Happiness can be found inside a comic book. For years, especially in my youth, I would pick up copies of Daredevil, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and more to be fascinated by the intriguing story lines and the wonderful art. Sure there was comic book based games when I was younger but most of them weren’t good enough to use as toilet paper nevertheless a coherent video game. That started to change as time went on especially once they started to add RPG elements to the game… such as X-Men Legends 1/2 and Ultimate Spiderman. Well the engine from Legends is back, in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. I am also glad to say they tweaked the engine considerably and made it a great game to boot. Perfect? No…but easily the best pure RPG style superhero game to date.
Graphics are not the strong suit of most RPGs and M: UA is no different. Essentially if you have played X-Men Legends, its basically the same style. Overhead top view except for cut scenes, the graphics are serviceable and it isn’t too hard to tell what is going on. I’ve noticed where enemies are plentiful, your controlled hero can get lost in the shuffle, causing extra hits which could possibly been avoided. This might be the point where PS2 really seems to reach its limits. The game occasionally suffers from slowdown, again when enemies are frequent. Another thing I’ve noticed and this could be intentional, but items such as Daredevil or Black Panther action figures and status upgrades are hard to see and often overlooked. It certainly won’t bog you down, but if you are one of those people who want to get all the extras, you have to be extra careful not to miss anything.
I don’t believe superhero music has changed in 20..30 years. Seriously, I remember the same tunes from my NES days. They just take them, remix them (adding some stereo effects) and insert it into the newer games. Dum, Dum De Dum Dum Dumm De….it really couldn’t be anymore generic. However, its workable and doesn’t tend to detract from anything going on screen. Dialogue is clear and concise due to the wealth of voice talent added to this game. There is literally a page of voice talent in the manual, and not too many of them are playing dual or triple part roles. The nice thing also is that there is added dialogue for some of the characters if they happen to be in your party when a certain event happens or particular villain shows up. Captain America / Winter Soldier, Elektra/Bullseye, etc. This is certainly going the extra mile when the game boasts around 20 unique characters.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is the story of 4 brave super heroes taking on Dr. Doom’s Masters of Evil. Doom is trying to steal Odin’s power, so in the process he launches an attack on S.H.I.E.L.D helmed by good ole Nick Fury (and thank god he’s the wise cracking cigar chomping version from the comic books, not the new sucky Ultimates version). Nick sends out a distress call to guess who, your band of 4 roving heroes. It starts out as Spiderman, Captain America, Thor & Wolverine. However, after the first mini act you can choose from more than 15 different playable characters (fully unlocked 20+) to assemble your team. These include the likes of Storm, Human Torch, Iceman, Iron Man, Elektra to more trivial heroes such as Luke Cage, Blade, & Dr Strange. The special unlocks include Black Panther, Daredevil (my personal favorite), Nick Fury & Silver Surfer. I’m hoping eventually of a core team of Daredevil, Elektra, Nick Fury and probably Spiderman; but it might take a while. I have the habit of sticking with the original team and have only deviated slightly (Spiderman, Thor, Wolverine, & then have been switching between Captain America, Elektra, and Iceman).
Controls start off as fairly basic for each of the characters. Easy to control are the attacks that range from the basics (punch, kick, jump) to complicated but yet just as easy to control (like Spidey’s webbing, Elektra’s ninja stars, Cap’s shield toss and so forth). Movement is done via the analog sticks, with a button for jumping, double jumping and flying (Spidey even can do his web swinging which is fun and incredibly useful). Switching between characters is a breeze (regular directional pad) and mandatory in some situations when the action builds up. Upgrading stats is easy, comes from leveling up or having the dough (as the situation calls for it).
As mentioned many times before, difficulty should be average to hard but rewarding, meaning if you learn certain skills it benefits you in gameplay but never too much. M: UA certainly does that to an extent. It does start off easy to get you involved in the gameplay. However, somewhere in the later part of the first act it gets increasingly harder (and then easier again). It has a habit of badly fluctuating difficulty. Here is a good example; I’m playing in the first act w/ Thor, Spidey, Elektra, & Wolverine. I get to the Mysterio mini boss part, get way overwhelmed and lose two of my characters, Elektra & Wolverine. At that time (it might help if I read the manual), I have no idea what happened to them (I would later find them fully rested back at the save point). In the mean time, I have to carry on thru the rest of the level with just Thor and Spidey. I get to the end boss (M.O.D.O.K) and lose Thor. Spidey and M.O.D.O.K would battle for a good twenty minutes of scrapping and poking (web swinging came in great use here), before I finally came away with the victory (and nearly no life to spare). Then the second act or the Atlantis stage, I had zilch for problems. Unbalanced challenges but that really is the only negative for gameplay.
As one might expect, since M: UA has a ton of characters, there is quite a bit of replay value in the game. I mean right away you have dozens of combinations of teams to worry about, not to mention some of those teams are officially recognized by the game and get extra bonuses. There are also a plethora of special attacks and abilities that have to be worked up over time with each of the characters. Characters can be unlocked (as mentioned previously) and even alternate costumes are to be found (which can even classify as extra characters in the case of Cap America/US Agent and Iron Man/War Machine among others). Also, previous levels are playable so you can go back and get items and experience. (especially if you want to mess around with multiple characters). Another nice item is basically an inclusion of a single player game in the various solo player comic book missions that are go over various events in the marvel universe which enable you to gain more bonuses during the course of your play. Add to that items such as sketch books and online play to round out a long long time to play the game.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance (the real third game in the Legends saga) proves the old adage if it ain’t broke…don’t fix it. Just upgrade. Tweak the engine, give us more of what we want, and keep what made the previous games so good. The graphics and sounds are nothing to write home about; however give us great gameplay and replay value that could possibly last you into 100+ hours and gamers will become immediately hooked. I mean the good people (or bastards) at Activison sought to include my favorite character Daredevil as an unlockable which will already double the amount of time I will play this game. The first two games are arguably only worth the budget level price. However, I have no qualms in recommending M: UA at the full $40 price tag…as long as you like super heroes and/or easy to get into RPGs (if you aren’t neither of these people then why are you reading this…go play GT4 or something :-P).