|Marvel fans! ASSEMBLE!|
As any fan of the comics would tell you, the Marvel universe is PACKED with super-heroes and villains beloved and despised by all. And on several occasions in the comics and in films these heroes team up with each other to form powerful groups like The Avengers, and The Defenders. However these teams were limited to characters that the writers felt were appropriate, but with the release of Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the dream of creating your own fantasy team of Marvel Super-heroes may have been achieved (depends on who you like). Released back in 2006 and following the success of the X-Men Legends series, Ultimate Alliance is beat-em-up/RPG hybrid in which you combine a team of four super-heroes and battle The Masters of Evil lead by the iconic super-villain Dr. Doom. So is this game a Marvel fan-boy's dream come true? The answer is....depends on which super-hero you like and if you can past a few annoying glitches.
We open on the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier under attack by the forces of Victor Von Doom, AKA Doctor Doom and many other big baddies such as Loki, Ultron, and Baron Mordo. Desperate for help Col Nick Fury sends out an S.O.S which is first recieved by Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Thor with many others following afterwards. After repelling Doom's forces the heroes form a massive team to discover and thwart Doom's plans whatever they may be. As the game progresses Doom's plan is unraveled showing a plot to gain unfathomable power and take over the universe.......again (Doom has taken over the world TWICE and one time decided to give it up simply because he got bored.........yeeeeeah).
The story definitely has the feel of a Marvel event comic (without all the annoying tie-ins) with the size of its length (about 15-20 hours), cast of characters, and epic plot with twists and turns that go along with it. Both comic readers and TV/film watchers alike will love the plot and find themselves engrossed in it.
Ditching the cel-shaded look of the X-Men Legends games, Ultimate Alliance goes for a more "realistic" look which still looks rather cheap and does not take full advantage of the graphical power of the 360 and PS3 outside of cutscenes. However the stages in the game are very diverse and colorful, ranging from the magical world of Asgard to the hellish domain of Mephisto. The intermission stages though are very bland (with the exception of the Sanctum Santorum) and offer no real sense of exploration.
Voice acting in this game ranges from solid to decent but annoying. The super-heroes are cast fairly well and sound exactly like you would expect them to sound (except Thor) and the villains sound pretty good as well. The disposable minions you fight in this game however are incredibly annoying and will make you want to shut them up as quickly as possible with your fists or powers. Music is very forgettable and does very little to enhance the experience when it is not glitching out and getting stuck on one section or even disappearing for long periods. In short, voices are ok but the music glitches can be rather irritating.
As stated before, you form a team of up to four of the available Marvel super-heroes which includes popular characters such as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and Wolverine, as well as a few fairly obscure heros to non comic readers such as Ms. Marvel (AKA Warbird), Luke Cage and Doctor Strange (my personal favorite). The roster is massive and you are certain to find a character that you like. However with a massive roster comes a few issues, certain animations are shared and several powers look very similar to others which hints at a slight lack of creativity from the developers.
Gameplay is rather simple, you control one member of the team and switch between members with the D-Pad, in combat you use the light and heavy attack buttons to perform three hit combos that can trip, stun, pop-up, or just inflict damage on enemies, these attacks also build up your momentum meter. You execute your powers by holding the R trigger and pressing the button that the chosen power is bound to, fortunately these powers can be switched out at anytime without pausing the game by holding the R Trigger and using the D-Pad. Powers consume your Energy points and include damaging attacks, buffs for either the entire team or just the one character, and the screen clearing Xtreme attack that requires a full momentum meter to execute. Characters can also block and evade attacks with the R Button and can grab enemies to throw them, or execute a special smash attack that varies depending on the character. Combat is quite fun but can devolve into tedium as the game goes on, which is an issues that plagues many beat-em-up games like this.
The RPG elements of the game come from the customization options you have for each character. As you fight you gain experience and level up, learning new powers and enhancing your stats. As you level up you gain skill points which can be spent enhancing the potency of your powers as well as unlocking newly learned powers. Each character also has 3 unlockable costumes in addition to their initial outfit, each with 3 different bonuses to them. This is both a good and a bad thing as it adds depth but can scare many players out of using a particular costume as its bonuses will not benefit the character as much as another costume. Each hero can also wear one accessory which are obtained from bosses and secret chests, each with a different effect varying from raising stats to adding additional effects to strikes like poison or fire. These elements add a good level of depth to the game and allows players to make their characters adapt to the players prefered method of combat.
There are side-quests in the game that can affect the ending of the game such as a major sub-plot about the Black Widow's loyalty, but there are also a few pointless ones such as finding things for people in the intermission stages. These quests can be frustrating to complete though as interaction between players and NPCs has some nasty glitches. Conversation options never expire, so it is possible to ask the NPC for the McGuffin item over and over again even in later chapters. There is also trivia games which provide bonus XP for players knowledable about the Marvel mythos, and a series of solo missions in the training simulator which provide bonus points and a fourth costume for each character. And finally there are other characters to unlock outside of story progression like Daredevil and Silver Surfer.
Ultimate Alliance in a nutshell is a very fun but cheaply made game. The graphics are dated, and there are glitches galore in the text and occasionally gameplay, but the solid RPG elements and sheer fan-service (the non sexual type) from Marvel makes this game enjoyable. If you like Marvel or dungeon crawlers I'd definitely recommend this game.
3.9/5 Glitches and graphics aside, this game is pretty fun.
Where to get it
The game can be found in a used bargain bin at most game stores these days for around 5-10$. However there is a version of the game that has 8 DLC characters that have been removed from Xbox Live and PSN stores. Since these characters are only available in the "Gold" version it has made it quite the collectors item and sells for about 40-60$ on the internet.