The Backlog: Marvel Videogames Twofer

7 05 2010

Two Marvel videogames from last year make it fun to be a superhero…for the most part.

I can’t afford every new game, and Game Fly isn’t really reliable about sending me the hottest new titles, so every once in a while you’re going to have to read about some older games that I’ve checked out, either by accident or design. Serendipitously, I’ve recently played through two titles that share a common “universe”: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine: the Videogame: Uncaged Edition (man, that’s a lot of colons). Both were fun, cheap, but ultimately forgettable.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2

One of these things is not like the other...why is there a strip club bouncer facing off with Spider-Man?

Like its predecessor, Ultimate Alliance 2 is an isometric brawler with up to 4 player co-op. You pick a 4 man team from a roster of heroes that slowly grows throughout the course of the game. Spider-man, Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine; they’re all here, as are some strange additions like Penance, Iron Fist, and Songbird. Don’t worry if you don’t know who they are, they suck anyways. The pickings seem slimmer than the first game, but maybe it’s just with the C-listers they stuck in there I felt I had fewer cool people to choose from. Plus, some characters that show up but aren’t playable include Cable and Bishop, either of whom I’d much rather play than Penance. All of this means that you really end up choosing one hero that fits your play style and stick to him, leveling him up with experience earned by breaking crates and busting heads.

Not pictured: Iron Fist. Why? Because he sucks.

The controls are relatively simple, for the most part you just mash the A button whenever you’re close to one of the multitudes of faceless, generic bad guys that run without thought of their own safety towards you. Powers are unleashed via holding the right trigger and pressing one of the face buttons, and breakdown into three basic categories: shoot stuff, dash at stuff, or a “personal space button” that knocks everyone around you onto their asses. If this sounds kind of repetitive, well, it is. Even with spider-strength, Spider-man’s arm has got to be tired after 4-5 hours of punching the same 4 guys over and over again. As you beat the crap out of people, a meter fills up in the corner of your screen that, once full, lets you and another hero join powers to create a “Fusion” attack, by both of you holding the left trigger at the same time. Most of these look pretty cool, but boil down to either a room-clearing attack, a single-target big bang, or a lame dashing attack that isn’t easy to guide. Once again, you’ll probably stick to the room clearing attack and leave the rest alone.

You think the new government healthcare plan will cover injuries sustained in a "psychic ice tornado"? I doubt it.

The story and voice acting leave much to be desired. Steve Blum’s reliable Wolverine and Nolan North’s Deadpool are the exceptions to the rule, but everyone else is wooden and flat. Captain America should not sound like he just overdosed on Xanax. The story is an amalgamation of Secret War and Civil War, with a little bit of Secret Invasion thrown in. The result is a bunch of cut scenes you’ll skip. Really, they’re just excuses to go to places like Latveria (Doom’s home town, sadly, he does not make an appearance) and Wakanda, which was one of the few standout levels with lush jungles and interesting native architecture. But for the most part, it’s bland techno-corridors or ho-hum streets devoid of any population. This is a huge step down from the first Ultimate Alliance, which felt much more epic in scale and breadth, with locales such as Asgard, alien planets, and a much more cohesive, grand story with a memorable villain (that they teased but did not follow through on). The powers may look a little prettier, but the level design needs a major overhaul if they’re planning a sequel.

Seriously, Iron Fist is the worst character ever. LOOK AT THAT COSTUME.

By now, after all of this bashing, you’re asking yourself: “I thought you said these games were fun?” I did, but with a caveat for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 in particular. That caveat is to play it with friends. Alone, this game would have been boring and the team AI (filled in by bots when there aren’t enough players) frustratingly stupid. The wife and I were doing OK by ourselves, but once we got a third player in, smashing stuff, talking shit and laughing at the ridiculous over-use of super-powers on hordes of non-powered thugs, it was a lot of fun. And challenging. If you have some people over, rent it. If you’re flying solo in your gaming, then skip it.

