Reviewed: October 25, 2006
Released: October 25, 2006
Did you love X-Men Legends? Couldnít get enough of X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse? Then get ready for the ultimate super hero (and super villain) game ever made. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance blows the doors off the Marvel vault unleashing more than 140 of your favorite comic book characters, good and evil, allowing you unparalleled freedom in creating your own Marvel Dream Team.
And youíll need every bit of super hero power and their combined unique abilities to defeat Dr. Doom, who is back to his old tricks. He has recently reassembled the Masters of Evil, the greatest collection of Super Villains ever seen, and plans nothing less than world domination.
With Marvelís own C.B. Cebulski penning the story, you can be sure this is one adventure that will hold true to the Marvel vision. Players not only determine the fate of Earth, but also control the fate of the Marvel universe. The missions you accept, the objectives you complete, and how you interact with other characters throughout the game will determine how the story plays out.
Make no mistake; Ultimate Alliance is nearly identical to the style and gameplay of X-Men Legends, only on a much greater scale and with a lot more flexibility and customization. Out of the box, you get to pick from 20 playable characters and more are unlocked as you progress through a surprisingly lengthy and varied campaign.
You are free to mix and match any available characters creating your own ďteamĒ then customize that team with a unique name, icon, vehicle, and even start building a team reputation. Ultimate Alliance now offers much more control in leveling up your characters, so you can focus on your favorites or spread the experience evenly across the team for greater balance.
Your quest will take you across 17 exotic locations, many of which like Atlantis, the Shield Heli-Carrier and the Skrull home world, will be quite familiar to Marvel fans. Each of these highly interactive levels will offer their own unique style of gameplay allowing for ground, air, and even underwater combat. These styles are enhanced with new moves, blocks, grapples, and amazing super powers.
If you had a tough time picking which character to play in games like Fantastic Four and the X-Men Legend games youíll lose your mind when you start having to mix and match your own team from the growing list of Marvel characters. I have to admit, I was a pretty big comic collector back in my day, but Raven really dug deep into the vault and found a few characters I have never heard of, and some of them are pretty cool. Even so, I'm still a sucker for Captain America and Colossus.
Given the large cast of characters, Ultimate Alliance offers a custom team option that rewards you for selecting and playing as the same group of characters. After you choose your members you can name the team, give them a logo, and start to slowly build team experience that will ultimate reward you with additional roster openings, better health and damage boosters.
Ultimate Alliance does a great job of balancing the experience, so if you bring rookie characters into a seasoned party they will quickly rise through the levels with minimal effort to catch up with the rest of the party. The underlying RPG system is surprisingly complex for an action game, but for those who donít want to micromanage the characters and their abilities, you can simply use the ďauto-assignĒ system that will automatically pick new super-powers for each character when they level-up.
The interface is excellent, not unlike Fantastic Four and X-Men Legends, where you pick your lead character with the D-pad and the rest of the party falls under adequate AI control. You can assign various dispositions to your party making them aggressive or defensive, and they are quick to attack whatever person or object they see you swinging at. Oddly enough, the AI is most lacking when you need to access computers or open doors that require multiple characters to get into position. Even the game instructs you to manually position each character into their spot.
Enemy AI is a bit better than your own team, or at least more predictable. Rather than focusing on the weakest character of the bunch, enemies will almost always prefer to target the human player. This can be an advantage when the less powerful characters like Elektra and Spider-Woman start crying out that they need help. Merely swoop in and distract their attackers and save the day. You can also get enemies to follow you to key areas where you can then toss them off ledges or into other objects for extra damage or instant death.
Heroes never die, at least in Ultimate Alliance, and if you or anyone else in your party goes down they are temporarily disabled and removed from the party for a set amount of time. If you find a Shield pad before that time is up you can replace the injured member with a new hero until you are notified that they are back and ready for active duty. You can also use these Shield pads to save your game and swap any characters or even the entire team if you wish. These pads are strategically located so you won't have to replay too much of any given level, and they also let you try various party configurations for the tougher encounters that are usually close by.
Each character has their own set of melee and grapple moves, which work really nice. You can even disarm the enemy if you do a grab move at just the right time. Nothing is more satisfying that grabbing a guy and tossing him to his immediate demise rather than beating on him for 10-20 seconds to achieve the same goal. You can also use the trigger to shift those physical attacks into super-hero moves and powers, whereby the face buttons are reassigned to character-specific actions. Characters will often have many more than four moves at their disposal, so you will need to pick and assign your favorites for the quick-access menu.
Super-powers are now much more interactive than before. Previously, you used to hit the button and watch the animation, but now many of the moves require further interaction like continued button presses to keep the attack alive for extended damage. Itís pretty cool, especially with characters like Colossus and The Thing. Oh, and speaking of Colossus; youíll never get tired of using him to pick up enemies and wield them like ragdoll weapons. And one of the best super-powers has to be Captain Americaís shield, which can be upgraded later in the game so you can actually control it after itís thrown.
Ultimate Alliance can wear a bit thin on your patience as an action gamer in that it gets noticeably repetitive at times, both in visual style and gameplay. Not counting the quick detour to Starkís amazing office complex, the first two main levels, the Heli-Carrier and the runaway mobile lab look painfully identical in overall theme and texture art. It's best to tackle this game in short doses to avoid getting burned out, unless you have a friend to share the expereience with, in which case it's a lot more fun.
Youíll find yourself mindlessly bashing away at cloned copies of henchmen who neither look nor fight any differently than the last 20-30 guys you pummeled into the ground. The levels are highly interactive, meaning you can break just about anything you can see. Many items splinter apart with a single hit while larger objects have their own health meter that needs to be whittled down before exploding like a piŮata giving up its coins and blue and red energy.
