Raven Soft and Activision have teamed up for two of the best X-Men adventures in videogames (X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse). Now, using some of the best, most powerful and most popular heroes in the Marvel universe, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is an enormous adventure filled with dozens of vile villains and multiple universe-shattering threats. The game features an ambitious story and an equally ambitious cast... that's wrapped up in the same old gameplay you've probably seen twice before.
Comic book fanboys will adore all the characters and villains in this game. You can play as old standbys like Spider-Man, Captain America, and The Fantastic Four. You can go at it with darker heroes like Daredevil and Elektra (is she a hero again this week?) There are even lesser-known characters like Dr. Strange, Ms. Marvel, and Blade plus heavy hitters like Thor and The Silver Surfer. Naturally, there are bunches of X-Men, showing that Raven cares about the environment and recycles. The villains are equally numerous, with foes ranging from Dr. Doom to Ultron to The Wrecking Crew to The Crimson Dynamo to The Mandarin and more. It's a ridiculously large cast that might not mean much to newbies, but will likewise result in some interesting emissions for long-time Marvel fans.
While the cast of characters is second-to-none compared to other super-hero games, the core gameplay of Marvel Ultimate Alliance is nothing new. It's really just an updated version of the hack-and-slash action-RPG fare found in the X-Men Legends titles. You run around levels, beat up minions, find objects, and whale on a boss. Sure, there are some nice enhancements (the team system and character costumes with meaningful upgrades come to mind) and there's some nice streamlining (the items are much more manageable), but it's essentially an obvious progression of what Raven has served up before. Fans of the X-Men Legends games will appreciate the new features, while newcomers probably won't even notice them.
Raven has done a good job at differentiating the game's characters and allowing you to customize them. No matter what your play style, it's a sure bet that you'll find someone you love playing as in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Brawlers will opt for characters like Luke Cage or The Thing.
If hanging back and unleashing projectile attacks is your thing then you might want to enlist Spider-Woman or Captain America. Players that want agile hand-to-hand combatants will dig playing as Deadpool or Elektra. Whatever your style is, you can pick the characters you like and power up your preferred attacks through the game's diverse power-up system.
Like its predecessors, there are tons of unlockable features. Each character has multiple skins, some of which give stat boosts or enable new attacks. Playable comic-book missions for single characters do a nice job at breaking up the team gameplay. Various action figures are strewn about each level, allowing you to unlock new characters. There are also more obscure ways to unlock new heroes; they might be tough to find, but the payoff is absolutely worth it if you're into comics.
So you've got tons of heroes and the series' stock gameplay. These ingredients are mixed into a well-written story that's brought to life with excellent voice acting. The heroes are up against Doctor Doom in an adventure that leads them from the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier to Atlantis to Mephisto's Hell to Asgard to a Shi'Ar mothership to the Skrull homeworld and more. The cutscenes can feel a bit stilted, but they're used well as a storytelling tool and do a fine job of making the game feel like a comic-book crossover-event.
All this superhero goodness is a blast for one player, but the hack-and-slash action is loads of fun for up to four. You can play either offline or through Xbox Live. The standard cooperative gameplay lets you and your friends enjoy the story together. Arcade mode does the same, but adds the twist of competitive gameplay, with the best player (most knockouts, items, etc.) gets the glorious mantle of "most valuable hero."
Now, there are a few minor problems with Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The characters in the cinematics are set. If you've toiled through hell with Ghost Rider and damn it, you want to see him in a cutscene... too bad! The other problem is with the ridiculously powerful characters like Thor and The Silver Surfer. It doesn't make sense that they can't bash their way through anything in the game. True believers will not buy it for a second.
If you can suspend your disbelief and imagine Thor being stopped by a locked door (and you can get into the rehashed dungeon-crawling gameplay), there's a lot to enjoy with Marvel Ultimate Alliance. It's a well-made game that you can try again and again with numerous heroes and their plethora of powers. If you're a comic-book fan, this is probably the most satisfying videogame ever made for you. Whether you're going solo or want to save the universe with some friends, sweet Christmas, this is great way to do it!