Review by Duck_Sandwich
An awesome concept ruined by a severely disappointing combat system
Marvel Ultimate Alliance is an beat-em-up with 4-player co-op, and a huge cast of Marvel characters, each with their own set of powers that can be customized to the player's liking, making the replay value of the game go through the roof. While this seems like a recipe for instant win (and it is) all that potential is sent to the hell by the annoying, glitchy, and often unfair fighting system.
The basic premise is this: You (and your friends) take your dream team of 4 (or less) heroes, each one chosen by you, and pummel, blast, grapple, burn, and smash your way through waves of Dr. Doom's cheesily named "Masters of Evil," and upgrading your heroes' abilities as you go along. There's a ton of added features, such as alternate costumes, endings, hidden characters to unlock as you go along. You can also give your dream team a name (popular ones include the "Masters of Good" and "C-Men") and logo, though this has no actual effect on the gameplay.
You can upgrade your characters through putting skill points (gained from leveling up) into powers to make them stronger, using items gained from bosses, and even upgrading their costumes. These items and costumes have various effects, such as making you faster, increasing the damage of certain attacks, regaining health and energy when attacking/killing enemies and giving you faster energy regeneration.
The level design is fairly well done. While the beginning few levels are rather bland, the rest of the levels make up for it. You'll go through other planets, alternate dimensions, huge flying ships, and a circus. These places don't just have cosmetic differences. For example, one level has a lot of wide open spaces, fiery lava pits, and giant demons with giant swords. Another level has you fighting clowns, driving bumper cars, and navigating through a giant pinball maze.
The combat goes a little something like this. You have basic 3-hit combos, a charged Knockback attack, grappling, throwing, blocking, and dodging. Also, there are the aforementioned power moves, as well as passive abilities like Deadpool's teleportation, Spider-Man's web swinging, Wolverine's healing, etc.
The 3-hit combos basically have the same effect. Each one ends with a hit that either knocks the enemy in the air, trips them, or stuns them. Or if you just mash the "A" button, there is no ending effect.
When grabbing an enemy, you can throw them, pummel them, or use a special grappling attack that is (somewhat) unique to the character performing it. For example, Spider-Man hangs enemies from the ceiling with webbing, Blade bites them, Luke Cage bashes their face into the ground repeatedly, etc.
The powers come in several forms, such as ground shockwaves, guided projectiles, bullrush attacks, charged projectiles, rapid fire projectiles, long range grappling, telekinesis, power-ups, grabbing enemies with chains and flinging them through the air (this power is especially fun when there are nearby deathpits) and "Xtreme" attacks that do a lot of damage to all onscreen enemies and can only be used once in a while.
Some of these powers are recycled thorough the characters. Some powers have small additional traits to distinguish themselves from others. For example, Iceman's rapid fire attack has a chance to slow enemies, and Iron Man's bounces off walls. However, many of the powers are just weaker/stronger versions of others in every possible way.
Also, many melee attacks are recycled. Sure, there are a few fun unique ones, like Ms. Marvel's flying rush knockback attack, Blade's shotgun, Spider-Man's leaping kick knockback, and Ghost Rider's chains, but many others have the same effects even if they look slightly different.
Also, you can block attacks and roll to dodge them. I like how dodging works. It's not a "stand still in a dodge stance" dodge like in Spider-Man 2. However, here's the problem. While blocking, you're COMPLETELY INVINCIBLE TO ALMOST EVERY ATTACK. There are some attacks that cannot be blocked, but they can only be used by bosses, and the bosses don't even use them that much. Other than that, there is nothing that punishes you for blocking too much. So in other words, walk right into the middle of a mob of enemies, weigh down the block button with tape or something, go eat a sandwich, come back, and you're character will be just fine. When you can do that in ANY game, something's horribly wrong.
Another glaring flaw about the game is that the fighting system has HORRIBLE hit detection. Take for instance, a situation where an enemy uses a ground shockwave against you. If you've played ANY game where an enemy can use a ground shockwave (such as Bowser's jumping in Super Mario 64), then you very well know that you dodge them by jumping over them. Ultimate Alliance takes this perfectly logical aspect of video game physics and gives it the finger. If you try jumping, or even flying over a ground shockwave attack, it will STILL HIT YOU. Not only that, but it will knock you out of the air. So how the hell do you avoid taking damage from a ground shockwave, you ask? By using your good ol' friend, Mr. Block!
