Judging by the slew of new releases in the category – Urban Reign, Beatdown, and now Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects; ‘Tis the season of the beat'em up. Pitting old favorites from the Marvel universe against new characters, created specifically for the game, Rise of the Imperfects features old-school, button-mashing gameplay, and even a solid online mode, but a number of flaws and some flat-out uninteresting gameplay make it the third lousy beat'em up of the fall season.
During the course of the game you'll play the role of a number of Marvel heroes – Wolverine, The Thing, Elektra, Daredevil, Magneto, Spiderman, Storm, Venom, and many others. You'll start off with one character, and as you run across others, their stories will become available to you. This gives you some alternate levels to play if you happen to be stuck somewhere, though you'll have to eventually beat every level. The story isn't bad – New York City is being attacked and an evil scientist has unleashed the Imperfects to finish off all the superheroes, but the gameplay is so uninteresting, you'll have a hard time seeing it through to the end.
The fighting mechanics in Marvel Nemesis are quite simple and easy to learn, which is good, since the instruction manual is pathetic. Pound the attack button until your fingers get sore, rest, and then get back to work – it's that easy. Normal attacks are augmented by pressing the R1 button in conjunction with the attack button. Using a special attack takes energy, which can be replenished by blocking an attack, not getting hit; or recovered even more quickly by holding R1 and staying stationary. Since many of the game's enemies won't attack unless provoked, or simply have quirks in their routines where they won't attack for long periods, it's easy to fill your meter up, so running out is rarely an issue. You can jump and attack, but it's hard to hit what you're aiming for, and for some reason, it's very difficult to time your attacks properly. In fact, all of the controls feel unresponsive. Sometimes you'll be unable to aim your character where you want, and other times you'll be mashing the buttons and your character won't attack.
Repetitive levels, repetitive goals, and repetitive fighting mechanics make the single-player mode, well, repetitive. Level goals are generally to dispatch with every enemy, and while there are other tasks such as defeating them all in an allotted time, blowing up computers, or beating a certain number of enemies, they're all rather uninteresting. For the most part, the characters feel the same, and the game doesn't do a very good job of taking advantage of each heroes' unique abilities.
The game is at its best when you're fighting a single enemy, but you're usually fighting more than one, and it's here that the game has some of its biggest issues. For starters, you don't have the ability to lock-on to a target, leaving you to manually follow around a bad guy, while other enemies attack you and the camera swings around wildly. Since the camera aims downwards at an angle, flying enemies are very tough to locate, resulting in cheap, frustrating deaths on many occasions. Not being able to lock your sights on a foe also makes it difficult to throw items – sometimes they'll go where you want, and other times they'll hit a wall, go too far, or fall short.
Rather than fixing the single-player mode, the developers added a vs. mode with online support. Since you don't have to deal with lame objectives and shoddy enemy A.I., this mode is actually pretty entertaining for a short while. Be forewarned, however, if you plan on using a router, you'll need how to open ports, or you won't be able to go online.
Rise of the Imperfects' presentation is disappointing from a technical aspect, as well as artistic. There's very little style or flair, save for the cut-scene that occurs when you toss an enemy across the screen. The levels are incredibly bland and the textures are blurry. The framerate isn't consistent, choking when the action gets even remotely hectic. It wasn't very fast to begin with, so it hampers gameplay when it slows to a crawl. The environments are semi-destructible, but not in any interesting sort of way. You can smash storefronts, light poles, cars, mailboxes, and many other things, but most objects have only two states, normal and smashed, so there's not a whole lot to look at once you've punched or thrown an object.
Characters cast shadows, but instead of them being elongated when cast against a wall, they'll simply appear up high on the wall, a mirror image of yourself, just running around looking quite out of place. I thought some sort of weird shadow creature was following Elektra around the first time I noticed it. The camera is poor and difficult to adjust manually – which is very problematic given your inability to lock-on to enemies. Eventually you can cope with the camera's inability to follow the action, but unless you're psychic, you're not going to be able to figure out where an off screen enemy has gone until he throws something at you. It will also tend to get stuck behind buildings, and this reveals a visual glitch that allows you to see through several walls.
The game's characters are its biggest strength. Of course the Marvel heroes' design is top-notch, but the EA-created characters are able to hold their own against them from a creativity standpoint. Unfortunately you'll spend your time fighting hordes of nameless look-alike drones before interacting with even the first Imperfect, and even after that, the encounters are too few and far between.
Rise of the Imperfects' audio is on-par with just about every other beat'em up out there. The sounds of metal slamming into brick, glass shattering, and barrels exploding in a fiery blaze fill the levels. Other than the cut-scenes, there's not much voice-acting, save for the smack talk at the beginning and end of big fights. With EA's propensity towards adding a punk soundtrack to almost all of their games, it's a pleasant surprise to hear Imperfects' low-key orchestral soundtrack. It's not anything special, but it doesn't have to be – it just stays in the background, subtly adding tension to the fight.
It's difficult to figure out what the point of Marvel Nemesis was, and even more difficult to understand why such a shoddy product was released early. It doesn't have a riveting story, it's easy, the gameplay is stale and shallow – in short, and it offers nothing new. If you're a Marvel fan, or you enjoy spending a few hours running around smashing buttons wreaking havoc on baddies, you might get a good weekend out of The Imperfects, but more discerning gamers will be better served to look elsewhere.