Marvel are the creators of many of are favourite super hero comic book characters. They brought us such games as Spiderman, X-Men and Incredible Hulk just to name but a few. Marvel Ultimate Alliance (MUA) is based on the popular X-Men Legends game and the game carries a lot of similarities.
The start of the game shows you a beautiful cut scene and quickly explains the base story line. Dr. Doom and his minions are attacking the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier. Thor, Spiderman, Wolverine and Captain America teleport to the helicarrier in a fight to save it. Later you will find out that Dr. Doom has every great supervillan working with him calling themselves “The Masters of Evil”.
When the cut scene ends, the game begins. You control anyone of the 4 members in your group and at any time can switch between them with the D-pad. If one of your members looses all of their health they will stay where they passed out and cannot be controlled until you revive them when you reach a S.H.I.E.L.D access point. These points can be accessed through out different areas you are located at. They also allow you to save your game, transfer between S.H.I.E.L.D access points in the game and change your team members. You have 18 different marvel comic book heroes’ to choose from at the start, with 8 other characters you can unlock in the game. Iron Man, Mr Fantastic, Storm, Blade, their all there. Each character stays true to their comic book abilities and their most popular moves are used in the game. Traits like Spiderman doesn’t jump but instead he web slings across the level, Storm hovers across the ground, these are all the little touches Raven Software have added which allow the game to stay true to its Marvel creation.
Controls are basic, yet allow you to pull off advanced commands quickly. You will mainly just use the A and B buttons. These are your quick melee attack and strong melee attack, holding B will charge up a stronger attack. Using different combinations of these buttons will allow you to pull off a combination of moves. Y is jump and pressing it again will double jump for those high to reach places. Some characters will fly instead of double jumping such as Spiderman with his web slinging or Iron Man with his rocket boots. X is your grab attack. If someone is using a shield and you press X next to them an A button will appear at the bottom of the screen telling you to press that button as fast as you can to tear it away from them. Then if you decide to press X again you can grab them and constantly hit them in their face. Nice! The left button is block which will block most attacks and is great for when one enemy is picking on you allowing your other team mates to throw in punches and kicks for you. Right button allows you to control your mini map.
Now here’s where the real action happens. The left trigger brings up a small HUD in the left hand corner of the screen with 4 icons called the Team Commands menu. This allows you to tell your team which AI mode you want them to use. Holding the trigger down and using the D pad will select an AI of aggressive, normal, defensive or follow. This will let you tell your team in the heat of the moment what want them to do. Do you want them to throw everything they have at the enemy or hold back and take enemies as they come? It's just a few simple taps away.
Holding the right trigger will bring up small HUD in the top right hand corner of the screen similar to the team command display. This allows you to use your characters specific powers by pressing one of the X,Y,B,A buttons. You start off with some basic powers but as you progress through the game you can upgrade to different powers and upgrade the strength of those powers.
The camera in this game is disappointing. In most places you can control the camera and pan in and out at your team but there are some moments when it likes to zoom into your characters when you don’t want it to. This can then lead to you not seeing enemies coming which normally leads to one of your team mates being left somewhere out of your view resulting in your hero being swarmed with enemies and getting killed. This is not a major problem in the game and it will hardly be a annoyance.
You can upgrade powers with points which you will gain when you character levels up or you can buy upgrades at a high price. Powers are just one of the things which can be upgraded. You can also unlock costumes for your character. The costumes will not only change your appearance but they also have 3 different attributes. These attributes can be things like dodging, melee damage, defence to XP. Each of these are upgraded with money which you will you can gain by defeating enemies and smashing up objects around the levels. All powers and upgrades are set to auto-spend by default so if messing around with upgrades isn’t your thing you can let the game pick upgrades for you along the way.
Throughout the game there are also some mini games to play, this adds a nice touch and a much needed change from the same kick and punch routine. I won’t spoil it all but old style arcade games and bumper cars are fun! If you’re lucky enough to find hidden areas you might spot mystery discs scattered around the levels. These are comic book missions and let you re-enact scenes from comic books. These will give you rewards like upgrade points and costumes and are a really fun way to find out more about a hero’s past.
The graphics do show some improvements for the Xbox 360. They are next-gen but they are not taking advantage of all the power they could use. The levels are detailed and most of scenery is smashable and filled with coins, health and energy goodness. All the levels are vibrant with the first level being a burning helicarrier to levels underwater. Characters are all shiny in their costumes and my favourite hero - Iron Man, in his red and gold suit has lots of detail on him giving you a hint that the upcoming film in 2008 is going to be something great! Some characters are much more noticeable than others. The Thing with his big brown rock like body moves really well and there are no action figure like joints on him.
Attacks are filled with colourful swirls and effects and let you know that you have just pulled off a bad ass move. Sadly they don’t seem to carry the great graphics shown in the cut scenes. The major scenes such as the intro movie look excellent with some really great CGI, but then it stops right there with the rest of the videos looking like something which have been pulled from a Xbox version. Colours are way too bright and the characters lack in smoothness and detail. Eventually you will get bored and skip them which is a bad thing as you could start to loose details in the story line.
The constant sound of attacking your enemies can slowly start to repeat itself as all you are doing is pressing A and B in different successions. There is a lot of dialogue to accompany the game and not enough voice acting. I can see it might be hard to get all the voice acting from every character but this is the next-gen era, I shouldn’t need to do any reading! Ambient sound and music is great and really ties in with the levels. On Murder World, which is a evil carnival, the background music goes really well.
MUA also has a good multiplayer experience. Up to 3 other people on your 360 can jump straight into your game allowing for a fun co-op experience with your friends. This is also the same for Xbox Live play. The only downside is the host has to load their save game and the players have to play from that save. This is rather annoying as when you join a game you could just be playing the same part you have already completed in the game or even skip some of the story.
MUA is a great game and will appeal to RPG gamers. It will also cater for people who like the basics of RPGs but don’t want the hassle of different items which do +10 Damage this and +5 Strength that. The levels are big and give you a good amount of exploring to do. If the game had some other online battle modes it would give me a reason to want to play on Xbox Live. What it lacks in sound and terrible cut scenes it makes up with all the Marvel characters. It is an enjoyable game which should keep you occupied with for a long time.
Originally Written By: Toby Bodman