Unfortunately, 'Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2' won't elicit the same kind of impassioned response. And that's its biggest problem.

What's Hot: Large slate of playable heroes; Cool Fusion mechanic; Strong links to Marvel Comics stories.

What's Not: Doesn't diverge much from formula established in previous games; Gets to feeling boring.

Crispy Gamer Says: Fry

When Marvel's much-hyped "Civil War" crossover series was coming out three years ago, I brought an issue over to a friend's house. A group of us gather on Monday nights, and our host was excited for the newest chapter. Once he finished it, though, he was so infuriated that he threw it on the ground -- only to pick it up and tear it in half. Right down the spine, too, so the staples popped out. Everyone in my crew of comic-reading friends agreed that it was the first time we'd seen a response like that to a printed superhero story.

Unfortunately, "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2" won't elicit the same kind of impassioned response. And that's its biggest problem.

Developed by Vicarious Visions, the action role-playing game lifts its inspiration from that same series that changed the status quo in the Marvel Universe. The government has passed legislation that requires superhumans to register their real names and powers. As in the "Civil War" comics, you'll see the heroes break ranks according to personal beliefs, either joining up with pro-registration Iron Man or protesting the law with Captain America.

"Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2" does show incremental improvement from the last entry in the series. A larger number of characters, deeper strategies and the ability to switch heroes on the fly in-game all make the experience feel more flexible. This time around, you can allot experience points to teamwork, so that tandem attacks and artificial-intelligence support work better.

Venom has officially been in too many games. I call for a boycott!

The game's biggest success comes in the all-new Fusion mechanic. Fusion moves let different characters connect their special abilities for destructive combo attacks. For example, Ms. Marvel can aim her blasts into one of Iceman's reflective structures so that the refracting energy obliterates enemies over a wide area. Or Spider-Man can web up and swing Wolverine at an enemy boss for massive damage. Fusion works because it channels the same kind of curiosity that pops up when you first encounter a new character in a comic: "Hey, who's that Penance guy? I wonder how his powers would work with Daredevil's moves." As you unlock new heroes, Fusion makes you want to experiment.

However, even the game's best feature points out its flaws. "Ultimate Alliance 2" feels expertly engineered to appeal to an elementary-school boy's sensibilities. "Wouldn't it be cool if the Hulk threw Wolverine at a giant robot?" The tough talk and the battle chatter, the plethora of characters and the spotlight on smart-aleck mercenary Deadpool all speak to what a pre-adolescent fanboy would think of as cool.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing. But the overall feel is glib and bloodless. You don't get the sense that lifelong friendships are shattering, or that a huge ethical chasm has opened up between the pro-registration and resistance factions. You're told that the stakes have increased, but the gameplay is still the same: blasting everything in sight.

"Ultimate Alliance 2," like the "Civil War" series, doesn't dig as deep into its premise as it could. Instead of exploring what a rift in a metahuman populace could mean to normal society, "Civil War" mostly stuck to superhero punch-up cliches. In the same way, "Ultimate Alliance 2" doesn't really let you inhabit this conflict. Neither the gameplay, nor the cut scenes and voice work, really convey the drama that is unfolding. More's the pity because "Ultimate Alliance 2" lets players change the canonical ending of the story -- where Iron Man's side wins.

The brief moments of fun -- lovingly referenced fan service, beat-'em-up mini-games and trying out new Fusion pairings ---don't do enough to stop the game from feeling like one big grind that you can sleepwalk through. You won't be invested in seeing what happens if Cap's faction emerges triumphant.

My generation of comic-book fans tends to have a lot of angst about where the next wave of comics readers will come from. Some have hoped that games like "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2" -- especially since it adapts a popular story -- will serve as a gateway to the layered mythologies of superhero lore. But those hopes can only get dashed when the game winds up being a predictable, by-the-numbers effort. There might be other games that energize the present and future fans of DC, Marvel or Image Comics, but they've got to aim higher than "Ultimate Alliance 2."

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game purchased by the reviewer.

Article: Copyright © iHaveNet

Video Games: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 - Xbox 360

Article: Copyright © Tribune Media Services