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I’ve had my eye on Marvel Ultimate Alliance for a while because it looked like a fun action game. My friend kept telling me it was similar to Gauntlet but after playing it, I can honestly say it’s not. It shares a similar gameplay style to the X-Men Legends titles which precede it and are from the same developer. Developed by Raven Software and published by Activision, Marvel Ultimate Alliance was released for Xbox, Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 2, PSP, and Game Boy Advance in October, 2006 and Wii and PlayStation 3 in November of that same year. This is one of those games where several versions have different content. The Wii version supports motion controls and the GBA version is a side-scroller. Certain versions have additional and exclusive characters and missions and the PSP version features new game modes. The 360 version received additional characters as DLC and the game was re-released for the system with all of the DLC as Marvel Ultimate Alliance Gold Edition which is, as of this review, rare and expensive.
But wait, there’s more. Marvel Ultimate Alliance and its sequel were remastered and released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in July, 2016. The remastered version came with the content that was exclusive to the seventh generation consoles but without the DLC characters that were exclusive to the Xbox 360 version. They were eventually added to the game in an update. Unfortunately, the remastered games were removed from storefronts in 2018 due to licensing issues. If you already own them you can still play them.
For this review, I played the PC version. Typically, I select the version that has the most content. The “definitive” edition if you will. In this case, I believe that would be the remastered game which is no longer available as of this review and the runner up would be the Gold Edition. But because of how rare and expensive it is, I decided on the PC version. It has the benefit of being customizable and does have a large modding community. You can find and download different characters and roster packs, including characters featured in the other versions. Plus skins, boosters, sounds, and other custom stuff. After I beat the game, I installed the 50 Roster Hack mod just to check it out and was impressed with how well implemented the additional characters are.
The story opens with super heroes defending a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier from an attack led by Dr. Doom and The Masters of Evil. Afterwards, Nick Fury is given permission to form a task force to fight the new threat. The heroes are sent on various missions and the ending you see will depend on which optional missions you complete. Most of the voice acting is actually pretty good and the actors did the best with what they had to work with. Some interactions will differ depending on which heroes are chosen which I thought was neat. I enjoyed the story and campy dialogue but some of it feels like forced exposition. I won’t lie and say I’m familiar with every single playable and non-playable character in this game so if you’re like me, you might find the game educational if you have at least a passing interest in Marvel content.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance is an action RPG and supports up to four players. The story plays out in Acts and your headquarters moves to a different location in each act. This is where you can interact with NPCs, play trivia, and accept missions. The missions will take you to various different locations. S.H.I.E.L.D. access points can be found in the environments and act as save points and are where you can swap out team members and their outfits and fast travel to others you’ve discovered. These access points aren’t everywhere but checkpoints are pretty frequent and you can open up a portal which will take you back to your headquarters if necessary.
When playing solo, you’ll control a team of four heroes and can switch between them during gameplay. You can run around, block, dodge, jump, double jump, some heroes can fly, and they can each perform light and heavy attacks and combine attacks together to perform special attacks. You can disarm enemies and pick up and use weapons. Each hero can unleash their own set of powers and it’s these powers that make each hero unique. You can execute extreme powers and even combine them for a coordinated and devastating attack. Health and energy can be restored by collecting red and blue orbs which are often dropped by enemies and are revealed by breaking items. S.H.I.E.L.D. Credits can be acquired the same way and act as a form of currency which can be spent on upgrades.
The heroes you select will gain experience and level up by defeating enemies. I like how the game doesn’t force you to pick a specific set so you can bring along your favorite heroes or bring a set that makes more tactical sense. Either way, on the Normal difficulty, you should be able to make progress without struggling unless you try to rush through everything. As simplistic as the combat can feel, there is some strategy involved and finding what heroes work best together is all part of the fun. You’ll unlock new powers and outfits and these things can be upgraded. You can set the game to auto-upgrade powers or you can upgrade them manually. Outfits not only alter a hero’s appearance but also come with their own perks that can be upgraded by spending credits. Furthermore, you’ll acquire Gear that offer different bonuses when equipped. Gear can be sold and some gear can only be equipped by certain heroes.
The roster of heroes is rather large and many of them need to be unlocked. You’ll get to play as Iron Man, Spider-Man, different X-Men, members of The Fantastic Four, even Ghost Rider and Blade which are two of my favorite Marvel heroes. If you choose a specific set of heroes, you’ll receive extra bonuses. At a certain point, you’ll be able to create your own Marvel Team. You can create one from scratch or choose from a pre-existing Marvel comics team. The Team you create will gain reputation by completing various tasks and when your Team Level increases, you can spend a skill point to upgrade different aspects of your team. It’s actually a pretty neat feature.
As cool as all of this sounds, the gameplay is repetitive. Enjoyable, but repetitive. It doesn’t matter what heroes I selected or what mission I was on, it always felt like I was doing the same thing. Every location features a ton of enemies to defeat, bosses to take down, and objectives to complete. You’ll be doing a lot of button mashing from beginning to end. Regardless, the diverse roster and upgrades do add some depth to the gameplay. Enough to keep me engaged, anyway. While each hero can perform the same basic functions, their unique powers is what makes them stand out. To level up all the heroes and max them out will require grinding and you can replay through the story after beating it with all of your unlocked heroes, their upgrades, and stats.
