Talk about a comic book fan’s dream. We’ve all had a taste of what Raven Software can do with the [i]X-Men Legends[/i] series, but this time around, Raven decided to go bigger. Much bigger. [i]Marvel: Ultimate Alliance[/i] is probably the most ambitious super hero brawling game to date, encompassing a wide cast of characters from almost every end of the Marvel universe. In addition, [i]Ultimate Alliance[/i] returns to and improves upon the great multiplayer-friendly formula used by games before it. There are some down points and glitches, but overall, [i]Marvel: Ultimate Alliance[/i] is a game anyone can enjoy, and a game the hardcore Marvel fan will salivate over.
The plot for [i]Ultimate Alliance[/i] is a fairly simple one, but it works. Dr. Doom has assembled all the baddies from around the Marvel universe to form the Masters of Evil, and now they’ve taken the fight to S.H.I.E.L.D. Colonel Nick Fury responds by calling together all the Marvel super heroes that he can muster to counter attack. You’ll start out only having access to fan favorites Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, and Thor. After the first level, though, you’ll have access to other obvious choices like Iron Man, Storm, and the Fantastic Four, but also some more obscure characters that really dive deep into the Marvel comics like Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel, and Luke Cage. Probably the most appealing thing about [i]Ultimate Alliance[/i] is the ultimate mash up of superhero worlds.
For the most part, the game plays just like the [i]X-Men Legends[/i] series. You and up to four friends can grab a controller and choose four different Marvel heroes. At the most basic level, the game comes down to a button mashing frenzy of attacking enemy forces, although each character also has a healthy list of special attacks as well as combo moves. Like any other RPG, characters level up with experience, unlocking new attacks, costumes, and other features. Another interesting addition is that even if you never play as anyone outside of your four-man team, each character in the game levels up. So even if you confine yourself to one particular team, switching out to, say, Mr. Fantastic won’t cripple your team of heroes.
Individually, character customization is in full force here. Each character can only have three special attacks at a time, so you’ll have to determine which attacks you prefer and assign them as you please. Each character also has a different outfit, each of which provides with some different attributes. For example, Wolverine’s classic outfit can add bonuses to his claw attacks while his Ultimate outfit ups his regenerative powers. Collecting coins throughout the game will give you the money needed to add points to attacks and attributes, and most of it is pretty straightforward. There is the option to automate all of this, but it seems to work against you more often than not (especially when working on the item worn), so I can’t recommend it.
Speaking of teams, a new addition to [i]Ultimate Alliance[/i] is the My Team feature, which lets you craft together a custom team of superheroes. One thing worth noting is that mixing and matching certain heroes will give your team a bonus. For example, pairing all females up will give a femme fatale bonus, while pairing up Iceman, Colossus, Wolverine, and Storm will award the X-Men bonus. Once you’ve determined the team that you’re going to go with, you can form them into a customized team, complete with attribute bonuses to spend among each member. At the same time, fighting with that team will earn a reputation among the public eye, although breaking up that team will hurt the reputation as well. It’s an interesting feature, although it tends to encourage reliance on only four heroes, but it’s not too big of a problem.
[i]Ultimate Alliance[/i] works the best when you get friends playing the game alongside you. While it may be hard to find four other friends to come over and pick up the controller to play along, the process is helped along by provided Xbox Live support over the Internet. With Xbox Live in tow, you can hook up with friends who may not be able to make it over, and if you can’t find a couple of friends to play along with, you can search for players and make some new ones. Of course, in the end, playing with friends seems to be the best way to go, as it can be somewhat difficult to find a game, much less gel with some guys who might have an attitude problem. One thing I need to mention is that I have had way too many drop-outs while playing online, which can really throw off the game since you’ll have to find a place to save, exit to the main menu, and start up a new game just to get back with your friends.
There are a few other issues to be had with the game. One that I noticed was that some enemies, mainly boss characters, seem to have erratic or glitchy patterns to their movements and attacks. This mainly shows up in a few select fights, and in a couple instances, this ended up creating some bugs. In one instance, I was saved from a near death by M.O.D.O.K. because he got stuck in a corner and was unable to attack me. A couple other bugs show up from time to time, although they don’t hurt the game a whole lot. [i]Ultimate Alliance[/i] presents itself well, but some of the bugs in the game obstruct an otherwise clean slate.
Most people probably don’t expect a top-down RPG like this to feature some groundbreaking graphical feats, but for what it’s worth, [i]Ultimate Alliance[/i] looks pretty impressive. Even so, there are some graphic glitches that occur from time to time, and not everything looks as good as the Marvel heroes (namely, some textures and certain villains). The sound department is also well represented, with fairly decent voice acting for just about every character and the kinds of sounds effects you’d expect from a game with superheroes in it, although sometimes the punching and beating sound effects get to be a little much.
[i]Marvel: Ultimate Alliance[/i] is basically one of the biggest things comic fans could ask for. With the large and possibly most diverse roster of characters to choose from, any Marvel fan can get behind the game. While there are some issues with the online play and a couple glitches in places, and some may find it not to be much of an improvement over [i]X-Men Legends II[/i], [i]Marvel: Ultimate Alliance[/i] remains a great improvement on the [i]X-Men Legends[/i] series as well as a fun romp through Marvel comic history. Granted, I’m no diehard comic book fan, but if the game can pull in those who only show a passing glance to comics, those who love them will definitely want to pick this up.