Speaking of rewards, Ultimate Alliance has a vast collection of unlockables and hidden secrets just waiting to be found. Alternate costumes are guaranteed to delight hardcore fans of the various characters, but in a brilliant design decision, these arenít merely visual upgrades Ė each costume comes with its own set of upgradeable stat bonuses. In addition to costumes there are one-time-use attribute boosters and hidden comic book pages that unlock character-specific missions.
So you and your heroic team will smash and bash their way through linear constructed levels, eliminating henchmen, computer terminals, and countless crates and barrels, all leading up to mid-level sub-bosses and ultimately, the big showdown with guys like Galactus and Dr. Doom. The big boss battles are now much more engaging than previous super-hero outings. Not only does the game take on a new visual style for these boss battles, low down and close up, you will often have to figure out unique strategies to defeat them, almost like self-contained mini-games. Itís a nice escape from all the button mashing leading up to these encounters.
There arenít that many puzzles in the game and the ones that do pop up arenít terribly clever. One of the first ďpuzzlesĒ is replacing a broken piece of machinery to lower a forcefield, but the preceding cutscene show you exactly where the old and new pieces are leaving nothing to really figure out. Each story mission has its own set of primary and secondary objectives and most are easily completed through the natural flow of the game.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is all about teamwork; both in the game and even in the way you play the game. To that end Raven has integrated a fantastic multiplayer component for both online and offline play and cooperative story modes. This multiplayer component also features a Competitive Mode Ė where the game keeps track of various in-game stats so players can see how well they stack up against one another, affecting the amount of experience points and how equipment is distributed at the end of the level.
Players are free to drop in and out of the solo adventure at any time in local multiplayer, but online modes require a bit more thought and only allow for one player per console. You are also restricted to using the characters and abilities available in your hostís saved game. Ultimately, this means youíll find a lot more people hosting their own games rather than trying to join yours. The PS2, also suffers from severe lag issues, which can quickly turn into gameplay issues, but that's just par for the course since PS2 lacks the structured online network that Microsoft offers. It might also have to do with the PS2 being ill-equipped to handle the processing of online multiplayer, but the local multiplayer works just fine. Stick with that.
The PS2 version, while a generation (and a half) behind the glowing 360 version, is certainly no slouch. As always, we start off with an amazing CG cutscene, courtesy of Blur Studios that are of the ďAdvent ChildrenĒ caliber, then we move on to gorgeous splash screen art for all your favorite characters, stunning level design and some good lighting and shadow effects. It lacks the visual punch of the 360 and the HDTV support of the classic Xbox but it does the best it can given the aging hardware.
The character animation is really something to behold. Each character has smooth and unique animations that will have you pushing the camera view in tighter than you probably should. These all blend together for some truly exciting battle sequences. It's also rewarding to see the attention to detail in the alternate costumes, which provide a nice diversion from having to see your heroes in the same outfits for the entire game.
Ultimate Alliance features 17 unique locations and for the most part these are varied enough in their design. Youíll see more than your fair share of recycled objects and textures, but the artists manage to keep things fresh and inventive. More than likely, youíll be blinded by all of the gorgeous super-power effects that light up the screen like the Forth of July. Fire effects, lightning, particles, smoke, blue and red energy orbs, spinning coins, and slick combat animation make for very busy environments and exciting gameplay.
Kudos to one of the best soundtracks of recent memory, especially for a super-hero action title that you would expect to recycle the same techno-rock over and over. Instead, we are treated to numerous track selections per level, many of which arenít reused, so you get a very distinct audible experience for each of the primary environments. The music also cues to the combat and slips to the background for those very rare instances where nobody is around to crush.
Sound effects are just as good as the music with all sorts of environmental effects that fit the visuals perfectly. Melee comes with all the expected physical sounds and the super-powers unleash a fury of audio that is only rivaled by their blinding graphics. As expected, itís all mixed in Dolby Pro Logic II for a true 3D experience that is only slightly less powerful than the Xbox and 360.
Speech and dialogue run the gamut from extremely witty and true-to-character (opening movie) to some pretty lame one-liners that are too few in quantity and too common in their delivery. And since you have no direct control over the taunts and boasts you are at the mercy of the game as to when and how often you hear them. Iím guessing the designers figured that with so many characters available you wouldnít be spending enough time with any one of them to notice their limited vocabulary.
One excellent feature that helps tailor the game experience is the interactive dialogue between your heroes and the villains and bosses you encounter during the game. These are keyed to certain characters, so depending on whom you have in your party at the time of these encounters will yield unique conversations and gameplay opportunities.
The solo campaign is good for a solid 20+ hours of gaming and you can add a few more hours onto that if you go off in search of all the hidden stuff. The cooperative and competitive multiplayer really adds some worthwhile extended play to the mix. The online modes could probably be worked on a bit, but at least there is support. There are also all of those hero missions to play once you find the corresponding comic pages.
Of course the main reason to keep playing is the diverse cast and the huge potential to mix and match just about any type of super-hero team you can imagine. Create the right team and stick with them for some nice loyalty rewards.
Just when you think you have seen just about everything they can do with the super-hero, action-RPG genre Raven manages to take it up yet another notch. Admittedly, most of the enhancements in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance are about quantity and your ability and freedom to choose how to play and who to play with. Gameplay hasnít really evolved that much from the super-hero games we were playing last year, but the presentation sure has.
So, if you love comics, super-heroes, or just want to experience a fun and challenging action-RPG, Ultimate Alliance delivers the goods. Sure, the levels and even the gameplay get a bit repetitive at times, but there is always great action and the potential to share that action with your friends, and that is what really make this game rise above its predecessors and a total joy to play.