Marvel: Ultimate Alliance - Retro Reflections

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is like “X-Men Legends” with Avengers. You select a team of up to four heroes and begin a quest to stop Doctor Doom and his Masters of Evil from completing a sinister plan that threatens the entire Earth.

The plot gives you the chance to visit many places, even different worlds, and meet famous characters. The dialogues are common, except for Spiderman’s jokes (e.g. when he makes Mysterio mad with his lack of seriousness), but get the job done.

The game focuses on fighting. You have normal attacks, special moves, grabs and weapons. Normal attacks are punches, kicks, slashes (if you control Wolverine), hammer strikes (if you play with Thor), etc. that are combined in combos with different effects: stunning, knocking down or lifting up in the air. In addition, some combos deal extra damage to specific enemies. When you grab someone you may hit him repeatedly, slam him on the ground or throw him (necessary for solving a puzzle in Mephisto’s realm). Weapons, acquired by disarming opponents, deal heavy damage but you cannot fly or use special moves when armed; besides, it is strange to see Captain America wielding a halberd!

Special moves are the game’s highlight. They can be upgraded and make every super hero unique, powerful and fun to play. Ms. Marvel casts rays of light or creates energy orbs that float around her and home in on enemies automatically. Thor tosses his hammer and attacks with lightning or tornados. Captain America throws his shield or uses it to knock down multiple opponents. Moreover, they all have skills that make them stronger, faster or more resilient. And that’s only a very small sample of the game’s variety of special moves.

Characters you choose from include the Fantastic Four, Iceman, Storm, Doctor Strange, Luke Cage, Deadpool and Iron Man. Since this is a game, their powers are brought approximately to the same level, so don’t be surprised if Electra hits as hard as Thor.

Each one of the five acts has different headquarters, where Nick Fury explains your next mission, Black Widow gives extra information and Vision with Hank Pym tell you about the characters you meet and places you visit. There are also three spots with special functions: one for accessing bonus missions, one for testing your knowledge of Marvel lore and one for viewing artwork and mission statistics. Secondary characters talk to you about their life and someone may even ask you to retrieve an item for him/her.

Headquarters, like every stage, have a SHIELD access point, where you can save, change your team, teleport to another access point or revive lost team members. There are two ways to return to headquarters when you play: reach a SHIELD point or use the portal ability.

Enemies appear in various types. Normal opponents often use ranged attacks, throws or weapons but are defeated easily if you control a team of at least three members. Enhanced baddies are usually bigger and have more health.

Bosses are super villains, such as Scorpion, Rhino or the Wrecking Crew. Some of them require tactics to be dealt with, for example activating a machine or using a specific weapon. Occasionally, you must press specific buttons quickly to win, especially when you face humongous creatures that cannot be hurt directly. Super villains make “Ultimate alliance” more appealing but I wish they acted more intelligently, for example they tend to hunt the character you control and ignore the rest.

Among the items that help you in your quest are orbs, money and gear. Red orbs replenish your health and blue orbs fill your energy, needed for special moves. Orbs appear when you beat enemies or crash objects such as crates and barrels; they are consumed immediately, so you cannot stock them. If your health and energy are full orbs become experience points, which is a smart idea. Money is for upgrading outfits. Every character has a selection of three or four outfits to wear. Besides changing his/her appearance, an outfit has three attributes which you can improve by spending money. For example, Thor gains extra damage with hammer attacks, more energy and higher defense. Gear is left by defeated bosses or discovered in containers. Some can be worn only by a specific character and they all increase your defensive or offensive capabilities in various ways.

The overall game design is linear, with few secondary quests, although sometimes you get to choose what to do or which order you perform some actions in. The level design is not complex and a handy automap makes exploring simple. There are also traps, hazards and puzzles to negotiate: mechanical clowns with hammers that spring from boxes in Arcade’s Murderworld, gigantic whirlpools in Namor’s submarine Atlantis and cubes with symbols that need to be moved on the right spot in Asgard’s medieval structures.

The graphics are very good, as every location has its own identity, vivid colors and different enemies to confront. For instance, in Mandarin’s Palace, red and gold are the predominant colors, statues of Buda and small internal gardens form an atmospheric environment, rotating blades and hyperkinetic shaolin monks claim your life. Even the Headquarters are interesting, such as Stark’s Tower, which is luxurious and full of high tech equipment. Characters are not big even when you zoom the camera in but their animation is fluid. The introduction is amazing, both in terms of visual quality and direction. The only minor weakness of the graphics is the lack of icons for gear.

The sound is satisfying, with epic music and high quality voice acting, e.g. Nick Fury sounds firm and authoritative while Black Widow has something attractive in her manner and a slightly foreign accent.

The control system makes perfect use of the console’s controller. There are two buttons for normal attacks, which is good for combos in action games. Another button is for jumping or flying and a fourth one for grabbing. L1 lets you block (I rarely used it, a testament of the game’s low difficulty), and L2 changes the team’s AI or calls your allies by your side. R2 in combination with the face buttons (square, x, circle) unleashes a special move; you may assign different moves to the same button but you cannot have more than three moves available simultaneously. R2+∆ unleashes a more powerful attack that is possible after you have already fought for some time and the directional button changes the hero you control directly. The AI is good, since characters you don’t control do what they must, that is, beat the life out of anyone who stands in their way!

Marvel Ultimate Alliance is easy, as enemies deal little damage and you replenish your health frequently. However, if you try to play with one or two characters you will have problems, especially during the boss fights. So, a team of four or three members is a solid choice (I beat Doctor Doom with Wolverine, Thor and Captain America, as I had lost Ms. Marvel in the previous battle and couldn’t revive her).

My favorite stage was the one where I had to prevent a starship from exploding and I could also choose to save empress Lilandra from torture, all in a very tight time limit. After two failures and an intense effort I succeeded, just one second before the explosion! A pleasant surprise was the ending: not only did I see the future consequences of my actions during the adventure but I also heard a section where the actors and actresses that lent their voices called the game’s studio for voice recording, pretending they are the real comic book characters! You should hear Uatu trying to convince the studio clerk that he is good enough for battle sequences by saying “it’s clobbering time” or Stark flirting with her!

Marvel Ultimate Alliance is perhaps my second most enjoyable game on PS2, after Bloodrayne. It has very good graphics and music, many popular characters to choose from, plenty of fast action and the general feel of a classic comic book. One day I may try to finish it again, with a different team of super heroes.

Article by Dimitris

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