Reviewed: November 25, 2006
Released: November 19, 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. There are also 2 Wii-exclusive characters you can play.
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.
Vicarious Visions has tried to implement the funky new control scheme of the Wii into the gameplay, but Ultimate Alliance comes off more as an "ultimate hack". The flicking of the remote and nunchuk seems forced into the gameplay equation rather than becoming a natural evolution. Now, instead of using buttons to execute the various attacks, combos, and superpower moves, you now get to flick your wrist or hold down a button and flick your wrist. It's pretty boring and even a bit painful after a few hours.
Another problem with the motion control was just how specific you had to be on several of the mid-air motions. You are basically drawing invisible designs in the air and if you deviate too far from what the game expects you will either perform the wrong move or no move at all. Even after several hours of practice I was still failing on about 20% of my attempted moves. You can still use the A button to mindlessly mash out standard attacks.
One good thing about the control scheme is the camera control which is not handled by tilting the nunchuk. This now becomes a seamless part of moving and fighting and you will quickly learn to pan the camera to follow your characters without even thinking about it. And there are a few exclusive moments like being able to control Silver Surfer by tilting the remote to control the board.
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. 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. But even with all of these moves the commands to execute them are limited, and while the various animations and superpower animations all vary between characters, the motion input to execute them remains the same.
Super-powers are now much more interactive than before, and you'll have to keep the combo going by drawing patterns in the air or matching motion cues on the screen. 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 (or three) to share the expereience with, in which case it's a lot more fun.
Since the Wii currently doesnít support online gameplay, the Wii version of Ultimate Alliance offers excellent support for four-player, same-screen action. It works quite well and is also rather amusing to see four players all standing in front of the screen shaking their Wii remotes around.
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, and make sure to checkout the hidden Pitfall game where Harry has been replaced with Wolverine.
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 remote-flicking combat 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.
If you have never played any of the other versions of Ultimate Alliance you might be slightly impressed. This is one of the better looking launch titles but it's a far cry from the 360, PS3, and even the Xbox. At best, it's a turbo-charged GameCube or PS2 port when it comes to graphics with average low-res textures and a lot of jaggies, even in progressive scan. Even the flashy superpower graphics have lost their "umph" in this release.
The game actually looks a bit better in multiplayer since the game is shrinking things down and packing in the artwork to a smaller section of your screen. The framerate manages to hold up nicely, even in four-player split-screen. 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.
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.
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.
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 hopefully drowns out the repetitive one-liners from the superheroes. The Dolby Pro Logic II mix is no substitute for Dolby Digital but it gets the job done.
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. The four-player split-screen makes this a great party alternative, especially if you love superheroes and fighting.
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, even with the potential of the innovative Wii remote, 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 (and painful) at times, but there is always great action and the potential to share that action with your friends.