“Warrior needs food badly.”
Ahh, Gauntlet. So many ill-spent quarters. Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and many games like it, owe a lot to Gauntlet. With its simple tactics, button-mashing combat and character progression, Gauntlet paved the way for the action-RPG.
The action-RPG is an interesting animal. Normally with a hybrid game, if one element fails the title is substandard. However, with an action-RPG you can really tank the RPG element, and, providing the action is good, still produce a game that’s good fun. Such is the case with Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
I’m not a Marvel guy. Mainstream superheroes are usually too two-dimensional for me (yes, I’m not only a comic book geek, I’m a comic book snob). However, there’s great appeal in the mix-and-match of Marvel Ultimate Alliance. With 20 superheroes throughout the Marvel universe at your disposal, things get interesting. Put together Johnny Storm, Wolverine, Captain America and Thor and there are good times to be had.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance throws the player (or players) into the spandex of such Marvel legends, lining up against every Marvel badguy to grace a four-color page. And while this game isn’t breaking any new ground, there’s no denying that it’s a blast. Anyone can pick this game up and play. I tested it with a friend who is not well acquainted with such games, and he had Wolverine ripping up Sentinels with gleeful abandon.
Fighting is a combination of button mashing and occasionally using special power moves, and thankfully those special power moves are easy to set up and employ. Not only that, but they look great; Captain America bouncing a hurled shield through enemies or Johnny Storm conflagrating a black-hat is presented beautifully. While Marvel Ultimate Alliance doesn’t push the boundaries of the 360, the action still looks and sounds great.
Character progression can be micro-managed by the player or handled by the AI. Learn new abilities, enhance existing ones or increase your hero’s health or power capacity as you gain levels and scoop up coins that fall from nearly everything the men (and women) in tights destroy. Wolverine’s vivisection move is something to see, and The Thing is absolutely fierce after some powering-up.
However, the RPG element of this story comes up short. It’s entirely linear, and seems like little more than a way to string different missions together. While there is an ongoing story, it’s shallow and predictable. Toward the end I found myself rushing through the RPG elements of the game just to get to the combat. As I stated, with good action, you can skimp on the role-playing element, and Raven did so here.
The AI of your party members isn’t bad. They fight effectively, either choosing targets of opportunity or following the team leader’s orders. Their pathfinding is, for the most part, efficient, and they very rarely find themselves “trapped.” However, there are occasional moments where this fails. There are times in which you cannot advance unless they stay in a certain area, or do not engage a particular enemy. Regardless of your orders, they move and fight. It’s incredibly frustrating.
Combat, while fun, isn’t very imaginative. While the power moves set the superheroes apart, it seems nearly every member of the Marvel Universe wades in with fists of fury and little else. Come on…Dr. Strange putting up his dukes? I would’ve liked to see a little more character definition in this. I hope Marvel’s forthcoming MMO isn’t going to be a glorified massively-multiplayer boxing match.
The thing that really sells this game is cooperative multiplayer. Get together four friends and go shoulder-to-shoulder against the Marvel forces of evil and you’ve got an afternoon of good times. Put together any team you like (Spider-Man, Blade, Dr. Strange and Iceman is an interesting combination) and go at it. That’s worth the cost of admission right there.
While the role-playing element of this title falls flat, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is still very good times. The production values are nothing stellar, but the smooth gameplay, varied character progression and customization and the cooperative play options more than make up for it. Give it a rent.