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Developer:
Raven Software
Publisher: Activision
Platform: Xbox, Xbox 360, PS2, PC
Release Date: October 24, 2006

by Jason Ferguson




If you enjoyed the X-Men Legends games, then youíve probably been looking forward to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance for a while now. Ultimate Alliance takes advantage of the next generation power of the Xbox 360, and expands the superhero cast to include characters like Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Blade and Spiderman. Since Raven Software once again is behind the development of the game, I had pretty high expectations. Fortunately, I wasnít disappointed.


The story in Ultimate Alliance revolves around Dr. Doom and his newly formed alliance of super villains, known as the Masters of Evil. These evil doers are causing all sorts of trouble for our heroes, from invading Atlantis to attacking Shield Headquarters. Itís your job to lead a team of Marvel superheroes into battle against Doom and his forces. Along the way youíll encounter enemies like Shocker, Arcade, Loki, and even the mighty Galactus! As you progress through your adventure, you will face many challenges where your decisions will determine the finale of the game, see familiar Marvel locations and characters, and unravel Doomís vile scheme.


There are hordes of Marvel characters in the game, including playable characters, enemies, and NPCs. Throughout the game youíll unlock additional characters and obtain new costumes for each playable character. The characters are distinct, each with unique abilities and fighting styles. You can even build special teams of heroes where each character gains bonuses while in the team. As I said earlier, youíll face obstacles throughout the game that will require you to make a choice. One such obstacle is in Atlantis, where Namor is sick and you are asked to save him. You donít have to complete this mission if you donít feel like it, but at the end of the game you will see the consequences of each of your actions. Itís a bit disappointing to see that your actions only influence the ending of the game, rather than how the entire course of the game unfolds, but itís still interesting to see how your choices change the future.


Gameplay in Ultimate Alliance is similar to what weíve seen in Baldurís Gate: Dark Alliance, X-Men Legends, and the newly released Justice League Heroes. You and your friends take on the role of a team of superheroes, hacking and slashing your way through armies of enemies, wielding awesome super powers, and upgrading your characters along the way. Unfortunately, the RPG elements of the game arenít horribly deep, and theyíve been scaled down since X-Men Legends. Each character can now only equip one piece of equipment, and you cannot specifically increase your stats as you level. However, as your level goes up, you gain skill points that you can spend to improve your super powers. Each of your characterís costumes also grants them some special abilities that you can learn with shields that youíll gather during your journey. If you run out of skill points, you can also spend these shields on your regular powers, but it grows ridiculously expensive. Should you not want to mess with the upgrading system, you can have the AI automatically do it for you. This feature might not appeal to RPG fans who would prefer MORE upgrading, but the casual gamer might rather avoid the hassle altogether. However, I found it a bit annoying that the default was to Auto Assign, because some of my points were automatically spent in ways I didnít care for.


The controls in the game are pretty straightforward. You can assign hot keys to your characterís abilities, making them easy to use during a fight. Aside from your powers, each hero also has a strong attack, weak attack, block, and the ability to grapple and pick up items and enemies. Some heroes also have some abilities that are built in from the beginning, such as Wolverineís regeneration and Thorís power of flight (flight no longer consumes MP, by the way). Unlike X-Men Legends, there are no healing items to pick up and use. Instead, enemies drop plenty of power ups that refill your HP and MP as you go. Combos are available by using different combinations of buttons. These combos may trip or stun an enemy and can be particularly useful against powerful foes.


This is a great game to play with friends or online. There is even an Arcade mode where you will be competing against the other players to decide who is the Most Valuable Hero. Of course, the game is also highly enjoyable in single player, and the AI for the characters is surprisingly good. You can switch characters on the fly and give commands to your teammates easily.


The boss battles are among the highlights of the game. These battles feature a variety of strategies needed to defeat your enemy, from stealing spears from other foes and stabbing the boss in the back, to simply beating down on them until they are defeated. There are plenty of boss fights in the game with a wide range of Marvel villains to battle, including Shocker, Lizard, Rhino, Mephisto, Death Bird, and more!


Ultimate Alliance features some beautiful graphics. The characters are all very detailed, and closely resemble themselves from the comic books, movies, and cartoons. The animations and spell effects are also done very well, making each battle seem to come to life. The game also has some beautiful cinematics featuring some very cool events, along with great character art during load times. The environments are also very detailed with a lot of interactivity and objects that you can pick up, wield as a weapon, or destroy. You can even rip weapons right out of the hands of your enemies! The sound quality in Ultimate Alliance is top notch, with great voice acting and sound effects. The music is also of high quality and helps to heighten some of the spectacular environments you will venture through.


Probably my biggest complaint with Ultimate Alliance is that there is some poor camera work throughout the game. On several occasions you have to face some very LARGE bosses that make seeing whatís going on very difficult. One of the bosses is particularly bad, and constantly hinders your view, making seeing yourself, your teammates, and the other enemies virtually impossible! While I found the multiplayer mode significantly more fun, this becomes even more problematic when youíre playing with a teammate. While the AI can function without you being able to see, your human-controlled players cannot. Other than boss fights, itís unavoidable that there will be some camera trouble, such as characters getting stuck in corners or being left behind as you progress. However, Ultimate Alliance does a good job of fixing that by allowing characters to teleport back into the action when theyíre stuck or left behind.


Ultimate Alliance offers a hefty serving of replay value. There are new characters and costumes to seek out, and multiple levels of difficulty to try your hand at. Some gamers might also feel the desire to go back through and make some different choices in order to get a slightly different ending. On top of that, there are Shield Simulator discs that allow you to re-live some iconic moments from comic book history! Combine that with the fun of multiplayer and you and your friends can spend a good deal of time with Ultimate Alliance. Fortunately they left it VERY open for a sequel. Ultimate Alliance is available on a variety of systems, including PC, console, and handheld. However, you'll have to wait for the release of the PS3 and Wii to see those two versions. Expect to see our take on the handheld version of the game in the near future.


Whether youíre a comic book fan, RPG lover, or someone with a passion for multiplayer gaming, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is exactly what youíre looking for. The awesome cast of characters, beautiful graphics, and intense multiplayer action combine to make this a game youíll definitely want to check out this holiday season!


Final Grade: 90%




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