Edging Closer To Excellence
Games based on comic book heroes vary in quality and, as a rule, tend to be limited in scope. This year alone we've already been graced with a dud Marvel license in the form of "X-Men 3: The Videogame." The good news is that Raven Software's latest game more than makes up for it.
Instead of focusing on one line of characters, like in their X-Men Legends games, Raven opted to broaden their horizons. Ultimate Alliance brings a total of 140 Marvel Characters to the table, with over 20 of those playable. We're talking favourites like Spiderman, Wolverine, Captain America and Ironman, right down to lesser known characters such as Deadpool and Luke Cage.
Essentially, this is X-Men Legends with content added to every part of it. You select a party, referred to as "The Team", of 4 heroes and trawl through the numerous environments beating the absolute hell out of robots and other minions of the key villains. At any one time, you only have control over one hero with the other playable members allocated to the D-pad for quick selection.
Played from a top down perspective, which is the only way to view the chaos, at its heart, Ultimate Alliance is an old school brawler. You've two attack buttons, one for light attacks and one for chargeable heavy attacks.
Mashing at these in different orders results in a handful of different combos and the grunts you take out drop health orbs, along with orbs which power your hero specific super attacks. You can probably guess at the moves available, impact webbing for Spiderman etc. At the start of the game you only have access to one special attack but as you increase in level more attacks are made available to you.
Experience points are gained at high speed thanks to the constant ructions; there is a heavy emphasis on action here. You also collect coins from downed enemies, and from destructible objects in the environments, and these can spent on upgrading the special attacks earned by each character.
To be fair, for an action RPG, Ultimate Alliance is lacking in the role-playing department. This is very much RPG-lite, although it's a blessing in disguise since the menus are too cumbersome to be in and out of on a regular basis.
The team attacks from X-Men Legends have seemingly been removed, which is a shame. However, a few welcome changes have been made. Specifically, the AI that controls the rest of your team is highly capable. The removal of health potions is also welcome, with the dropped health orbs gliding to the nearest character that needs them.
Most importantly, the online performance has seen a massive improvement. Cooperative play over Xbox Live is now much smoother, and the game shines most when played with others.
On the Xbox 360, Ultimate Alliance is a great looking game. Some might begrudge the "plastic" quality of the character models but in our opinion it works; making them look a lot like toys. Textures are sharp and varied, and the screen is regularly filled with all the effects associated with the next generation hardware.
However, if you zoom in a little further, the modelling isn't too hot, presumably the same models have been carried over from the Xbox version, and the frame rate does tend to drop quite often. Still, it's a best looking version of the bunch, without question.
On the other hand, the menu presentation is notably weak; it doesn't look like any effort was made here. You'd expect these screens to look like comic book panels, with the options in yellow boxes or something. What you get isn't anything like that and quite dreary. It's the real only blemish with regard to visuals.
Audio is an interesting thing to touch on. The sound effects are nothing to write home about but the score is pretty good. What's odd is the voice acting; it's extremely camp across the board. This doesn't particularly suit the atmosphere and leaves things feeling a bit disjointed.
The conversations also tend to be overlong and regularly interrupt the action. This wouldn't be as much of a problem if these conversions weren't entirely static. More FMV sequences next time please.
Despite the little problems, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is guaranteed to please fans. It's also guaranteed to hit the spot for those who miss the scrolling beat 'em ups of old. With such a huge roster, and a sizable campaign to boot, this should keep you and your buddies occupied for quite some time. Lets just hope Raven go that extra mile for the inevitable sequel. They're definitely edging closer to true excellence.