Reviewed by Jimmy | 11.07.06
Activision expands their X-Men Legends formula past the realm of the X-Men to include the whole Marvel Universe. If you're a comic book fan then you're already giddy with anticipation. Marvel Ultimate Alliance features 20 playable Marvel characters fighting against Dr. Doom's plot of evil. The expectations are high, as we jump forward on the Xbox 360. Let the battle begin, here is our review of Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
In the beginning of Marvel Ultimate Alliance (MUA) you will be presented with a beautifully rendered intro cinematic of Dr. Doom's attack on S.H.I.E.L.D.s Helicarrier, and the arrival of your first foursome of heroes, Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, and *snik* Wolverine. The intro cinematic ends and you jump right into the action fighting to save the Helicarrier from Dooms forces. If you have played an X-Men Legends then you already know how MUA is going to work. If not, then expect a pleasant blending of top-down action, RPG stat building and progressive storytelling.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance starts out with a bang with sustains good momentum with everything you need for a good comic book ride. Your playing field is presented in a top down 3rd person overview and the controls and character management is simple and intuitive. You play a super team of four characters which can be switched between on the fly by simply hitting the D-Pad. Each Marvel character has their own unique attacks and powers, abilities which are equally useful during your adventure in the game.
If you're into Marvel then it's easy to get excited when you know 140 characters from the Marvel Universe will be appearing. Although you will come across these characters during the game, only 23 (+2 Next-Gen Exclusives) characters are playable which is seven more characters then in X-Men Legends II. From the X-Men comic you have Storm, Wolverine, Iceman, and Colossus who is a next-generation exclusive. The full cast of the Fantastic Four is also present, Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, The Thing and the Invisible Woman. The rest the original characters you can pick from in MUA is Captain America, Deadpool, Luke Cage, Elektra, Iron Man (War Machine), Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman and Spider-Man, God of Thunder, Thor and the second Next-Generation exclusive character Moon Knight. If I'm not mistaken this will mark Moon Knight and a few other characters first appearance into a videogame. The seven that are left over are unlockable characters, so I won't spoil the fun, but you will know one Ghost Rider because he is featured on the cover art.
In a little sigh of disappointment, Activision decided to cleverly move around some extra characters to make exclusives for each platform. I think the PSP version lucks out the most with four unlockable characters which included a personal favorite of mine Hawkeye. Then again, the PSP limited on the amount of extra and the graphics and controls of the Xbox 360. If you really enjoy Marvel Ultimate Alliance, there is some incentive for you to pick up another version, but only if your moving onto the PSP, GBA, or Wii.
Into the evil side of Marvel, then here is rundown on some of the villains you will be encountering during your travels. It's a collective bunch from the likes of the giant dragon Fin Fang Foom, Hank Pym's creation Ultron, Spider-Man's man of wizardry Mysterio, and even Thors brother Loki, the god of Mischief. That's only the tip of the ice berg because Doom recruited over 40 villains to help him in his cause. You will have to battle them all, so get ready to bring the show to these deviants of evil.
That's a might huge list of characters and when you add the NPCs that you run across its pretty staggering. I'm sure a lot of fans will wonder why they left out some major characters and included others, but you can bet we will have another alliteration of Marvel Ultimate Alliance with the other featured. Off the top of my head I would like to see more X-Men's like Magneto or Emma Frost, or some characters from the Punisher comic. Aside from the missing, the encounters with the NPCs are pretty standard except the major dramatic choice you're forced into in the middle of the game. I can't mention any names, but you're you be facing a morally impossible decision that shapes the rest of the games future, but has to be done. Usually the dialog is a little forced with NPCs, but at times the story gets very interesting and deep.
Besides the main story you will have the opportunity to play through special comic book missions which are unlocked by finding discs hidden in levels. These missions will relive a moment in a certain characters past where they will have to fight a classic arch rival. Asides from the great nostalgia feel of these levels you will learn more background information about the character and gain the opportunity to unlock a new character skin as well as build up your characters stats. These levels are just as good as the main mission levels, although they are usually dumbed down a bit. I found them to be really interesting and I tried to search out all the discs as I played through the main game.
