Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Preview
The superheroes are back and better than ever, and this time, they're taking on an action/RPG formula (ala X-Men Legends in their approach to old-school butt-kicking.
Developed by Raven Software and published by the lately gung-ho Activision, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is one giant battle with several nice character customization additions. Already available for multiple consoles, including the Xbox 360, it should arrive for the PS3 for the system's launch on November 17. Hardcore fans of the superhero realm are likely to enjoy the latest virtual Marvel incarnation, which comes complete with a ton of items, character-specific special abilities, and a significant tinge of RPG excitement.
The game is expected to be a decent length, and there will also be a variety of environments and backdrops to battle though. Marvel will feature a large cast of over 20 playable characters, and that list includes- Iceman, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, Thor, Thing, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Wolverine, Electra, Ghost Rider, Dr. Strange, the Silver Surfer, Captain America, and Spider-Man. And with each one sporting their own abilities and skills, chances are, every fan of every superhero has a reason to play this game.
One of the more familiar levels is making its return; that kick-ass area known as the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier level at the very start of the game, that sees Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor, and Wolverine responding to a SOS from Nick Fury. In the playable demo at TGS this year, you could make your way through the environment, and then battle both Scorpion and Bullseye in two separate parts. It appears that Raven hasn't skimped on the story here, which makes sense, considering the relatively new RPG-ish approach.
As you progress through the game, the stylish team of do-gooders embarks on several missions, including one where the objective is defeating Mandarin. We do know that Dr. Doom's reformed and revitalized Masters of Evil clan represent the biggest problem for our legendary superheroes, so that should cause multiple conflicts. Those "conflicts" will take place in both indoor and outdoor environments, from the helicarrier insanity to Mandarin's fortress.
That fortress, also shown at TGS, carries a decided Asian theme, and is in sharp contrast to other levels like Arcade's Murderworld. Arcade is a hitman who sells out to the highest bidder, and also seems to have a penchant for dark comedy. In his level, for example, the player must make their way through a fatally booby-trapped amusement park (Murderworld). And of course, what good is an evil amusement park without psychotic circus-like enemies to attack the invaders? Eventually, you'll make it to the giant pinball machine, where you'll face the wrath of Shocker and Rhino.
From here, you'll travel on to the insanity of Mephisto's realm, and that embodiment of pure evil wields unbelievable power and boasts a mini-city loaded with slaves. Emphasizing the paranormal and supernatural, you must battle your way along until you get the chance to free either Nightcrawler or Jean Grey. We don't yet know if your decision directly impacts the storyline, or if you simply have to choose between the two character's powers...which hero would suit you best?
All in all, the game's biggest appeal likes in the total team customization. Players can not only create their own team, they can name it, give it an icon and vehicle, and even establish a reputation as they move through the game. The sampling of levels listed above is just a small helping; you'll fight through the air, underwater, and on the ground, constantly using every skill at your disposal.
In addition to the character-specific special abilities, all characters can grapple, dodge, and block in a variety of ways, so feel free to experiement on a consistent basis. The environment will also play a key role in your success, as you can switch off between standard weapons and background objects you snag...parking meters, perhaps? And that story is indeed somewhat open-ended, as selecting certain missions will directly affect the outcome of the story.
Lastly, the game will also feature competitive and co-op multiplayer modes, so gather your fellow superhero-lovers around and prepare to play to your heart's content. The game looks very smooth, and the color is awfully impressive. Given the PS3's extra power, we'd hope to see some better-refined visuals, and it does appear that's going to happen...but the only way to know for sure is to pick up Marvel: Ultimate Alliance along with your snazzy new PS3 on November 17.
10/20/2006 Ben Dutka