Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 Updated Impressions: Secret War in Castle Doom

We get a look at the first level in Vicarious Visions' upcoming action game based on Marvel Comics' Civil War.

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We recently got the chance to get an updated look at Activision's follow-up to the wildly popular Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. Developer Vicarious Visions' president, Guha Bala, was on hand to give us a look at the game's first level and a peek at some more characters from the roster of playable heroes. The demo showcased the game's ties to the Civil War storyline that ran through Marvel's books last year and the visual polish courtesy of the new graphics engine.

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The first level is essentially a prologue to the main game. It sets events in motion that lead to the drama of the Civil War. The action revolves around Nick Fury leading a group of heroes into Doctor Doom's homeland, which has seen some political upheaval that has left the good doctor out of his job of national despot. While a Doom-less Latverian government may sound like a good thing in theory, the reality is that the new leader, Lucia von Bardas, might actually be worse. In order to verify his suspicions, Fury gathers up a small strike team of heroes to go have a look at things. Things go wrong, as if they could go any other way, and the team finds itself busting heads as it makes its way to the castle. The level demo was split into two parts, a run through the surrounding villages around the town and a miniboss fight against Electro. The hands-off demo showcased a few different hero configurations that featured familiar faces. Captain America, Spider-Man, Thing, Human Torch, Thor, and Wolverine were playable with Nick Fury in tow, and there were two newcomers to the roster, Songbird and Iron Fist. The mix of heroes showed off some new power fusions, which continue to be cool and very useful, and the new interface.

The start of the demo follows Fury, Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Wolverine as they arrive in Latveria and start busting heads. The journey to the castle was broken up with some team changes as our demoer swapped in Human Torch, Thing, Thor, Iron Fist, and Songbird to show off the different fusion possibilities. Captain America and Thor's fusion has the thunder god blasting Cap's shield with lightning, which works as a deadly clothesline to take out any enemies in between the two heroes and can move with them as they move in tandem. Thor and Human Torch create a fiery tornado that clears enemies. Iron Fist combines with the Torch to create a radial chi- and fire-powered blast field to clear surrounding enemies. Iron Fist's fusion with Captain America has the two heroes performing a conga line of doom and plowing through enemies in a charged rushed. Iron Man and Song Bird's fusion has the metal avenger blasting his repulsors into a prism of sonic energy that blasts out deadly shafts of refracted light perfect for clearing mobs. The battle with Electro also let our demoer showcase the aforementioned fusions and had the added fun of Electro zipping around teleporting to different parts of the map and charging up on massive solenoids that had to be destroyed in order to defeat him. The battle looked challenging and full of quips, because, like all villains, Electro sure does like to go on about stuff in the middle of a fight.

While the variety in fusions may seem a bit daunting initially, the game's new interface helps a lot. Though there are a ton of fusions, they break down into specific attributes, such as elemental or healing, that will appear when you hold down the controller trigger to initiate the move. When the button is held down, you'll see a button over each member of the team and the fusion type possible with them. Another facet to the new system is the equipment system, which has changed from the last game. Whereas the last game had you equipping items on your heroes as well as assorted team bonuses, MUA streamlines the system. Your heroes will level up and earn powers as before, but this time out you'll also earn new abilities that seem to be passive, such as Wolverine's health regen. As far as equippable items go, you'll now collect team boost items that offer various group enhancements, such as all members of your team doing fire damage. There will apparently be more than 150 team boosts to find or earn in the game, and you'll be able to equip up to three at a given time, which should be handy. Our favorite new system in the game is the quick menus you can call up during the game to tweak your hero or team. These are especially handy in multiplayer as they can be called up without bringing the action to a screeching halt like in the last game.

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The visuals are looking sharp thanks to the new graphics engine and the revamped art style. The combination of both give the game a bit more of a realistic style that is reminiscent of the work artist Gabriele Dell'Otto did in the Secret War miniseries. One of the coolest artistic touches in the demo was the makeover on Electro's costume, which is probably the coolest it has ever looked. This is saying something, considering there aren't many "cool" options open to a villain with green tights and a bright yellow headdress in the shape of three lightning bolts. Beyond that, the roster of heroes was looking sharp and detailed. The mobs of robot enemies weren't quite as detailed but were plentiful, which made for a good amount of onscreen chaos. The effects for the various powers looked sharp--maybe not quite as flashy as we were hoping for but still cool. The fusions were definitely a centerpiece to the visuals with dramatic camera angles and shiny effects punctuating the action. While the game's system camera was still a work in progress, we liked the smart movement in the demo, which brought the view in much closer in tighter quarters and zoomed out when the action moved to more open areas. If it works that smoothly throughout the whole game, we'll be very happy.

The audio was still a mix of final and work-in-progress effects and music tracks, but it already has a good vibe to it. The score has the big sweeping sound you'd expect from a Marvel: Ultimate Alliance game. The effects fit the action but don't quite have the kick you'd want right now, especially during the fusions, but we reckon that will change once the game gets polished. There's plenty of voice during the game, and it all helps give combat a busy feel that works.

We're very hopeful about where Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 is headed. The roster is shaping up nicely, and the gameplay looks like it's doing a good job of covering its bases in terms of what fans want while adding some new content. We especially like the mix of fan service--we doubt Iron Fist and Songbird are as widely known as Spider-Man and Wolverine--and gameplay enhancements. Comic fans or fans of the original Marvel: Ultimate Alliance should be looking forward to this one. Look for more on Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 in the coming months.

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