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Marvel Ultimate Alliance Hands-On

sjohnson
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Posted October 6, 2006 - By Stephen Johnson

The humanitarians at Activision invited G4 (and the rest of the gaming press) to check out their lineup of upcoming videogames this week, on the PS3, The 360 and The Wii. Here’s the word on the first title we played: Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which we checked out on all three systems.

First off, the news for the hardcore gamers: Marvel Ultimate Alliance was running in 1080p on the PlayStation 3, and it was running smoothly and perfectly, so add that to the list of launch titles that’ll take full advantage of the new system’s brawny hardware.

Now on to the nitty-gritty of the game:

Comic fans are in for a definite treat with Marvel Ultimate Alliance. This comic-book centric 3rd-person beat-em-up features over 20 playable characters from the Marvel Universe. We’re talking Spiderman, Captain America, the entire Fantastic Four, Thor, Ghost Rider, etc. etc. etc. The only thing missing is my favorite crime fighter, Black Lightning. (I know he’s DC, but he’s rad.)

Overall, there are 140 Marvel characters in the game (villians, henchmen, etc.) so all your pretend comic book friends will be there.

Team Formation and Role-Playing Elements

The game begins with the formation of your team. Players choose any four Marvel superheroes to battle super evil, so Silver Surfer can mix-it-up alongside Night Crawler, and The Invisible Woman can team up with Wong. Weird combinations of characters are awesome, but more traditional team-ups bring rewards, example: Playing as The Fantastic Four brings you bonus to your resistance.

MUA also features light role-playing elements: in game power-ups bring points that can be spread over a hero’s stats. We didn’t have enough time to really delve into the points system, but it cursory look made it seem very user-friendly. A nice balance between a customized stat system without having it to get all bogged down. On to the gameplay:

Controls

The game allows for full co-op of every mission, so friends can just jump on fight evil for a minute, and then hop off to eat a Hot Pocket. Unplayed heroes are taken over by the computer, and its AI seems pretty standard from our limited play-time. They don’t do anything dumb, but don’t do anything super-awesome either. About how you want your non-player allies to act.

The basic fighting controls were intuitive as possible: One button punches another button jumps, etc.

Jumping and punching are fine, but the most compelling aspect of playing as a superhero, of course, is the super-powers. Each individual hero has unique attacks based on their character, so Spidey slings webs, Captain America throws his shield, Invisible Woman turns invisible, etc. Flying characters can fly, but I'm not sure how that even helps, alas, I didnt' have enough time to really get into the game's details. But the controls are intuitive as hell.

As expected, the Wii version uses their unique controller to its fullest advantage, allowing you to toss enemies with a flick of the wrist.

The PS3 version also took advantage of the Sixaxis controller's motion-sensing as well: Nere-do-wells grabbed by a hero can be flicked aside with a simple tilt of the controller. I gotta be honest though, I did it couple of times, thought "oh, this is kind of neat," and then immediately reverted to the control sticks. At least in this case, on both the Wii and the PS3, my initial impression is that the controller tilt feels a little…well…gimmicky. Or maybe I’m just not used to it. Time will tell.

In any case, most (but not all) of the games actions on the Wii and the PS3 are able to be completed with more standard joysticking.

Camera controls are floating and adjustable, although we really didn't need to adjust things very often.

Levels

The first level we checked out involved a battle on a massive metal ship hovering over a city.  Enemy dudes swarm the four fighters, who beat them up with punches and super-power attacks.The levels seem to work pretty much as you’d expect a 3rd-person platformers level to work. Beat up guys, open doors, go on to the end of the map.

Some interesting variations on the theme: The Arcade level we played featured our team trapped in a gigantic pinball machine, fighting evil clowns and doubles of themselves. Very fun, frantic level with flippers and pinball bumpers adding to the chaos.

We tried out a boss battle with Marvel’s Ymir, a huge ice giant kind of thing, and the game got a little wonky from here. The camera fixes, and, after grabbing Ymir’s ice spear, and jamming him with it, the mechanics of the game change. It becomes a mini-game of climbing up the giant and…doing something that kills him. I’m not sure what, because I didn’t  complete it. Damn!

System Comparison

Okay, I know the PS3 version was running at 1080p, and I should be really impressed by that, but after a side-by-side comparison of the game on the PS3 and the 360 and identical high def TVs, I thought the 360 version looked better. Marginally better, but still better.

The colors were more dynamic on the 360, and the images sharper somehow. But in any case, you will not be disappointed with the graphics of the game, it looks much better than it even needs to…until you play it on the Wii.

After sitting down with the game on the two top end systems, and then Wii-ing it up, the Wii’s graphical limitations are impossible to ignore.  I was honestly surprised at how rudimentary and old-school the graphics looked.  G4’s Jess Reed, my game playing pal, said: “It feels a little like playing on an N64,” and it does… which is fine for a comic-book style beat-em-up-- I’m playing this to throws some baddies around more than look at great art—but for other kinds of games, it might be a problem. Much like everyone has been saying, the Wii is all about the controls.

Overall

We really enjoyed this title. Activision had to all but pry me off the controllers of this game, but there are two kinds of people will absolutely need to have this title: Marvel fans (natch) and gamers looking for a simple-to-learn, but challenging beat-em-up to play with their friends. The co-op mode rules.

The game ships on November 1st.

Jess Reed says:

Don’t let Steve Johnson be on your Marvel team because he will just fly around and think it’s absolutely hilarious. Regardless, co-op is always the most enjoyable way to play, except the Wii-ers will be left without online play. 

Activision is promising to feature over 140 Marvel characters and over 25 hours of gameplay and since I am secretly in love with boosting my 360 gamerscore I checked Marvel Ultimate Alliance achievement points. Players who join a co-op game in progress will still be allowed to earn achievements that the team earns!  I don’t know how this will work, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed about earning some cheap-ass achievements from poaching off someone else’s game. 

We only got to check out one boss battle, but as Steve explains it didn’t execute as well as we had hoped.  The gameplay and camera get all wonky, and for some reason I found myself as Wolverine getting all Shadow of Colossus on a big snow guy, and not in a good way.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance squeezes in enough Marvel goodness to make any fanboy excited, but this isn’t the game to make you run out and get a PS3.  Or a Wii. 

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