Marvel Ultimate Alliance

What we liked:
-Incredible mix of Marvel’s finest and more obscure heroes and villains
-Tons of extras including extra costumes and weapons
-Leveling up also levels up inactive characters makes adds a strategic aspect of a beat-em up
What we didn't like:
-Graphics are less than gorgeous
-Game engine is showing sings of age
-AI isn’t bad, but it’s nowhere near good either
Rating
7.5
Good
DEVELOPER: Raven   |   PUBLISHER: Activision   |   RELEASE: 11/17/2006

Comic book fans are known the world over for being hard to please. Whether Marvel or DC buffs, they know their stuff and remember everything. If anyone messes with their heroes, they do not sit idly by to say the least. Case in point – the internet backlash that resulted when the Spiderman movie had Peter Parker naturally gaining the ability to shoot webs rather than building customized web shooters like the original comic storyline. See, I told you, we remember everything.

It can be looked at as no less than an achievement then that Raven Software has made Marvel: Ultimate Alliance an experience that will please even the most diehard comic book fans with it’s depth and little touches, while pleasing casual fans with its fun, old-school beat-em up style.

Anyone familiar with the surprise hit X-men legends or its sequel X-men Legends: Rise of Apocalypse will feel right at home upon loading Ultimate Alliance. You have access to a deep catalogue of Marvel heroes past and present as you smash, punch and use your mutant powers to get through the game’s dungeon like levels. At any given time, your group consists of four superheroes, any of which you can control with a simple touch of the D-pad. At first, you are limited to controlling Captain America, Wolverine, Spiderman and Thor, but halfway through the first level, you reach your first chance to switch your team, kicking off one of the game’s coolest and most intriguing aspects.

The amount of selectable heroes in Ultimate Alliance is simply astounding. Always wanted to see Luke Cage team with the Thing? Go ahead. Always thought you’d like to see storm in the Fantastic Four? You now have your chance. Even lesser known fan favorite characters like Moon Knight and Deadpool are included in the game’s eighteen immediately selectable heroes, with more, including the Silver Surfer and Blade to unlock as your progress through the game. What’s more, alternate attire for each hero is available throughout the game to add even more depth.

In a cool addition, Ultimate Alliance gives players rewards for putting together certain groups of heroes, such as legendary teams, or heroes with similar abilities. For instance, putting together Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, the Thing and the Human Torch will result in players receiving the “Fantastic Four bonus” or choosing a team of solely female heroes creates the “femme fatale” bonus.

What would the largest gathering of heroes be without something menacing to fight? Enter Dr. Doom and his newly formed Masters of Evil, a gathering of criminal masterminds and all around no good nicks with a secret plan that is revealed only as you progress through the game. The cast of villains is equally as impressive as the heroes, as for every Galactus and Loki you face, there’s an Arcade and Fing Fang Foom waiting to take you out as well.

Players play through various locations in the Marvel Universe such as the Shield Helli-carrier and Arcade’s deranged amusement park, using their mutant’s combined abilities to get through puzzles and hordes of similar looking enemies (think Double Dragon). Upon starting the game, each hero has their basic abilities and one or two special abilities at their disposal, with the ability to upgrade these attacks or learn new ones as you level up. As you level up, your inactive heroes also get stronger and learn new abilities, so when you switch them in for your active heroes, they aren’t useless.

The game can be played alone, or by up to four players online or off, with the computer filing in for whatever heroes are not being controlled when four players are not present. The AI for both the heroes and villains isn’t horrible, but it’s not great either. All too often AI controlled heroes seem to get stuck in corners, or continue to throw punches at already downed enemies. The real fun comes when you get three others to play along side you, recalling the good ole’ days of Gauntlet and Final Fight.

Besides in certain sections of the game where lighting and other effects really stand out, Ultimate Alliance really does not look like a next-gen game. Even on high definition TVs, characters and locations look jagged and uneven, often giving a bumpy, action figure like appearance making for some really god awful scenes. Graphics in the cut-scenes are fairly decent looking – why not make the entire game this polished?

Though it is fun to go berserker rage style with wolverine or clobber a Doom-Bot with The Thing, the game’s engine is starting to show its age and become tiresome. Midway through the game, fighting wave after wave of enemies that essentially look exactly like the wave of enemies you just beat leaves the player looking for something else. It will be interesting to see what Raven software does with the next game in the series.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance plays like Raven Software’s love letter to the Marvel Universe and improves on a tiring game formula with more depth and customization. Though not that pretty to look at, it serves its purpose as a fast, multiplayer friendly old school beat-em up, even if its all been done before.

PS3 Differences
While the core game does remain the same the PS3 version has seen some slightly enhanced aspects that make them worth mentioning. For starters the game now runs at the ridiculously high resolution of 1080p, which for a game of this type really causes each minor detail stand-out when run side by side with the other versions. Of course only a few lucky people will ever be able to realize this as most of us do not own the expensive TVs nor the fifty dollar HDMI cable to support it. Regardless the game is a bit smoother than it’s XBox 360 counterpart in this respect.

Raven has also added in support for the Sixaxis controller. The motion-sensor in the controller is used to perform grabs, dodges, and even charging up your attacks, but it’s main use is during the boss battles. Onscreen indicators will flash showing you specific movements to perform during the fight. This turns certain boss fights into almost a collection of mini-games and really adds a nice layer of depth to the monotonous hacking and slashing found through most of the game.

Even with these subtle improvements the game is still the same package you have been able to play on all the other consoles for a while now. However if you have yet to take the plunge into the Marvel Ultimate Alliance the PS3 version is by far the best of the bunch and more than worth checking out if you were able to snag a PS3 this holiday season.