So I’ve honestly no idea when this game actually came out, but my friend and I were bored this weekend so we rented and beat it, and since I happen to have a handy website here at my disposal, I figured I’d might as well put up a late review.
The best way to describe the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series is an updated version of the old beat-em-ups you used to play on Sega Genesis like Streets of Rage or the X-Men game, but while those games were pretty fun at the time, Ultimate Alliance seems schizophrenic, overambitious and ultimately underachieving.
The driving idea behind Ultimate Alliance is a good one. You can play as your favorite superheroes and beat the crap out of bad guys using your superpowers. The problem is the game goes for quantity over quality, and that means in this sequel there’s now something like twenty playable characters. This becomes an issue when the game is only about seven hours long, and if you want to experience the full range of diversity the game has to offer, you’ll end up with about 15 minutes of playing time per character.
I kept waiting for Hulk and Thor to be unlocked, but that day never came, and the game gave me no hints as to why.
Each hero has a selection of punching and kicking moves, with four bonus “power” moves that can be leveled up to do slightly more damage. The game is very definition of a button masher, as I found that the majority of the time, smacking the controller against my forehead as I listened to my characters spout bad puns about their superpowers was just fine as a strategy to kill everyone onscreen.
However, out of the 20 characters, some are so ridiculously unbalanced, it’s almost kind of sad to see how quickly they can destroy enemies as you mash buttons over and over again. For example, Gambit has a card detonation ability that does 300+ damage to everyone around him, but all of Deadpool’s powers at the same level do sub-50 damage and it’s usually only toward the person directly in front of him.
Even if he’s weak, Deadpool is the most fun player in the game as he’s always breaking the fourth wall, saying things like “I’m just in this for the XP points,” and “Give me some of those red orbs!”
Things like this will bias players in favor of one or two characters for most of the game, rendering the other eighteen selections more or less useless. What the game SHOULD have done was pick five to eight heroes, and make their skill trees a lot more in depth, giving players a reason to play as them and mix the game up more.
But character flaws aside, what about the actual game?
Combat is insanity. It’s a lot of the aforementioned button smashing, and if you have any sort of elemental powers, it makes everything on screen seem like it’s constantly exploding. The camera is far too zoomed out for my taste, and I often lost track of my character due to the fact that from that distance, everyone looks the same. I finally had to be Luke Cage just because his yellow shirt stood out the most.
The mission structure is annoying as hell, as quite literally EVERY level is the same series of steps. Kill a hall of bad guys, (activate/deactivate) a (shield generator/gun battery) and fight a random super(hero/villain) pulled from the obscurest of old Marvel comics. I understand the game’s need to cram in every character who has ever existed in the Marvel Universe to please…uh, fans, I guess? But 99% of the ten year olds buying this game are not going to know Wonder Man, Whirlwind, Songbird, or Grim Reaper are, and it gets to a point where you think they just have to be making people up.
Iron Fist, really?
The plot of the game COULD have been a redeeming factor, had it not been as incomprehensible as Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe combined. It starts out pulling pages from Marvel’s recent Civil War saga, where you get to make the “moral choice” of being pro or anti-mutant registration (who would be pro, seriously?) and then fight a certain set of missions based on that. I guess this is supposed to be incentive to play the game over again, making the opposite decision instead, but I’ll be damned if the “other” set of missions don’t turn out to be mirror images of the other ones, and you don’t end up in the same damn spot anyways once the plot goes to complete hell when nanobots start taking over the world. Yeah, nanobots. They’re the new nukes.
There’s also the strange addition of a dialogue choice option that comes up during certain cutscenes, which gives you “aggression,” “defensive,” or “diplomatic” points for choosing them. I’ve no idea what these ever did, and usually only served to showcase some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Also annoying is that the game almost looks like it was for the original Xbox, seeing as all of the processing power was spent storing playable characters and completely extraneous NPCs rather than working on things like “rendering” and “aliasing.”
I know I’ve been bashing this game for about five minutes now, but the fact remains that I did end up playing it to the end. There’s something always satisfying about beat-em-ups however poorly designed and produced they may be, and Ultimate Alliance can be fun, at times, but it’s just too damn repetitive and simplistic for me to call it anything close to “good.” I look at a superhero game like Arkham Asylum, which is a vast ocean of rich storytelling, beautiful gameplay and excellent combat. Then I look at UItimate Alliance and it’s about a deep as a puddle I drove through on the way to that ocean.
I can’t believe that games like this are allowed to be priced the same as something like Arkham. It’s like selling a Ferrari and a Kia for the same price, and expecting people not to bitch when the latter loses to a Ford Focus at a stoplight street race.
It’s a good concept with annoying execution, rent it once, and never look back.
2 out of 5 stars
Where were you Hulk?