The RPG elements from the previous games return with about the same amount of complexity, and can be made completely transparent if you so desire. I had auto-level up activated most of the time, but if you really want you can get in deep and customize every aspect of each hero. Adding new levels to powers is about the only thing that needs individual attention, and you’ll only be doing that once or twice a map, if you’re as thrifty with XP as I am, that is.
The boss battles have seen the most change, as you won’t exactly be attacking the bosses directly anymore, but killing them through environmental means. Basically, you’ll go to a marked point of the arena and engage in a button-pressing minigame. This makes your character dodge around while influencing the environment in some way that will be lethal to the boss. One example is knocking down huge pillars to kill the Cracken in the underwater level. I felt that this took some of the fight out of boss fights, and hunting around my keyboard for the right keys in a split-second grew frustrating. I’m sure these battles are easier on the console versions with all the face buttons conveniently clustered together—I didn’t have Simon-esque minigames in mind when I customized my key setup for Marvel Alliance.
Boss fights notwithstanding, all of this franchise polish filters over into the multiplayer, which is really the best way to play this game. The single player AI is just a bit stupid, so playing with humans on your team is the best way to go, and Marvel will probably go down in history as a great LAN party game. Over the net it’s workable, but I can’t imagine playing alone without the ability to heckle my team members.
Presentation wise, Marvel Alliance has some improvement over its predecessors, but not enough to really blow my doors off. The biggest change is the more realistic art direction; there is no cel-shading anymore, and the heroes are more faithful to their various comic incarnations. There are some nice shader techniques and the action is resplendent with particle effects, explosions and glitzy super powers. Getting caught on the scenery was still a bit of a problem, but overall my heroes felt less clumsy this time around, and the animations were smoother.
Music is pretty generic, but does a good job of punctuating the action without being specific to any of the Marvel movies or TV shows. I would’ve liked more dynamic music, but what we end up with works, if not spectacularly so.
Sound and voice are a little lopsided. Most of the effects are carried over from the Legends games, so you won’t be hearing a lot of new sounds this time. The Legends effects work just fine, it’s just a little disappointing that Marvel sounds so similar. The voice work is kind of hit or miss across the wide spectrum of characters; it works for most all of them, but doesn’t stand out much. I really wish Patrick Stewart or Hugh Jackman had reprised their roles, but with the X-Men films pretty much over I guess Raven thought it was time to move on to new voice talent. The dialogue is about as comic book corny as you can get, with villains promising vengeance and destruction, while the heroes give suitably altruistic retorts. Most of this cheesy feeling is intentional, I believe, as it’s been the same since the first X-Men Legends, but by the third time around it wears a little thin. I really liked Spider Man, however. After hearing Toby Maguire’s lifeless, Valium-laced deliveries in all of the Spidey movie games, it was refreshing to have a voice actor who was an animated smartass the way Spidey was in the comics.
Marvel’s appearance, sound and feel are much like Raven’s other attempts, and in the end that really isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this long, passively deep beat-em-up RPG, just don’t expect a whole lot of new features. The team building is really the biggest improvement, with a few small drawbacks and a huge level of geek appeal. Marvel Ultimate Alliance feels like a really big expansion pack for the series, much like another Raven-made fan favorite, Jedi Academy. I just hope Alliance is a stepping stone to something even better.
Compared to the other recent superhero brawler, the bitterly disappointing Justice League Heroes, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a godsend. On its own, however, it’s a decent update of the X-Men Legends games, and not a whole lot more. Multiplayer is still the big draw and the team aspect is a cool addition, but the boss battles are less than epic and the beat-em-up action gets rather stale quickly.
Page 2 of 2