If any of these other characters are being played by the AI, then RUN FAR FAR AWAY FROM THEM. They will get you killed.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine: the Videogame: Uncaged Edition

Star of every Marvel comic book from 1991 to present.

Hey, that’s what it said on the envelope. This was kind of an accident, as I was hoping for Just Cause 2 but apparently didn’t quite understand how Game Fly works. Instead I got the game of one of the worst movies that came out last year. But you know what? The game by itself wasn’t really that bad.

Wolverine has apparently forgotten that "flight" isn't one of his mutant powers.

You play as (whom else?) Wolverine, as he flashes back between two different time periods from a dystopian future. It’s kind of confusing, and mucks about with both the movie’s plotline and some plots from the comic books. You attack, you jump, you dismember people in gory and horrific ways, and that’s where the beauty of this game comes in. This is not aimed at kids. There are buckets and buckets of blood, and every swipe of your claws draws a satisfying gush of crimson. Most Wolverine games neuter him to just knocking people around with these razor-sharp adamantium claws that can cut through damn near anything, but in this, for the first time, you really feel like the badass that you always thought Logan should be.

Prepare to own a lot of people. Even if you just close your eyes and mash buttons, you'll still kill everyone around you.

The combat is mixed up with simple puzzles (block pulling – yay!) and 3-D platforming. You have a plethora of combos and special moves like a drill or spin attack, plus a lunge that cuts through most enemies in one or two hits. I imagine it’s similar to God of War, but the combat can easily become a repetitive drone of lunge, slice, lunge, slice, lunge, throw, rinse and repeat. This is how most of the levels will play out, but you can break it up with special moves or awesome quick-kills, that give you a slow-mo quick-time event where you can eviscerate, behead, or otherwise completely destroy lower-level baddies in one hit. These quick kills are pretty gruesome, and I’m proud of Raven Software for having the balls to go full-on with the ick.

Good times.

Wolverine’s healing factor is nicely represented by not only a regenerating health bar, but graphically by his skin flaying off as he takes damage. As your health bar regenerates, you see the muscle and flesh re-grow over his metal skeleton. It’s a neat effect, but it’s not perfect and sometimes ends up looking like he’s been playing in mud or something. What’s also nice is the option to unlock two of his classic costumes, the orange and brown and the blue and yellow. They are both unlocked by collecting little figurines in the game, along with coins that upgrade your powers, and experience orbs that increase your skills. You can spend them pretty much how you choose, but you’ll more than likely get enough experience for most, if not all of the upgrades by the end of the game.

Nothing a little shae butter and vitamin E won't fix, right? And could he look MORE disinterested in the fact he's being riddled with bullets?

The levels are nicely diverse, with jungle cliffs, snowy mountaintops, and military bases. The graphics aren’t bad, but they’re not AAA either. They do the job. The boss battles are pretty interesting, each one being different. The Sabertooth bar brawl is a down and dirty claw fest, the Blob battle is a pretty funny grocery store wrecking spree, and the Gambit fight atop a ludicrously high-rise casino is all about finesse, counterattacks, and lunges. The mini-bosses, giant rock monsters or government created W.E.N.D.I.G.O. behemoths, do get pretty repetitive, but they’re still fun the ninth or tenth time you kill one.

This looks like Logan just dropped the soap in a prison shower.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know already that the story sucks. It’s actually worse here, so muddled and confusing that I usually got a drink or made a sandwich while the cutscenes played out, if I didn’t totally skip them all together. The voice acting from Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber are the bright spots in an otherwise dismal cast, which includes Wil. I. Am, who does his best to remind us that he’s still relevant when we all know he very much isn’t.

Oh Wil. I. Am. You're so devoid of talent, creativity, or originality. Even when you're a hologram.

Wolverine is a pretty good rental; I blew through it in about three days. It’s a satisfying action game that knows what Logan does best, and that what he does best isn’t very nice. I’d recommend getting it on the cheap or renting it out, I don’t really think it’s enough to keep you coming back for more.

Follow me on Twitter! @CharlieHamlin

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