If you have friends around at home or over the internet you can play through the whole game with someone else, up to four people. This is one of Marvel Ultimate Alliances sweet spots and great if you want to run through a few levels. You also have two choices with the multiplayer which consists of play in a Cooperative mode where you team up working together or the Arcade mode which keeps stats while you play and awards "Most Valuable Hero" award at the end of each level. On average the levels last about 40 minutes, so it's a great game to kill an hour or so.
In total you will play through five chapters and 17 different locations that have in several interesting locations and dynamic mission goals. A few personal highlights were the underwater mission investigating Namor's kingdom in Atlantis, and the twisted adventure into Murderworld chasing down the villain Arcade . Marvel Ultimate Alliance is more varied and impressive then X-Men Legends, combined with the new realistic look, Raven has out done itself once again with its size and scale of the adventure.
Along with the new look of MUA, the characters also collect new outfits along the way. The majority of costumes are dynamic from each and worth collecting. Plus they are upgradeable with their own set of attributes. It's best to wait until you unlock all four for a character before you start spending points on upgrading these suits. Like Spider-Mans' Symbiote Suit and Wolverines' classic look are two of my favorites.
Raven also added some other tweaks that upgrade the X-Men gaming engine in the little ways that count. First, it doesn't use energy for flying characters to do just that, fly. This was always a pet peeve of mine from the X-Men Legends games, and now using Storm has become that much cooler. They also took away the use of healing items and gathering orbs to increase your power. Nothing is worse then being down on health and your friend uses a health potion, or grabs the one you're needed during a mission. Now the health and power restore automatically goes to the person who needs it the most. I love this new system and more then being convent; it helps the player focus more on the action then worrying about healing their group.
Along with these tweaks they also made some changes to the attacking scheme by adding a little bit of interactivity. Now you can power up moves by tapping and holding buttons, or even rotating the analog stick, like when you use Storms whirlwind attack. In another surprise you can even wrestle weapons away from the evil minions and use them to your advantage like a steel pipe or a mace. These little dynamics doesn't mask the button mashing affair Marvel Ultimate Alliance really is, but it adds a little bit of change which was needed.
One area that MUA still needs some work is the A.I. of your team mates. For the general scope of the game they react accordingly, but at times you can find them just watching the battle, or neglecting their use of powers. The enemies also have some weird attribute in them that they usually only target the player. I understand this is to increase the fun factor for the one in control, but it's awfully unrealistic and takes a little bit away from the mirage of the action. I usually used the A.I. against itself and switched my character if I was low on health because I knew the enemy would just focus on my new character leaving the real injured team mate alone. You can thank me later Captian.
Before I wrap up this review, I wanted to touch on the graphics. Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a strange creature because it fluctuates from amazing, to horrible. The amazing parts are the highly rendered movies that are spread apart during the game. The bad is the clunky out-of-date messes like in the mission briefs that come from the in-game engine. Aside from the mission briefs, MUA looks top-down perspective looks great boasting a good sense of scale. This is weaved around some impressive level design. The effects are also some of the most varied and wild effects that I have seen for characters this scale. Johnny Storms fire effects are a highlight.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance is basically a new and improved version of X-Men Legends. Now, that's not a bad thing if you liked X-Men Legends, I know I loved both of the X-Men installations. Boasting the largest cast of Marvel Characters ever assembled into a single game, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a comic book fans dream game. Complete with a typical comic book cliche' story, Marvel Ultimate Alliance does a great job bringing the pages of Marvel to life. Although, the entire expedience might be a little simplistic and short, there is enough content to warrant more than one play through. Rent, or buy, you need to check out Marvel Ultimate Alliance, it's one of the best comic book related games ever released.