Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Review

The X-Men Legends series has been a favorite among comic fans since the first title debuted. Combining Gauntlet-like 4-player mayhem with heroes everyone knows and loves proved to be a smart move, as the titles are among the best-selling in recent years. It was no surprise that Raven Software would continue to release superhero-themed games of this nature, and when it was announced that their next endeavor would be a title featuring many characters from throughout the Marvel universe, comic nerds from throughout the land rejoiced. That title — Marvel: Ultimate Alliance — is very similar to the X-Men Legends games, but at the same time the small differences make for a much better gaming experience.

Released for just about every console current and next-gen, Ultimate Alliance features over 20 playable Marvel characters, ranging from Captain America to Mr. Fanstic to Moon Knight (who is, sadly, Xbox 360 exclusive). The roster isn,t quite what fans were hoping for when it was originally announced the title would feature "over 100" characters, but the wide variety and inclusion of a few lesser-known fan favorites (such as my personal favorite, Deadpool, the merc with a mouth) make the number of characters work well.

The game starts off with a beautiful cutscene, showcasing Dr. Doom,s assault of a S.H.I.E.L.D carrier. Nick Fury is pissed (when isn,t he?), and calls in a meta-human team composed of Captain America, Wolverine, Thor and Spiderman to help defeat the Doombots. After a few action-filled scenes (and several humorous quips from your friendly neighborhood Spiderman), the cutscene ends with the four heroes wondering what to do next.

This is where you,ll come in. For the first few minutes of the game, you,ll have to play as the four heroes from the opening cinematic as you learn the basic controls and nuances of Ultimate Alliance. Like X-Men Legends, you,ll have your default striking moves, a grab, jump and several superpowers to use at your discretion. To use these powers, you,ll have to hold the right trigged, and push one of the face buttons. Unlike X-Men Legends, you,re held to only using three special powers, with no directionally-activated abilities. At times, this can be a hindrance, and you,ll most likely forego many team-oriented skills such as buffs in favor of taking the three basics: a melee attack, a ranged attack, and a radial attack.

When you finally make it to the first extraction point, right away you,re given the opportunity to change characters and put in whomever it is you desire-the lone exception being the unlockable characters. The powers are varied enough that each character plays differently. The downside in the variety of characters is that many times you,ll find yourself going back to a few key people, because no one else comes near their level of efficiency. For example, every person I personally know who has put time in this game uses Captain America at least half of the time; his shield throw is just indispensable. As you continue throughout the game, you,ll eventually be able to form your own team.

When creating a team, you,ll have to select its name, and four members. When these four members are playing together, your team will get experience points, and you,ll be able to gain new team attributes. Ranging from increases in health to adding new members to your roster, the abilities can make a huge difference in later portions of the game. While you certainly don,t have to stick to using your four team members, it,s highly encouraged, as the true potential of each hero can only be reached through the team bonuses.

Speaking of potential, almost every character has three alternate costumes; a few have only two. These costumes range from ones which are noticeably different-such as Spiderman,s-to ones which look exactly the same-such as Silver Surfer,s. The biggest draw for the costumes, though, is not what they look like, but what bonuses they give. Using the S.H.I.E.L.D credits you gather throughout the missions, you can purchase upgraded stats from three categories per costume. Some make a huge difference, such as adding points to body, strike or focus. Others aren,t as noticeable until fully maxed, such as the regeneration rate. You can also use the credits to gain more skill points and buy new skills, but the price is so absurdly high as the game progresses that it,s much easier and efficient to just wait until you level up and gain the points naturally.

Graphically, the game is a far step ahead of the X-Men Legends series. This is especially evident on the Xbox 360 version of the title. Done with 3D models rather than cartoony ones, the characters finally look as good as the scenery. Sadly, the level design is uninspired, as many levels look similar throughout the stage, and all of the "puzzles" are so simple they require almost no thought at all. (In many, they even blatantly tell you what to do.) On the current-gen consoles Ultimate Alliance looks good, as well, but there are some framerate issues. The framerate is usually never a problem on the 360, but there are moments of very brief (less than a second) lock-ups when too much is going on at once.

The cutscenes (half a dozen in total) also look great, and are some of the best you,ll ever see. Each cutscene serves only to advance the story, and comes between different acts. Since they,re so incredible looking, it does take away from the in-game action, as you find yourself wishing the characters could look like that. Just think, though…one day, they may look that good in-game. It,s a very nice thought, isn,t it?

In the sound department, you,ll get pretty much what you expect. There,s some fairly good background music and effects in each area, and it helps set the mood. The voices for some characters match extremely well-such as Steve Blum and Phil LaMarr as Wolverine and Black Panther-but others sound extremely cheesy. Sadly, the game suffers from the traditional problem of recurring one-liners, and you,ll likely hear everything each character has to offer in one mission. With some characters-such as Deadpool-this doesn,t really matter, though.

In the end, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a nice refresher from the X-Men Legends series, and a game no comic fan should miss. If you enjoy the arcade-style titles of this nature (such as Gauntlet or the previous Legends titles), you,d also do well to pick the game up. With the versions being almost identical other than superior graphics for the 360 and a few exclusive characters scattered throughout the consoles, there,s not a lot to make you pick one over the other. If you have an Xbox 360, however, you,d do well to pay the extra bucks to get the 360 version, as the superior graphics and Live gameplay are well worth it. Don,t worry, true believers, because Raven has proven once again that not all comic-based games are sub-par.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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