MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE XBOX 360 REVIEW

Raven Software, a company famous for creating first-person-shooter games such as Quake 4, Soldier of Fortune, and Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force, has come out with another epoch adventure of intergalactic proportion, as it did with the X-Men: Legends I and II. Only this time the ensuing battles between Super Heroes and their arch enemies, and the explosion of Super Powers in this latest offering, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, have produced a more convincing tone that bring the very foundation of Marvel Comics closer to home. The game features a whopping 20+ playable characters, tons of unlockable items, a gameplay that is more superior to the X-Men Legends titles, a much deeper campaign mode, and a virtual world of sheer Marvel details where only fans of this comic-based phenomenon can appreciate.

The chapter starts with Dr. Doom who has managed to convince several other famous super villains (such as Galactus, Baron Mordo, Ultron, Mephisto, and Mandarin) to join his quest for global domination. One of his first objectives is to take down the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, which is a technologically advanced air ship that serves primarily as the Earth’s main platform for “self-defense”. Dr. Doom has begun a new world order called Masters of Evil to which he can organize and carry on his evil acts. The story never actually reveals Dr. Doom’s complete scheme until the moment arrives. You’ll have to put up with lengthy dialogues between missions to tie up the loose puzzles together bit by bit. The narrative does a valiant effort in keeping the suspense of the game intact. In countering the destructive carnage of Dr. Doom, Colonel Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s operation, has quickly summoned the assistance of the Super Heroes. Captain America, Thor, Spiderman, and Wolverine are first to arrive on scene; they are the starting varsity string for your opening campaign.

After a briefing with Colonel Nick Fury on the objectives, players will take on a great number of oppositions, including Ultron soldiers, Winter minions, low-profile bosses such as Mysterio, Blackheart, Scorpion, Bullseye, Radioactive Man, and Fin Fang Foom to name a few. Many of the enemies you’ll encounter have their own Special Powers and equipments; you’ll be able to identify many of them by the glowing rings around their feet. As you advance further and deep into hostile territories, you have the option of customizing the members in your squad. You can put together a special task force that includes classic characters (such as Iron Man, Storm, and the Fantastic Four) and some of the more mysterious heroes to hit the Marvel Comics of today (such as Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, and Moon Knight). You have already close to 20 characters at your disposal, but there are still several other characters (including Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider, and Blade) that will participate in the resistance at a later stage.

The control in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance makes it easy for everyone to enjoy. The Y button allows you to double jump or fly if your Super Hero has that ability. The LB is used for blocking and dodging, while RB lets you scroll the map. Thanks to the new button scheme, you now have greater accessibility to Team Commands; not to mention, change characters on the fly with the directional pad. With improved control, it doesn’t take time to pull off some creative combos that can produce additional damage bonuses or special effects, especially when two Special Powers hit the same target at the same time. In this game, not only can you grapple enemies for special smash attack but also steal their shield and weapons out of their hands! What’s more is that your Super Heroes have the ability to pick up and wield weapons; you will be able to recognize them by their distinct glow. These weapons are significantly stronger than your Super Heroes’ normal melee attacks, but will break apart after some repeated use.

Many of the levels portrayed in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance are immeasurable! Fortunately, the onscreen map does a good job of feeding information of where you need to be, and guiding you to your mission objectives. Certain areas of the map are color-coded to easily specify which spot is to exit and save your progress. It also tells you which room you have already entered relative to your whereabouts indicated by the gray shaded areas. The game has made it easy to rack up on power-ups, which is desperately needed against fighting bosses. The power-ups are available throughout the level, denoted by red orbs for health increase and blue orbs for energy boost. What’s nice about these orbs is that they contain S.H.I.E.L.D. credits every so often, which can be used towards improving your outfits. These outfits are quite nice and they provide some attractive alternatives to your character’s appearance.

One of the intuitive parts of the game is that the orbs will generally gravitate to the Super Hero who needs them the most. Therefore, it keeps your team updated all the time with their powers. If all of your Super Heroes have full health and energy, any orbs collected will be converted into XP. If you collect enough XP, your team will gain a new set of Stats and Powers. Of course, there are several ways of earning an XP: beating up enemies, completing the mission objectives, defeating the bosses, and more. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance puts a lot of focus on team effort. As you expand your stats and powers, so does your Team’s Reputation. The gameplay in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a lot more fun than any of the Marvel action RPG-type games that came before it. You are awarded with so many bonus points that it’s hard to track which special items you have unlocked or which secret super heroes you have acquired! For instance, you get bonus points just for building up your Team’s Reputation.

You can even obtain additional special bonuses if you design a team of superheroes that fits for the task! If you choose, let’s say, Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, and The Thing, you can achieve the Fantastic bonus points. This collection of bonuses can be overwhelming, but they do keep the action interesting and varied. You can expect a few puzzle-solving too, like Marvel trivia questions in the later stages of the game. Solving puzzles are not that difficult to work out, but they do make the battle sequences a much rewarding experience. Though the game comes with an excellent AI for issuing different team attacks, nothing beats good old cooperative play with your closest friends. The game may take a good 30 hours to complete but you can get different endings to the story, depending on what decisions you have made early on. What’s nice about moving on to the next difficulty setting–let’s say the secret hard mode–is that your team’s accumulated stats are carried over.

Graphically, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance brings in an impressive visual! You’ll come across some of the most remarkable places like Mephisto’s Realm and Mandarin’s Palace that look as though they were ripped straight from the very pages of Marvel Comics. The background settings are presented in fine textures and with incredible depth that could outsource the original material. The environment is loaded with plenty of spectacular lighting effects and a flurry of flying particles that overlay a band of stellar explosion. The problem is that you can only enjoy these exquisite graphics with HDTV. It is strange that the game runs rather unstable on standard televisions, and you often experience far more visual flops at this setting. On the audio front, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance excels in providing players with an upbeat musical score. In each stage where you need to be pumped up, the right fuse of soundtracks sets the stage for adrenaline rush! It’s good to know the music adjusts to what the situation you’re in.

As for the sound effects, many of the audio components in X-Men Legends have been ported here. It’s nothing bad about them but it feels as though you are basically listening to the same source material. In terms of speeches, the voice-over work is great! However, the game uses a bit too much of the same character lines that it gets tiring or even annoying at times. Thankfully, the heady soundtracks save most of the sound features from wearing out. Overall, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is an excellent action game with no shortage of firework display on the power struggle between Super Heroes and Super Villains. The gameplay is well balanced. The fight sequence rocks from start to finish. There are tons of items to unlock and countless achievements to keep your missions interesting. With a catchy musical score and amazing graphical effects, you really feel that you are part of the Marvel Universe. This is definitely one of the Marvel games to own considering it is the largest collection of Marvel characters ever assembled! If you’re a fan of Marvel Comics, this one is an experience you don’t want to miss.

FINAL SCORE: 8.0 OUT OF 10