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An excellent first half of impressive cut-scenes and involving story can't help Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 fall back into mediocrity once the final credits rolled. Although I enjoyed the setup for the Marvel Civil War storyline, the shallow characters and repetitive gameplay meant I was bored long before the game rolled over and spat out a woeful ending.
Comic books and superhero characters have long held little sway for me in my quest for deep storylines and exciting narratives. Recently though I've fallen into the world of Marvel and DC through the excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum and a brief dalliance with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. As such I approached Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 interested to experience more of this new (to me) world of Captain America, Iron Man, Nick Fury etc.
What grabbed me from the start was the Civil war storyline. I'd heard of this particular comic series through the general noise it had created when the Marvel universe unvelied it in 2007. The idea of superheroes fighting against each other opens up a whole world of interesting stories and I was anticipating Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 more than any superhero game I had done before.
But right from the start I felt as if something was missing from my experience to pull me into this world. The cut-scenes were technically beautiful and in the first half of the game, they conveyed the story quite well. What I found myself doing however, was completely ignoring the characters I was choosing in terms of their personality and going instead with what worked for the gameplay.
But right from the start I felt as if something was missing from my experience to pull me into this world.
The burgeoning comic-book fan loved seeing the range of characters on offer to play but it meant I felt little, if no, connection to them. They all felt so dispensable and shallow with perhaps Deadpool being the only one that stood out thanks to his constant efforts to break the 4th wall. When I see big characters like Wolverine or Spiderman reduced to the status of an army grunt then it only lessens the impact of the story, rather than enriching.
And as for the main story - I found it started really strongly with the attack on Latveria and the subsequent fallout from that operation. But once I had chosen a side I had the nagging feeling that the main plot was completely shallow and lacking in any gripping narrative and allegorical meaning. I don't look for that everywhere of course, but I thought that one of the biggest events in Marvel comics could've warranted a better interpretation.
It didn't help by having such repetitive gameplay, but the biggest crime for me was that the opportunity to portray two very different storylines was badly squandered. After the prologue I had to choose which side of this civil war I was going to be on and I thought a big decision like this should obviously be split into two different campaigns. But after finishing one side and going back to try the other it became apparent that all the missions in the game are essentially the same with a few different characters saying ever-so-slightly different lines.
A game based on the American or English Civil War would undoubtedly yield a more diverse set of missions depending on what side you chose. So why doesn't Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2? It was this more than any other fault that ruined my experience of the game and I soon began to resent going to the same places and fighting the same bad guys until I reached the same ending. It felt like a great opportunity had been lost and made me wonder just how amazing a proper game based on the Marvel Civil War could've been.
Curious, I went and purchased the Civil War series shortly after finishing the game and my experience was very similar to the game. It may be heresy but I found the story engrossing until the very last part and the ending left a very sour taste in my mouth. What I began to appreciate was how well the game had taken this basis and run with a similar, yet slightly more urgent storyline. I must confess that I look back at Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2's story and see how much more involving it was despite the flaws that destroyed its ending.
Both the comic and the game succumb to the same fate by producing a weak ending that made me wonder why I had invested so much of my time with both of them.
On balance it appears that the game replicated the comic series extremely well, conveying the same emotions and presenting them in much the same way. On some level it improved the narrative by threading the powerful Nick Fury into its story and creating a first half that gave the impression it was going to reach some meaningful height.
But both the comic and the game succumb to the same fate by producing a weak ending that made me wonder why I had invested so much of my time with both of them. With such a diverse world at its disposal I really felt it could've been so much more. This felt like a woefully squandered opportunity and sadly the game and the comic series has seriously dented my interest in all things involved with the Marvel universe.
Maybe its the first signs of a bias towards DC, but I feel the truth is closer to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 never possessing the depth to make a truly deep and rewarding videogame. The button mashing combat excited a few of my Diablo heart-strings but until Marvel gets its Arkham Asylum, I think I'll be sticking to the paper form of storytelling and leaving the videogames to DC characters instead.
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