It's hard denying that since the first X-Men and Spider-Man movies came out that the quality of most comic games has been raised exponentially. More attention is being paid to Marvel and DC now than ever before and it's the kind of attention that broadens the audience. Because of this revenue is much higher and people are looking for a solid experience with the characters that they love. With this in mind we're taking a look at Marvel: Ultimate Alliance for the PlayStation 3 and while it may not be a flawless experience; it is one that is a byproduct of the popularity for the Marvel franchise.
In 2004 when Activision released X-Men Legends it turned the gaming world upside down. Up until that point there had been few comic book titles that broke the mold and really tried something unique to the genre. Granted the style in gameplay was essentially a glorified dungeon crawling RPG not too dissimilar from Baldur's Gate but the use of the comic license was brilliant. It was steeped in X-Men lore and history with all the character that we have come to love over the years.
In many ways Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is the pinnacle of Legends' efforts. It takes a vast look at virtually the entire cast of Marvel characters and crafts an experience that will elicit many geeky arguments among fans about which character is better or which team is the most powerful. If you have ever been a fan of Marvel comics then this is a game you absolutely must try. The gameplay, graphics, and sound may all be well and good but the big draw (for me at least) is the rich comic book atmosphere that the game has in spades.
The plot revolves around Dr. Doom and his sinister ways. Good 'ol Victor Von Doom has gone and formed himself a new Masters of Evil with other villains such as Loki, Enchantress, Scorpion, and Ultron. To be honest there are too many to name but let's just say that the roster is very impressive. Their goal is unknown to you for most of the game, though as you'd imagine a wild goose chase is involved that takes you around the Marvel Franchise. From Doom's castle in Latveria to Arcade's Murderworld and even Mephisto's Realm you're going to be sent on a virtual comic book tour. The story stays strong from the start even though it feels primarily like a tool to link boss fights together. Still, I found it entertaining right up to the end 20 hours later. Of course a game cannot sustain itself on plot and atmosphere alone. That's where the gameplay comes in.
As I already mentioned Marvel: Ultimate Alliance heavily borrows from X-Men Legends in the gameplay department. In all honesty if you have played Legends then you'll feel right at home with Alliance, almost to the point that it may be repetitive. If you are unfamiliar however, the game basically employs a four person party of characters. With your party you'll be pounding your way through countless enemies and stages while racking up experience points, collecting money, and finding various power-ups. It's straight forward RPG stuff to be sure.
Once you've amassed enough experience points to make your character go up a level the customization in the game really takes over. Each hero (25 in total) has a bunch of moves to invest in and they really fit that character's power and personality. Spider-Man can shoot web balls, pull enemies closer, and use his Spidey Sense to slow down time. Iron Man can shoot lasers from his hands, utilize a rocket uppercut, and use his suit to cut down the energy cost for the entire party. The list honestly goes on and on.
It's important to experiment with each character and their powers to find a group that works best for your playing style. If you like charging in and pulverizing everything you will most likely want to use Wolverine and Colossus. If you're more of a keep away kind of gamer then you'll want Iron Man and Ms. Marvel in your employ. You can shuffle party members until the cows come home so dig in and play around; you'll have some fun in the process. Keep in mind that you can also unlock alternate costumes and special items for each character which change some of their abilities. Heck, there is even a team building feature that allows you to name a roster and give them even more abilities.
The customization for Ultimate Alliance is some of the deepest that I have ever seen in a dungeon crawler. It may not be as advanced as something like Final Fantasy but then again it doesn't really have to be. This is an action game that keeps you constantly moving and as such its system gets as deep or as light as you want it to. It really is the gameplay that keeps you going though.
Control in Ultimate Alliance is quite simple really. There are light and hard attack buttons as well as a jump button and a throw one. Shoulder buttons implement team tactics and special powers and the D-Pad allows you to swap between characters on the fly. I played the Xbox 360 version extensively as well as the PlayStation 3 and in most circumstances both were identical. Of course the SIXAXIS control has to be taken into account when you're talking about slight next-next generation upgrades.
By tilting the controller while blocking you'll basically instruct your character to dodge left or right. The SIXAXIS can even be used to charge power moves and to throw enemies when you're holding them. After playing the 360 version the PS3 edition kind of threw me for a loop at first. You basically have to hold your controller still if you don't want the SIXAXIS stuff to keep happening which took some getting used to. I did like the way the control worked during key moments in boss fights though, because it took the edge out of the repetitiveness of pressing buttons. Even so, the difficulty in Alliance never really gets too challenging. Whether you're playing Easy, Normal, or Hard, your experience will offer a minuscule amount of change.
When you find yourself getting bored with the story in Ultimate Alliance and looking for a challenge you can take them to the training room. This is basically like the Danger Room in X-Men Legends. As you play through the game you'll find various discs that open up certain missions such as special boss fights or mini-stages based on a character's history. It adds a lot of depth and some extra gameplay to the game and also bumps up the difficulty factor because as you go at most of these missions with just one character.
Of course, like the other versions of the game as well, you can take Ultimate Alliance online and play with three other gamers. This was a great feature that really added a lot of depth to an already fun title. Sure the story is the same and the experience may be virtually identical but the fact that you pick one character and stick with them makes Ultimate Alliance feel like arcade games of yore. The online community is pretty good too from what I experienced though it's better if you know someone with the game as well.
As far as the graphics are concerned Marvel: Ultimate Alliance supports full HD video output of 1080p. Unfortunately apart from that little tidbit there have been no improvements over the other versions of the game. Little glitches seep in from time to time such as pop-up and characters that walk through walls. Despite these moments the game looks as good as the other editions with fine character models and detailed environments. I was just hoping for more textures and resolution to go along with the PlayStation 3's graphics engine.
On the audio side of things the soundtrack is decent if not straight forward action attire. Each stage has a tune and it changes frequently during the game which keeps it from getting repetitive. Sound effects are generally well done and voiceovers are more or less enjoyable. Some characters sound god awful while others spot on perfect; it's really a mixed bag when you get right down to it. The Dolby Digital output adds some added oomph to the sound but it's not as immersive as other titles.
Chances are very good that by now you have probably tried this out on another console so that leaves this title feeling a little dated, even though it only came out like a month later. If you haven't played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and you're looking for a good game to test your PlayStation 3 out with then you should consider picking it up. It's the gameplay and atmosphere that really sell Ultimate Alliance and those two points alone are the reason enough to play it. There's a lot of stuff here for comic book fans to sink their teeth into and in the end it tastes very good.