One of my biggest complaints with this game, or specifically this port, is the controls. You can play with a keyboard and mouse and it also supports controllers. I played with an Xbox Series X controller and many of the button icons don’t reflect the right buttons. I did some research and this problem has been a thing for a long time. It can make quick time events very frustrating. Another gripe I have is that the camera can sometimes get wonky and during certain cut scenes or encounters, it doesn’t always focus on what it’s supposed to. Plus, when the action gets crazy hectic, it can be easy to lose track of whatever hero you’re controlling. None of these things ruined the game for me or anything but the wrong button icons is a significant problem.
You can issue commands to AI team mates and they will attack enemies on their own but the foes will primarily focus on you. While the friendly AI is decent, the pathfinding can sometimes be shit and team mates will often die by running right into environmental hazards and falling off ledges. This can get annoying because fallen heroes need to rest for a little while before you can use them again. Actually, NPC pathfinding in general is not the greatest. I frequently witnessed characters get stuck on things when walking around.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance has its flaws but it’s also rich with plenty to see and do. It’s basically Marvel porn. Answering the trivia questions correctly grants your heroes experience and you really need to know your shit to answer some of these. The game throws around a lot of Marvel terminology and NPCs will tell you about themselves, their origins, and relationships. You can find and collect sketch books which unlocks artwork and simulator discs which unlocks comic missions. These are like special challenges and most of them will grant you rewards when you reach the appropriate scores. Furthermore, these are a great way to level up heroes.
There are three difficulty modes and the hardest needs to be unlocked. I would say the difficulty remains consistent and fair throughout the entire game, at least on Normal. I was able to swap out heroes often and still progress without too much trouble. Heroes that you use frequently and are leveled up will often fare better than those that are not but I found that they will catch up pretty quick. Enemies can have special attributes like enhanced damage and regenerating health and some are vulnerable to certain attacks. They’ll come at you with weapons, some carry shields, and others can fire projectiles. Knowing when to attack, block, and dodge is sometimes very important, especially if you get overwhelmed, but often times I was able to just tank damage and mash buttons to defeat enemies. It’s the powers that can make a big difference. When upgraded, some powers will cut through enemies like a knife through butter.
I would say it’s the bosses that make up the most interesting encounters in the game. You’ll fight a lot of villains, many of which involve the standard button mashing. Others require a little more thinking. Many of the significant bosses have a gimmick. Something you need to do to inflict damage or make them vulnerable. Unfortunately, some of these battles are tedious and many involve quick time events, but I found a lot of them to be enjoyable and at the very least they offer a break from the normal button mashing gameplay.
The game will take you to a good variety of locations. From Atlantis to the Skrull Planet, there’s a lot to see and discover. However, finding things should never be a problem. You can reference the map on your HUD at any time and it will show where you have and haven’t been so as long as you take the time to run around each area, you should be able to find all the pickups like sketch books, simulator discs, gear, stat upgrades, and action figures and collecting enough action figures will unlock a new hero. There’s a lot of optional missions and objectives to complete. Objectives will require you to defeat certain enemies, retrieve items, and destroy and activate things. You will have solve some basic puzzles here and there, there are secret areas to find, and you’ll want to avoid the many hazards you come across which is usually not that difficult, although AI team mates might have some trouble.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a colorful game with a lot of diverse environments. Everything looks good from a distance but whenever the camera zooms in on anything, that’s when the game really shows its age. Other than that, it doesn’t look bad but I do kind of wish the developers went with a cel shaded style similar to the presentation in X-Men Legends II for a more comic book feel. From what I read, they almost did but the idea was scrapped before release. I can’t confirm if it’s just my copy or the PC port in general or something else but based on my experience, the audio mixing is not very good. Sometimes the music volume would suddenly increase and there were several interactions that were drowned out by music. If it wasn’t for the subtitles, I would have no idea what was being said during these sequences. Most of the time it was fine but that did occur on more than one occasion. The music in general ranges from generic to pretty good. Some songs I really enjoyed and thought they made certain scenarios more dramatic but I also thought many tunes were generic and forgettable. On the technical side, I didn’t encounter many issues. Parts of the HUD went missing a few times which may or may not have been the result of me alt tabbing which I resolved by exiting the re-launching the game. Other than that, nothing hindered my experience.
I went into Marvel Ultimate Alliance thinking it was going to be a Gauntlet-style game with comic book characters. That is not the case. It does get repetitive but there’s a little more to it than just mindless slaying. It is a button masher and if it wasn’t for each hero’s unique powers, they would all very much feel the same. There is some strategy and depth to it but I think it’s obvious the developers wanted it to be more accessible than anything else. It’s a fun super hero action game with role playing elements. What’s most impressive is the amount of content and all the series represented. From the storyline to comic book missions to the extras, there’s a lot of stuff here Marvel fans can appreciate. And whether you’re a Marvel fanatic or only care about a few heroes, there’s bound to be at least one character you’re familiar with, whether they’re playable or not. Even if you don’t care about Marvel in general, if you like this style of gameplay, there’s a lot of it and in you’re in for a quite an adventure. I think it could have used a little more polish in some areas and it’s probably more enjoyable if you have friends to play with but whether you do or you don’t, there’s a lot of fun to be had and it’s got plenty of replay value.
I would recommend Marvel Ultimate Alliance to fans of Marvel and action games. If you don’t know which version to get, I would say get the PC version just because of the mods alone. The base game doesn’t come with anything exclusive but you can always download additional characters and other mods and the community is still going strong from what I can tell. As far as video games based on comic books go, I would say Ultimate Alliance is one of the better games out there. Definitely check it out.