peppered with faults and mistakes. But nobody in n-Space cared, so I had to play through this insultingly hollow game, feeling myself grow more bitter with every loaded auto-save that one of my favorite games for the PS2 could have this as a sequel, that the PS2 could be the home to an unpolished piece of bullcrap this rotten.
From there, I started running into more agonizing problems, ones that I would have probably forgiven were it not for the Autosave Bug pointing out to me how little thought and effort was put into this game. I realized that the plot of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was difficult to follow even for a superhero game, and that the gimmick of the Registration division was ultimately pointless in the grand scheme. The once-fun encounters with mooks and henchmen now seemed like a chore, and boss fights lost all of their pomp and ceremony. The villains showing up were either obscure or underwhelming, nothing near the Who’s Who of Marvel’s rogue’s gallery that I had come to expect from the series, and the unlockable heroes made me want to strap myself into a pain suit and hurt myself with my own superpowers. In short, pulling at that one loose thread unraveled the magic of the entire game for me, leaving me with a story full of holes and a gameplay that was, now that I came to think about it critically, trite and boring.
And that’s where Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 and its lackluster performance commits the cardinal sin. It makes me look back on an amazing game like Marvel Ultimate Alliance and question if it’s really that amazing at all. Once you’re past the initial wave of excitement in being a part of a brand new superhero adventure that could go just about anywhere and let you do battle with anyone, you’re ultimately spending entire evenings hitting the same four or five combos, using a small stable of moves with the occasional room-clearing super move when your meter charges up, and just grinding for levels and cash. That’s all you have left once you peel back the thin veneer of child-like wonder you have from playing as a bunch of superheroes. It’s all an illusion making you think you’re having fun, and once you’re disillusioned, there’s no way to salvage it. I’ve never before heard of a game so bad that it drags down the original by association, but let me tell you, this is it, and it’s absolutely unforgivable.
In summation, in my perspective, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was the writing on the wall not just for its parent series of action-RPGs, but for the PlayStation 2 as a competitive console on the forefront of the market. It was a revelation in a plastic box that I didn’t want to witness, a bitter pill that I didn’t want to swallow, and now that I’ve endured its pain, this review is where I lay down my cross and end my penance. If you want to play a fun, satisfying, well-put together action-RPG, avoid this game at all costs. Pick up the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance, or even one of the X-Men Legends titles of the years prior. They may have a few problems, of course, but at least their companies tried to make good games. If you want to stop caring, play Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, get ready to start loading your auto-saves and wait for the wave of complete and utter apathy to wash over you. You won’t have to wait long.
Oh, and by the way, to whoever thought that virtual rolly-ball mazes were a good idea to use as a hacking minigame? I hope you’ve either learned your lesson or moved on to another line of work, because seriously. That was just stupid.
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