Two of my favorite games from the Xbox 360 were the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance titles. They took some of my favorite properties, mashed them together with a blend of action and RPG elements, with lots of exploration and collectibles and I happily logged dozens of hours with those two games. When I heard that Activision was re-releasing these games, I was curious about both the timing and what the end result would be. All in all, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is still a good experience, though a fresh coat of paint cannot completely hide the handful of flaws that held the game back years ago and still exist today.
Back when I first played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, my head swam with the possibilities. While the game boasts over 140 characters from the universe that can be interacted with, the actual roster of controllable characters is much smaller - but still pretty robust. There are mainstays such as Captain America and Iron Man, and characters who at the time were somewhat less popular but have since gained quite the following (here's looking at you, Deadpool).
The game itself plays out as an action-RPG. You have a slightly angled top-down view of the characters and landscape as you jump, slash and shoot your way through hordes of bad guys. The plot here is pretty basic stuff that is frankly somewhat forgettable. Truth be told, I recalled that I enjoyed this game a great deal back in the day - but could not for the life of me actually recall what the heck these characters were fighting for until firing up the game. The long and the short of it? Doctor Doom has assembled an army of bad guys to do bad things in the name of ultimate badness.
The action plays out in that classic Diablo action/adventure style, where you trigger attacks while enemies attempt to swarm you. I usually try to find a team with a good mix of melee and ranged abilities as well as good passive skills and the ability to fly/soar when using double jump. My primary group was Spider-man (web swinging and versatility), Iron Man (radial attack for crowd control plus flight), Wolverine (awesome tank with melee damage) and Deadpool (because... Deadpool). One of the things that is awesome is that experience is earned in such a way that even the characters on your bench are gaining levels, so if you want to mix things up or tackle their training simulations, you can do so without feeling completely under-powered.
While the action can be somewhat repetitive, and the story is evidently one that proves pretty forgettable (seeing as I had... well, completely forgotten it), the core gameplay has that Diablo-like loop of finding items, increasing levels and skills while offering enough variety in the characters that the formula never really grew stale for me. Sure, most of the time I use Wolverine, because he's the best at what he does (mauling people, mostly), and I feel like a certifiable badass tearing through swarms of enemies using rapid melee attacks after going into a berserker rage. However, there are times when I want to mix it up, and by pressing a direction on the control pad I can effortlessly swap over to a wisecracking, gun-toting Deadpool (who upon leveling always brings a smile to my face while saying, "And now I'm better at doing whatever it is Wolverine does!) and vary up my style of play for a while.
Equipment can be found that upgrades specific stats such as striking proficiency. Each character has up to four unlockable costumes that can be upgraded for coins. Wolverine might have one outfit that increases defense and striking power, while another has regenerating or longer rage times. This gives you a nice bit of ownership over both the appearance and the functionality of the characters. Additionally, leveling up gives you skill points that can be used to customize your character's style of play. Do you want Iron Man to launch a missile, move faster, use a powerful uppercut or perhaps improve a rapid fire radial blast? The choice is yours, and this combined with the above progression hooks kept me coming back for more.
While it is great to get to play this game again, those who have the original game might not have much of a reason to plunk down an admittedly hefty forty dollars for this new release. It does not come with any DLC (yet, I have read that Activision plans to patch it in soon - which gives the impression that this title was somewhat rushed out of the door for some reason). The controls have always been somewhat fickle at times (perhaps never more so than when you are switching characters and for some reason a character might get 'stuck' in place - though jumping allows them to break free of the invisible hold on them). The graphics are updated, but this is still an old game - it does not hold a candle to most modern releases. The audio design is generally fine, though the voice acting is a little stilted by today's standards, and there are some odd parts where dialog is only voiced by one party (to help account for the number of possible character combinations you might be controlling) instead of fully voicing everything. By all accounts this is a pretty straight, no frills port of a really fun if older game, so keep that in mind.
These caveats aside, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is just a whole lot of fun to play. I am a huge fan of the Marvel universe, leveling up and customizing my characters is as addictive as ever and there is a pretty healthy amount of content to be had here. This is especially true for completionists such as myself who want to gold rank all of the training simulation rooms (that also give you a nice bit of insight on the characters' histories at times), collecting all of the sketch books and finding the dolls to unlock additional characters.
Article by Nick