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Marvel Ultimate Alliance

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4; (2 - 4 Co-op; 2 - 4 Online)
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Adventure


Graphics & Sound:

The best way for me to describe Marvel Ultimate Alliance is to say that you take the latest games in the Gauntlet series, and then change the theme to Marvel superheroes. This is not a bad thing, since the latest Gauntlet games are quite addictive and fun to play.

In Marvel Ultimate Alliance, you get to control a four person team of familiar Marvel super heroes, such as Thor, Spider-Man, The Thing, The Human Torch, Iron Man, Captain America, Ice Man... there are 20 characters in all to choose from, including the unlockable characters. Each of the characters have their "Ultimates" costume to start with and can gain additional costumes as they gain experience.

The music in Marvel Ultimate Alliance is orchestral, with a cinematic feel which helps to heighten the action. The voice-work is well done, with most of the superheroes sounding as you would expect them to and having the appropriate accents and attitudes. One thing that could become aggravating are the announcements over the public address system in Stark Tower. I found them entertaining at first and then I got to the point I sort of ignored what they said, but Starscream complained that these were far too repetitive.


Gameplay:

Marvel Ultimate Alliance feels very much like a Gauntlet game, which offers good gameplay opportunities. The only times that the gameplay got a little frustrating for me would be when I would get turned around or not see the next place to advance and would wander back across the map looking for where to go next. One difference between Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Gauntlet's gameplay, however, is that you always start with four members in your team. In Single Player mode, you control one of these at any given time, with the A.I. controlling the other three. All four characters are active when you start and you can switch to any one of them any time during gameplay. By contrast, in Gauntlet, there is only one characters in your party for each player; a one player game will have only one character in your party. Due to this gameplay mechanic, Marvel Ultimate Alliance tends to stress the team aspect, even when you're playing a one player game.

One interesting aspect of Marvel Ultimate Alliance is that each superhero's characteristics change based on their costume, as well as on the customizations you make by selecting which powers to upgrade as you play. This allows for a good deal of customization of your character, such that two people may have Spider-Man characters that not only look different, but actually have different stats that fit their playing style.

Speaking of playing style, it is possible to play through the game as a particular character and simply choose three other characters to assist you, allowing the computer to control the other three superheroes, but a much more successful strategy is to swap between the characters and control each one when you want that character's abilities. For example, I always keep at least one character who can fly in my team; I control this superhero when I need to move around the area quickly. The others usually catch up pretty quickly, unless there's a lot of enemy activity around. Also, some characters have special moves that help the entire team out, such as Ice Man's Ice Gloves that strengthens all of your team members' striking power and Colossus's Earthquake move which has a range of effect, affecting several enemies at once.

In addition to the upgrades that you can achieve by gaining experience and collecting coins found in the levels, there are also collectible power-ups that increase stats, as well as "gear" that can be used by different superheroes at different times. One example of "gear" is a bionic arm upgrade that I picked up after defeating an enemy. I had Spider-Man pick it up and he automatically equipped it, enhancing his power. Later, if I have him unequip it while choosing characters, I can have a different superhero equip it, instead. This allows you to shift around certain attribute boosts to either make certain characters more well-rounded, or to boost a hero's skills off the chart if they're already strong in that attribute.

Another interesting aspect of Marvel Ultimate Alliance is that you can create your own team. Once you get the ability to create your team, you'll be able to start earning "reputation" points. These are similar to experience for your team and can be spent to increase team stats. These team stats increase your team's overall effectiveness when they fight together. This adds interest and depth to Marvel Ultimate Alliance's gameplay.

The multiplayer options offer two modes: Cooperative and Arcade. Arcade is similar to Gauntlet games; each player gets one character and only those characters are in the game. Cooperative mode stresses the team aspect of the game and lets all of the team members play, with players controlling as many of the characters as there are players and the rest of the characters are controlled by A.I. If you play with less than four characters, then players can switch to A.I.-controlled characters by using the D-pad. If you have four players, than each player is limited to the character they choose.


Difficulty:

Part of the difficulty in Marvel Ultimate Alliance comes from learning to use the different characters efficiently. Each hero has their own strengths, and it takes time for them to heal up, so you'll want to swap out your heroes from time to time, to let your heroes heal up and to learn the unique characteristics of the different super heroes you have to choose from. At the same time, you'll want to build up experience on your favorite characters, to not only unlock additional costumes, but to refine and upgrade their powers, as well.

The strategies you use when playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance will affect how difficult the game is. For example, choosing teams that fit both your playing style and the upcoming mission can make things easier. Additionally, you can get certain bonuses by putting together a known team, such as the Fantastic Four, or grouping up a team based on a shared attribute, such as a "Femme Fatale" bonus that is received for using a team comprised of only female characters. You will want to give orders to your team by choosing how they should fight. You can choose from "Defensive", "Aggressive", "Follow Me / Assist" or "Normal". Also, while superheroes on your team will use their special powers from time to time, there will be several times that you'll want to switch to a specific superhero, use a specific power, then switch to a different character to continue the fight. One good thing about the fighting system in Marvel Ultimate Alliance is that when you switch away from a character, they are immediately controlled by A.I., which does a pretty decent job in helping out, by the way.

When team members start taking damage, you'll want to switch to that character and back them out of the fight a bit so that they can regain a bit of health. If you're not mindful of this, you're likely to have team members get hurt so bad that they're taken out, unable to be used until you return to a S.H.I.E.L.D. access point.


Game Mechanics:

The Gauntlet influence is readily apparent in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The Gauntlet formula worked very well for Medieval Fantasy, but there's no reason for this type of multi-character, 3rd person action/adventure platforming gameplay to stop there. It seems to translate very well to the superhero theme presented in Marvel Ultimate Alliance.

And, to be fair, there are differences between Marvel Ultimate Alliance and the later Gauntlet games. For the most part, though, this feels very similar. The stress on the team aspect in Marvel Ultimate Alliance provides an interesting twist, however, both enlivening single player games and making them a bit less difficult. It also introduces some strategy into what would otherwise be more of a mindless hack and slash. Your selection of team members can affect what bonuses (if any) you get for that team and how the enemies encountered will react (special dialogue for arch nemeses, versus more generic chatter). Some superheroes' moves can actually improve other characters' stats temporarily during combat, so carefully selecting your team and preplanning strategies that put their respective abilities to the best use for the betterment of the team can greatly improve your chances in Marvel Ultimate Alliance.

I didn't personally have any problem with the controls, but while playing with my wife, Psibabe, she pointed out that players with smaller hands may have difficulty pulling off the special moves. She found that she had to reach up to hit the right trigger and change her hand position to hit a button to select the move. With my larger hands, I found it quite comfortable to select these moves, as I could play while holding my finger over the trigger and simply press it when I wanted to execute a special move. I did, however, find the control setup to be a bit confusing at times. I would accidentally give an order to the team instead of executing a special move. This would present two problems. One is that I was expecting to do some move and I basically quit fighting momentarily. The other is that I had just given my team some random command on how to fight and I might need to change it back to whatever I actually wanted it to be set to.

Right off the bat, I have to say that this game is definitely for fans of Gauntlet style games (the newer ones) and Marvel fans, alike. However, with the light strategy that is inserted and the overall high production value of Marvel Ultimate Alliance, I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they might like it. Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a game you'll come back to, just for the fun of it.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

Windows Luxor 2 Microsoft Xbox Family Guy: Video Game!

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated