Warning: the following review is written by an avowed Marvel fanboy. With that being said, you dont have to be the Comic Book Guy to find a lot to like about Ultimate Alliance. Developer Raven takes what it has learned from the previous X-men Legends and X-men Legends II and applies it to the entire Marvel universe. The result is an extensive and exciting dungeon crawl from the S.H.E.I.L.D. Helicarrier to Dr. Dooms Latverian castle. Great for single-player and even better for multi, Ultimate Alliance is one of the best games of 2006.
Dr. Doom has re-formed the Masters of Evil, the largest collection of Marvel supervillains ever, in a bid for supreme power and world domination. Fortunately, the superheroes are available and up to the challenge. After watching a CGI intro featuring Spider-Man, Wolverine, Thor and Captain America defending the Helicarrier from an assault of Ultron robots, youre thrown immediately into the action. Dont like any of those four heroes? Find a S.H.E.I.L.D. extraction point and you can substitute in the four color characters of your choice. The selection of characters is fairly robust, including big names like Iron Man and the entire Fantastic Four to more esoteric character like Elektra, Blade and Ms. Marvel. Theres even a few X-men for those mutie lovers out there. Sadly, theres a few omissions, ostensibly because of licensing issues (though there are a few Hulk cameos). The villains are also well-represented, the various sub-bosses and level bosses read like an excerpt from one of those Marvel Universe handbooks: The Scorpion, Bullseye, Ultron, Baron Mordo, M.O.D.O.K., Loki and more provide some colorful variety for your beat-downs. A neat change of pace is how the game has you fight giant enemies like Fin Fang Foom or Galactus. Instead of a straight out brawl, you have to set your character in a position where they engage in a little God of War style minigame. Press the right buttons in the right sequence and wear down your massive adversary.
Face Front True Believers
Those whove played Ravens previous X-men games will feel right at home with the gameplay and can jump right in. Attack combos and throws are the same simple button presses and the multitude of special powers are still employed via a combination of buttons. The amount of powers can be a little overwhelming at times, so its usually better to focus on a few that fit your style of play. Direct damage attacks, area of effect blasts and active party buffs are available to all characters, though youll notice some obvious differences between tanks like the Thing and damage dealers like Deadpool. As characters gain experience through defeating enemies, you receive points to upgrade your powers. Be aware that the game initially assigns these points automatically and youll need to manually disable this for each character if you want to customize your build. Passive powers have been relegated to costumes that you earn throughout the game. The bonuses associated with these costumes can be improved by spending the S.H.E.I.L.D. tokens that youll find by beating enemies and destroying the environment. Further customization comes through by equipping special items that youll find and by creating and leveling your own team of heroes (a feature that youll be introduced to in the Atlantis level).
Saving the world one level at a time.
Newer players can let the tutorial level show them the ropes, but the game does have a learning curve. Especially in single player, newbs may find too much to keep track of at first. However, Raven has done a good job in streamlining the control system. One player can quickly switch between four characters with a simple hit of the D-pad. The A.I. of your computer controlled cohorts is serviceable, if not overly strategic. Though you can choose to play with only three, two or even one character (for a true solo experience), youre much better off playing with some friends. This is, after all, designed as a multiplayer game and should be played as such at least once. There are two modes of play for multiplayers Coop and competitive. Coop allows the players to work towards to the common goal of beating the game. Health and energy globes dropped by enemies are automatically distributed amongst the players. In competitive play, individual achievement is an added incentive as players compete not only for kills and points, but also for health and energy.
The games presentation is an improvement over X-men legends, but rather pales in comparison to the flourish on the next-gen systems. Still, the game looks good and the differing environments are well-presented. Occasionally the game gets a little too cluttered to tell exactly whats going on. For the most part, the games camera works being far enough to catch much of the action while close enough to provide detail. During the boss-fight minigames, you may find yourself cursing out the camera. The fight against Ymir the frost giant has some especially poor placement. Similarly, the sound design is equally well-done, with each hero and villain possessing unique voices, though some are a few exceptions (its a little obvious that Jean Greys VA is a contest winner). Though adrenaline junkies may wish to simply skip the CGI cut-scenes, they should really watch the eye candy. These are likely the best pre-rendered scenes youll see outside of a Squaresoft/Enix or Blizzard game.