• Comic book heroes that make their way into a game usually equal a sure thing for any true fan… and whilst there have been many a game depicting our favourite heroes, never until now have we seen something this huge. Activision and Raven Software have been there and done this before producing the RPG action hits with the likes of X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II, but now they have expanded on the Marvel Universe and we have Marvel Ultimate Alliance the title for this new game and a game that boasts over twenty playable Marvel characters unlocking some as you progress through the game and totalling some one hundred and forty or more Marvel characters featured throughout the Alliances journey – wow!

    To give you a bit of history before leaping into the review and for those that had never tasted any of Raven Software’s previous Marvel RPG hits… In 2004 Activision and Raven produced X-Men Legends on the original Xbox console, and this was a game that took the famous X-Men and allowed players to form a team of four from their favourite X-Men Characters and play through an action game but a title that took RPG elements into the battle and allowed you to level up your characters as you progressed through the game… think Baldurs gate, but throw in the X-Men and you are pretty much there. Proving to be a massive hit amongst the fans Activision and Raven followed up with X-Men Legends II – Rise of Apocalypse, which provided the same formulae, more characters and boy did we still love it.

    Marvel: Ultimate Alliance

    Now then… jump forward to 2006 and to the time of the Xbox 360 and next gen gaming. Activision and Raven have once again teamed up, producing another Marvel RPG… only this time opening up the playing field, bringing in over twenty playable Marvel heroes, heroes that include; Captain America, The Thing, Deadpool, Elektra, Spider-Man, Blade, Luke Cage and Ghost Rider to name a few. Of course the bad to the bone X-Men Characters are there albeit only as a handful to choose from this time… but yes you can still choose to be everyone’s favourite and slice and dice your way through the game with the Wolverine. The formulae is still the same in that from the list of playable characters you are expected to form a four-person strong team, and play through a top down bash-em-up, and the RPG levelling up elements are back (why fix what is not broken eh Ed)… But this time it’s a different storyline and one that is much larger… now Dr Doom has formed the Masters of Evil and hell bent on global domination, only has the Marvel heroes standing in his way and in the way of his gang of evil villains. Okay… history lesson over and me sneaking in the game plot, what you really need to know is how does Marvel Ultimate Alliance play? Well stick with me as I dive into the game.

    You begin your journey with the Marvel Alliance on a S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier and having your team made up of Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-Man and Thor, you come to the aid of the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D; Nick Fury who has taken charge of the situation and will be your commander on your quest to stop Doom in his tracks. When you start you game you will notice a hud of the four characters in the bottom left of your screen, and by simply using your D-Pad you can move in the direction of the character you would like to play as, leaving the other three characters as pretty slick computer controlled AI. You can change your selected character at will and this system has been adopted from X-Men Legends and works really well. Once you have your character your thumbsticks control your movement throughout the level and the camera giving you the ability to pan the camera around and zoom in and out of the action. Attacks in this game can be classed as a button masher, but combos do exist in allowing you to string a number of different attacks together and essential if you want the “finishing moves” achievements as you play through (as a hint remember to end a combo attack on ‘B’). Your controls are very simple, with quick attack, strong attack, grab and jump being assigned to the face buttons and your special character moves being assigned to the right trigger. Holding the right trigger will open up an interface and by pressing the corresponding highlighted face button, will pull off some rather sexy moves, like Captain America flinging his shield around like a Frisbee, or with a character like Luke Cage being able to attack someone with his chain. The left trigger controls your team’s attitude, and you can make them aggressive, defensive or fight on a normal basis. The left trigger also allows you to call your team back, as there will be occasions where they just seem to go off on one and leave you alone. The controls as an overview are very, very easy to get to grips with and will take you next to no time to master and be in control.

    I had mentioned the term RPG, and as you play through the game your characters will gain experience points and will level up – nice huh. You are also able to smash your way through most objects as well as enemies you encounter and unlock what are marvel points or marvel coins as I prefer to call them. These items can then be used to purchase upgrade powers for your heroes and as such develops your characters as you play through, allowing you to use new and improved moves that can be assigned as your specials as you progress. Now during play there are two ways to jump to your characters stat screen, one way is to reach a S.H.I.E.L.D point, which in turn can also be used to change your team and save your progress. Or at any point in the game by pressing ‘back’ you will bring up the characters in your party and thus allowing you to access each character and tweak their skills. Now for the lazy people out there that simply cannot be bothered with this and just want to play the game, the default setting is set to auto and therefore if you so choose you never have mess with the skills or gear section at all. But if like me, you want to be in control of every aspect of the game this auto feature can be turned off, albeit you have to do it for every single playable character (so the earlier you do this the better). The nice point to note is that for any characters you don’t have in action, will auto level up whilst they sit there doing nothing and in the main will only be slightly behind your current crew. This is very slick and at least encourages you to swap and change your team experimenting as you go, with you never fearful that you have a weakling in your team. But as one final note you need to remember… if you do turn the auto spend feature off all characters, do remember that if you change a team member that you need to spend the points they have accrued before you leap them into the action.

