Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Reviewed by Megan Parker
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-12-18 PS2 Action/RPG T (Teen) Activision / Raven

The two X-Men: Legends games have been pretty successful, and very well done especially for a genre that is often left with boring games. Fortunately for this comic game, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is most certainly not boring.

Unlike the Legends games, this focuses not just on the X-Men, but the entire Marvel Universe. To start out, you're given Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor, and of course, Wolverine.

If you've played the Legends games, the controls for the most part are just as exactly as you remember them. For those who haven't played them, the controls are easy to pick up, and mastering them isn't that difficult. The gameplay is very similar, in the style of dungeon crawlers. Your team of four makes its way through various settings, such as a SHIELD helicarrier, Murderworld, Asgard, and many other famous and infamous Marvel locales. For the most part, the locales are pretty varied. However, in the single player training missions they repeat quite often and it does get a little old once you've played the same map for several different characters.

To start out with, you have 16 characters unlocked and free to choose from. There are seven more that can be unlocked through regular gameplay or by collecting a certain amount of their "action figures" through the various areas. Most of the more famous Marvel characters are available, including the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and Elektra. There are also lesser knowns, such as Ms Marvel, Dr Strange, and Deadpool. I was actually a little disappointed that there wasn't a better female to male ratio within the game. There are a few other female heroes that I would have loved to play, like She-Hulk and the Scarlet Witch. Even so, the selection is definitely enough to make any Marvel fan happy.

So, some may ask "Yes, it's great for fans of Marvel. Woo, special. What about those who aren't comic fans, why would they play?"

What is great about the game is there is something for everyone, or rather anyone who likes fighting-based RPGs. The game itself is actually more of an RPG "light", with some basic RPG characteristics, such as powers (spells), experience points, and enhancements. However, it does stop there. The storyline is pretty linear, and there is no available dialog to choose from and alter the flow of the story.

For those who aren't fans of Marvel, or know little about the backstory, there are plenty of opportunities for explanation of almost all of the characters in the game. Even if you're totally unfamiliar with any of the characters, there is enough information in the game to give a basic idea of what is going on.

The game itself is actually fairly long, taking you at least twenty hours to complete. There are the regular chapters, but scattered throughout the game are training discs, some of them containing solo missions for the 21 playable characters, others being group missions to face a specific boss.

Regardless of whether you're playing the regular missions or the side quests in the training scenarios, experience points are given and given pretty evenly. Even if you don't like a certain character, (for example, Dr Strange is boring) that character will still level up at about the same rate as the others. The characters you play more will level a little faster than the others, but not to the point that there's more than a level's difference between characters.

As you level, you are able to choose new powers and boost existing ones. It's set up to have four powers, and allows you to actually assign the powers of your choosing to the three main power keys.

Using powers takes energy, and it's set up that while the power is finite, you don't run out too quickly. The baddies usually drop health or energy orbs that are absorbed by the teammate that needs it the most. This actually keeps most of the team at full health and energy after almost every battle. The only downside to not being able to carry health and energy items is that you often run low in boss battles.

Aside from the orbs for health and energy, there are also SHIELD coins that you can use to add to your existing powers or buy buffs for your particular costume. Each character has four costumes that can be unlocked by playing them and one unlocked from beating their particular solo mission with at least a bronze reward. Each costume has a different set of attributes and can often dramatically change how well a character is able to fight.

The game itself isn't the most difficult, and once you're used to the controls (if you're not already) it's only a short time before you find out the best way to fight with the various characters. The boss fights however can go from incredibly easy to absolutely aggrivating. The aggrivating boss fights can be the "cheap fight" where the boss has so many rule breaking things going for them that it is an absolute pain to take them down. For example, Rhino has a ramming charge. Somehow, even though he's never portrayed to be quick to change directions, he actually manages to stay on you no matter how agile you are. In a fight between him and the Thing, it ends up being a long and pretty boring boxing match of a few punches, some blocking and then more punches. The boss really isn't that hard, it's just has the odds stacked in its favor and more than bosses' usually do.

What is nice about MUA is that portals become available to jump back to the base and recover or even level up further in training sessions. You don't need to wait for a SHIELD portal to save or change out members or costumes. There are some instances where the portal doesn't work, but it is due to the storyline. Still, the portal is nice and you definitely want to be able to access it. It does have a short recharging time, which surprised me. I expected it to only work every half-hour or so, but the recharging is only a matter of minutes that you can actually easily get through at the headquarters.

The SHIELD portals scattered throughout the environments allow you to save, change teams or even head back to previous chapters. The downside of revisiting the previous chapters is that they don't completely reset to how they were the first way through. I think it would be fun to play your way through them again with all of the same challenges and not affect the rest of your game. However, it was included and that is better than keeping it out entirely.

My Team is a nice feature that allows you to pick your favorite set of heroes and then through reputation, gain various team buffs and skills. The downside to it is if you swap out heroes, you can lose reputation. I actually found it more entertaining to rotate through the heroes than keep the same team. However, if that isn't your style, My Team is definitely a nice touch. There is also another setup for just basic teams that will give extra points to various aspects. For example, if your team consists of Spider-Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, you get the New Avengers team bonus.

When it comes to multiplayer gameplay, the game allows for arcade or co-op gameplay. There is also online play, which I was unable to explore. The offline multiplayer is fun, and with the arcade, having friends take you on as the enemy, it can definitely be interesting.

The story is fairly comic book-ish, as is the dialogue. By "comic book-ish" I mean the sort of standard fare you'd expect from a lot of comics. I would like to see better dialog and a more intriguing storyline in these games. I know from experience that comics can have very engaging storylines, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance is left with only an adequate one. Voice acting in the game ranges from perfect for characters to absolutely silly.

The music is actually quite good, though sometimes it can be obnoxiously loud and cover up the voices of the game. I've turned the music down and still run into the same trouble.

The graphics are actually a lot better than Legends, I think partially due to the fact that Legends had a more flat comic look, while Ultimate Alliance goes for a little bit more "realism". The cinematic scenes are actually really fun to watch and very well done.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is an incredibly fun and engaging game that would attract comic and non-comic fans alike. Fans of Marvel will absolutely love the sheer amount of characters to choose from, as well as the various costumes from the different eras. With a long main storyline, costumes to get and characters to unlock, the game won't get old quickly.

Special thanks to Neil Wood and Activision for providing a copy of this title.