Also, there's one Boss character that really pisses me off. Actually, they all do (more on that later) but there's this one boss that takes advantage of the glitchy combat system to such an extreme point that makes one wonder what the development team was thinking. One attack is a high speed rush that knocks your character down. This attack also happens to have the most bizarre homing properties I have ever seen in a game, ever. It's impossible to rolling dodge out of the way. If you fly over him, he will stop moving and run in place underneath you. And if you fly forwards while over him, he will RUN BACKWARDS so that he stays underneath you. I took Ms. Marvel and, using her flying ability, came across his other glitchy attack. He has a bearhug attack. Basically, I had Ms. Marvel fly relatively low, so that her feet were in front of the boss' face. Then I waited for him to use the attack. Surely enough, he grabs her legs, and then floats upward (it's quite worth noting that this particular villain doesn't normally have the power of flying) so that he's level with Ms. Marvel, bearhugging in the air.
To make this fight even more frustrating, there are 3 other bosses who you must fight at the same time, which brings me to my other point about the crappy combat system.
There are times when enemies do not have a "getting hit" animation. During this state of semi-invincibility, they can not be interrupted or stopped by any attack, save for throws. This happens when enemies are using their special power attacks. Say, you're fighting a Doom Bot and its hands glow orange. This means it's right about to shoot a laser. If you bury Wolverine's claws in the Doom Bot's face before it shoots the laser, it will still hit you with the laser anyway. This is really annoying, because enemies use their special attacks all the time. What's even worse is, Bosses constantly have this state of "I can hit you whenever I want". They don't even have to use their powers. So basically, this reduces all of the melee boss fights into lame "shot for shot" fights of attirition, which you are bound to lose unless your characters are leveled up to the point where you can just bumrush the boss and win.
Another thing. The game is horribly unbalanced in a Marvel vs Capcom 2 sort of way. The powers, and characters overall range from godlike to nigh-useless. For example, Spider-Man has a move that, when maxed out, makes him completely invincible for 3 minutes. The drawback? None, because 3 minutes is long enough for Spider-Man to regain the energy needed to use the move again. Elektra has a useless melee power that stuns enemies and does NO DAMAGE. Every character in the game has a basic melee attack that stuns enemies and does damage (and they don't use any energy), making her power completely useless. As you might have guessed, many characters have attacks that stun enemies for around the same time and do good damage (some of these moves are projectiles, too!). If you take any 4 characters and know which powers are their best and which ones are utter garbage, then chances are, you will be able to go through the game spamming their best powers and destroying everything in your path without any challenge whatsoever. Even if one of those characters is Elektra.
Normal melee attacks are severely underpowered compared to powers. For example, I was using Blade, at level 30ish, and my 3-hit combos were doing about 50 damage per hit. On the other hand, his fully charged Spike of Destruction (projectile move) did about 300 damage, and it only takes about a second to charge it.
Another thing that annoys me about the game is random chances, such as xx percent chance of a critical hit. These are generally avoidable (at least the game doesn't have the annoying "chance to hit" garbage that its predecessors were plagued with) by not using certain skills, items etc, but that limits your options. These chances turn otherwise interesting powers into inconsistent crap. A lot of the interesting effects of powers, such as bleed damage, freezing, etc. rely on random chances to take effect.
For a game that focuses on teamwork, the AI is ridiculous. When you're playing alone with a group of 3 AI controlled teammates, you can win the majority of fights using a ranged-combat fighter with the following battle plan: "Ok, you three go and bumrush the enemy and eat their lasers while I spam Mystic Bolts from afar." The exception is when....wait. There is no exception.
So in the end, you may enjoy Ultimate Alliance if you like games that involve gratuitous amounts of button mashing. But if you're looking for a good, solid action game with a focus on skill, the glitchy, utterly unfair combat system will piss you off to no end. If you have a team of 4 overleveled and overpowered heroes, you can happily button-mash and power-spam your way through the game. But if you go looking for a good challenge and play as, say, a solo, modestly leveled Blade, you will not find a good challenge, but instead, die countless cheap deaths.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance has a lot of good things going for it. But in the end, it's overwhelming flaws make it a huge disappointment.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (US, 11/14/06)
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