    Going back to the point about being at a S.H.I.E.L.D access point, and choosing to adjust your team… I just wanted to add that certain combinations of characters work better than others and as such provide a bonus rating if grouped together. Put four X-Men characters together and the game will shout “X-Men” at you and give you a team bonus… put characters like The Thing, Ms Marvel, Captain America and Luke Cage together and you will have formed the “Bruisers” giving you a strong team bonus. There are a number of different character combinations that form a strong grouping and well you need to play around to find out which is best. My favourite grouping to date is the “Assassins” with Blade, Deadpool, Wolverine and Elektra… Blade rocks and the second I unlocked him, he was in my party.

    Each of the levels are very neatly done, and will take you through well known Marvel areas, facing hordes of enemies with the end of each level facing you off against one of Doom’s Masters of Evil. This is where you will meet some of the best-known Marvel villains known to man, with the likes of Fin Fang Foom, M.O.D.O.K, Arcade, Loki, The Mandarin and Ultron to name a few and I do mean a few… with you having to remember the fact that this game boasts over one hundred and forty Marvel characters. Of course ultimately as you work through Dooms army of henchmen you are aiming to take on the main man himself and restore peace to the world… (ah… the life of a hero eh Ed). The storyline and plot through the game is very entertaining and I will have to slap you if I find out you have skipped past all the video moments… they are not be missed and will make any Marvel fan smile.

    Now then – If battling the forces of Doom is not enough for you then the game does boast some neat little extras… For starters there are a few little nuggets to keep you busy at each HQ, including a battle simulator to flex your Marvel muscles and a Marvel brain-teaser that will test your knowledge of all things marvel and being clever enough, will provide you with achievements and an improved gamerscore to boot. Each HQ holds different machines and as such there are over 150 questions to test you, just remember to save before you attempt them, as you only get one shot to get them right with the bonus for having done so, that’s not to say you cannot repeat them… but fail once and your bonus has gone. Another neat little addition and one that can be replayed through the battle simulator is that during a storyline mission you will come across a comic disk. Selecting to jump into this will put the storyline on hold and take you through a simulated mission based on the comic book hero in question. There are a tonne of these to play through and some more frustrating that others… but enjoyable all the same. The final little cherry on the cake is that during play you will spot mini action figures hidden away in certain levels… these are for Daredevil and The Black Panther. Collect five of each and voila you have another two unlocked characters you can use in your team.

    Marvel Ultimate Alliance also features full Xbox LIVE Multiplayer support and this works in the way that… you and three online buddies can play through the game co-op fashion and offers the slant of playing with other real life players rather than your other team member computer controlled AI bots. There is not a lot else to say about LIVE play other than that it is a welcome addition and adds fun into the mix. Have no LIVE buddies, then fear not as the game also supports up to four players on the same console and represents the same mock up as what LIVE does, and not to forget there is also an Arcade option where you compete to get a better end score than your friend did.

    Graphically the game is pretty damn amazing, the levels are well done, and you characters look very, very cool on screen. Audio wise there is so great music pieces on certain levels that pump you up and get you ready for some clobber time. Sound effects are also neatly done and even character speech has to be stated as slick and very neatly done. There was an odd occasion when playing through the game seemed to stutter and freeze but these moments were very rare indeed and overall Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a good looking package for the senses.

    No game is ever without faults but thankfully Marvel Ultimate Alliance only has a few. Firstly when things seem a bit hectic things do seem to freeze, and I had played through on some occasions to find one of my characters frozen in time and not able to move… this resulted in a re-load to get over the issue. Another other problem and one that annoyed the hell out of me is forcing you to play some mini games of pitfall/breakout with retro graphics being quite clever but frustrating as hell and a piece of the game that drove me nuts. Another problem exists in that sometimes your smart AI team is a tad… too smart and they will block you into a corner forcing you to try to jump over their heads. This did not happen a lot but did leave me growling like Wolvy every time they did it. And finally and this may not concern most hardcore Marvel peeps, myself included… but the game is pretty damn big and will take you some time to get through it, and to access the ‘hard’ mode you need to have played through firstly on ‘normal’ (easy mode will not count – you have been warned). The nice part from moving from normal to hard is that the game will allow you to transport your team and stats to the new game.

    Summing up and the few niggles aside with me probably being classed as overly picky, Marvel Ultimate Alliance will appeal to any true Marvel fan, and even to players “God forgive you” that have never glanced at a Marvel comic will still love this title. If you like your RPG games and love to kick the what-sits out of hordes of enemies, then Marvel Ultimate Alliance is definitely a “one to buy” title.

    Score: 8/10

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