Marvel Ultimate Alliance has done something that its predecessors have never been able to do: get me excited.
I'm a huge comic fan. In fact, I just dropped fifty bucks at the local comic shop. My fiance groaned a bit when she overheard the total and the clerk commented that "it was an expensive hobby."
"It's not a hobby," I replied. "It's a lifestyle."
I know how nerdy that sounds. I even second guessed putting it in print. But it is true. My monthly comics aren't expendable, not like cable TV. I can't give them up. I'd skip meals first.
Anyway, I tell you this because you should know that when I played X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends 2 I didn't want to like them. I wanted to love them. Lots of people do love them. They have a healthy following. I just didn't. I always felt disconnected from the characters and the action. Which is a killer for a role-playing game. But, so much do I love these characters, that when Ultimate Alliance came out I was willing to give it a chance. This time they hooked me. Much fanboy glee ensued.
The first thing that impressed me was Ultimate Alliance's incredible cast of characters. No longer limited to just the X-Men's cast, Ultimate Alliance offers a sampling of characters from all corners of the Marvel Universe. Many of these characters have movie deals, but I still never imagined a videogame would feature Luke Cage, Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider, and Elektra (amongst all the obvious ones). Then there is Blade and Ms. Marvel, who maybe should have stayed benched. Having too many options is always better than not enough, though.
Playing with each character also unlocks their various costumes. From the obscure to the classics, you can dress your characters to whatever era you remember most fondly. Raven Software really went all out to let gamers create the Marvel experience they want the most. This fan is impressed. They even included Spidey's latest duds, that Iron Man created for him.
It also doesn't hurt that the graphics have made a very nice leap up for this spiritual sequel. You can pick the characters you want, dress them to any taste, and they look better than ever.
Oh man, and the cutscenes. They look so good. I would have to say that these are the closest our favorite characters have come to living and breathing. I mean, the movies are fun, but it is still just an actor. Usually they have to ditch the look from the comics to translate to the screen. The animation projects are often nice too, but animation is so less detailed than the comics, by necessity. The CGI cutscenes in Marvel Ultimate Alliance don't have the same failings. If only we could convince them to make a feature length movie. I'd be on that like stink on a monkey. There is a scene towards the end where the Watcher appears. I think it is the best I have ever seen that character rendered, certainly with the most detail. (Sorry, Mr. Kirby.)
In many places the dialogue and voice acting can be weak. Otherwise, the story is pretty decent. Our heroes travel to just about every major spot in the Marvel Universe. Namor's underwater realm of Atlantis, a Skrull planet in far off space, Mephisto's Hell-like dimension, and Doom's castle in Lateveria are only a handful of the places you will visit. I was always pleased by each new location. And you can count on seeing all the major villains. For those who wish that Marvel's current event (Civil War) was more of the sprawling epic, like DC's Infinite Crisis, this game has the story for you.
The story is suprisingly well thought out,too. Instead of hordes of heroes standing around for no reason, the story is crafted in a way that makes sense that they would all be there. It is even fairly convincing that the villains would all team up in the fashion that they do. Heck, many comics don't pull that off.
Completing the almost perfect presentation of Ultimate Alliance (darn that pesky voice acting) is its excellent score. The music really fits each situation well. Working perfectly to help bring the hero out in any player.
So the presentation is really great. What about the gameplay? After all, the gameplay is essentially where the X-Men Legends games lost me. I am happy to report that the gameplay in Ultimate Alliance was much more to my liking, if still flawed.
The major change is in the super-powers. In the others games you were merely a bystander for the super-powers. In Ultimate Alliance you can actually interact with some of them. The best example is Captain America's shield. You not only throw it at an enemy but control the throw for many seconds afterward. This allows you to attack multiple targets with a single throw. The feature quickly made Captain America my favorite character. I loved running into a room full of evil-doers, tossing my shield, and then knocking down numerous enemies while finishing them off with my fists. It made for some interesting, layered gameplay.
Otherwise, the gameplay is pretty shallow. You spend most of your time button mashing your way through countless hordes of enemies. With the occasional break to punch in a computer console or smash a jar for some extra coinage. (Used for upgrading your characters.) Still, the boss fights keep things fresh with more mini-game type action. You'll have to slow things down from the frenzied button mashing to hit the correct buttons in the correct sequence at the correct time. As is, even the button mashing side of Ultimate Alliance has a nice flow to it that keeps it from getting too stale.
People like me, who love to customize will have plenty to do. Not only can you customize your characters, you can customize their costumes. Each costume has a unique set of abilities you can upgrade. You can also create your own team and then you are able to upgrade your team as a whole. You'll be wanting to get as many coins as you can with all the upgrades available.
Ultimate Alliance has tons of things to collect and unlock. It adds a lot to the replayability. There are special power ups to seek out, comic art, extra training levels, and a slew of unlockable characters. Many gamers will want to go back through the game to find the items they missed on the first time around.
The multiplayer adds even more incentive to play Ultimate Alliance through more than once. You can play locally with as many as four players. This works really well. It also runs smooth over Xbox live but there are a few things that could have been done much better. First off, it would have been much appreciated if more than one person from each Xbox could go online. The other problem is that you can't take your characters online unless you are the host. Why not let the others players take the characters they have been upgrading already online, and continue to upgrade them there.
Multiplayer offers two modes: Arcade mode and Cooperative mode. Both of them play through the story the same way the only difference is that Arcade mode is a competition for points. Points are given for getting kills, which is decided by whom ever gets the final blow. At the end of the level you get awards for least deaths, destroying things, and others. I preferred the co-op mode though. It is just more fun working together then fighting it out for last hit on an enemy.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance does an excellent job of presenting the grandiose of the Marvel Universe. Sometimes it can get tedious with the seemingly endless enemies and you may get a sore thumb from the constant button mashing, but it is the over the top presentation that makes Ultimate Alliance just pure fun. Throw in the fact that you can experience it with three other players and you have got yourself one heck of a game. Looking up as my four heroes must face-off against the world-devourer Galactus is all it took for me. I was smitten.