Marvel Comics is a company that prides itself on developing exciting stories to engage their readers' minds and transport them away from their everyday problems. Marvel Ultimate Alliance follows suit, plunging you neck-deep into sixty years of powered-up page turners.
In this super-powered action RPG, you take control of a four-person team hand picked from more than 20 Marvel heroes. To save the world (again), your heroic team with face off against an army of super-villains drawn from the Marvel archive, working together under the iron-clad rule of one Victor Von Doom to take over the planet.
The developers of MUA, Raven Software, picked up right where the X-Men Legends series left off, keeping (but refining) the familiar control scheme to help veteran players feel at home, while adding new things to discover to keep the action fresh and new for all players. In Marvel Ultimate Alliance you'll meet some familiar X-Men Legends characters such as Wolverine and Storm, along with a parade of characters from Marvel's six decade in publishing such as Deadpool, The Human Torch and the star-spangled hero himself, Captain America.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance features a great storyline - Dr. Doom is terrorizing the world and forming an elite group of super-villains, and it’s your job to stop him. That’s a typical Marvel good vs. evil thing but that’s where the similarities end. In the quest to stop Doom your characters will explore five different acts spread across the Marvel Universe letting you explore this comic book world and see many unique characters and situations along the way. In each area there are many different side-quests on offer, but whether you decide to tackle these optional missions will affect the story and steer you towards one of the many alternate endings.
Always four, acting as one
When beginning the game if you're not sure which superheroes to use, don’t fret because you'll be taking four into the fray at a time. Once the story has started, as with X-Men Legends you can access Extraction Points throughout the levels which allow you to save, bug out back to base or swap your team around. When developing a team of superheroes be sure to experiment with lots of different character combinations as certain teams will receive stat bonuses such as an Avengers only team, all female, or the complete Fantastic Four.
Some statistical bonuses are exclusive to each superhero’s alternate costumes. To upgrade these stat bonuses you will have to not only unlock the characters costume, but purchase the bonuses as well. Every character in the game has four different outfits they can wear. They begin with one and you'll unlock the others as you progress. Each outfit has certain power ups that can be given to the character as long as they are in this outfit such as Spidey's black costume making him stronger or Cap's US Agent outfit adding to his offence.
Just like X-Men Legends you'll also find items and equipment that you can pick up and equip along the way such as gauntlets and power belts. These will give the hero of your choosing some sort of bonus to their stats or powers, although some items are character specific but tend to be more powerful. Unfortunately equipping these doesn’t appear on the character in-game or augment their appearance in any way.
Smashing your way through the obligatory destructible barrels, statues and other environmental bashables releases black and gold 'coins' which allow you purchase various things like costumes and stat upgrades.
To RPG or not to RPG, that is the question
Character customization in this game is a key concept to giving your heroes the best abilities and superpowers to make them a crime-stopping force to be reckoned with. When levelling up you will get stat points to upgrade your hero’s powers. Powers are exclusive to each character and make every character unique in their own way. If figuring out how best to tweak your character is more trouble than it's worth to you, you can have MUA's automated system do it for you and you can concentrate of the action.
On your journey throughout the Marvel universe you will discover that all of the characters have specific attack combinations and mastering them will aid you no end and make combat more tactical than just randomly button mashing. Certain attacks will make your opponent stagger and fall down while others pop them up in the air leaving them vulnerable to one of your heroes' many powers.
The Sinister Six(axis)
In certain locations you will be asked to disarm bombs and this is where the PS3’s Sixaxis controller comes into play. In order to disarm a bomb you will be asked to tilt your controller in a certain way (left, right, up, down) without being struck by an enemy. Doing this will disarm the bomb and let you continue on your way. This does feel like a bit of a feeble gimmick to shoe-horn in some of the Sixaxis' unique abilities, but at least Raven have tried.
When you complete the game and stand proudly over Dr. Doom's motionless form, you still won’t want to put it down as it unlocks the Hard mode. Now starting the game all over again in Hard mode is well…Hard. But the challenge is balanced by the fact you can upload your previous (levelled up) characters and restart the game with this team at no penalty. Not the most exciting replayability feature we've encountered on PS3, but a welcome addition nonetheless.
As far as MUA's graphics are concerned they average out at 'decent' at best. The cinematic scenes in the game are beautifully done but there level of quality just makes you wish there were more. in the cut-scenes the heroes look realistic, but in-game the characters are very rigid and repetitively animated and don't make you feel they should be leaping around kicking bad guy booty. The environments are similarly disappointing for a supposedly next gen game, with objects and terrain looking unfinished and not on a par with other PS3 titles around right now.
But graphical quibbles aside, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a blast. The single player is great fun, but can get repetitive if you’re not mixing up your team enough. That being said, if you've got three buddies playing alongside you (or via online), it doesn’t matter which character you're playing, you’re bound to have a great time. After all, who wouldn’t like to take a break from reality and become superheroes to save the world?
-The Final Word-
Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a solid beat 'em up title that any comic book fan should want to own.