Marvel Ultimate Alliance is the new RPG adventure from Raven Software and Activision. You might remember Raven Software from such games as X-men Legends and X-men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse. What this game should have been called is ‘X-men Legends III: Where have all the X-men gone?' Because that’s basically what this game is: the X-men Legends series with less X-men and a lot more obscure Marvel superheroes.
The story here is that the dreaded Doctor Doom has gathered together a whole host of Marvel super villains in an attempt to achieve his eternal quest for global domination. The earth’s only hope is for the Marvel universe's greatest heroes (and some of their not-so-spectacular friends) to band together and try and stop this mechanical and maniacal menace. The plot is decisively old school, with more overconfident villain rantings and Spider-man back-sass than you can shake a stick at. The cut-scenes will start to grate on you after a while as you grow weary of Doom standing on a podium shouting about imminent victory as the rest of the 'Masters of Evil' (no joke) flounce about like over-excited play-doh men at a Power Rangers audition.
The ranks of playable heroes in this game are outstanding, with 18 Marvel characters waiting for you to select them to be part of your four person super-team. There are some good choices, too, like the ever-popular Spider-man, and all the members of the Fantastic Four. However, there are also a few interesting inclusions that newcomers to the world of Marvel will puzzle over; for example: Doctor Strange, who looks like he wandered into the game after getting lost on the way to his Vegas hypnotism act, and Luke Cage, who must have been modelled after rapper 50 Cent, as his superpower seems to be the ability to get shot and not die. Hardcore Marvel fan-boys, though, will rejoice at the cast line up, and I predict many knowing grins as they interact with upwards of 120 different Marvel minor characters and locations.
Anyone familiar with dungeon crawling hack’n’slashers like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate will have no problem at all picking up and mastering the game play in Ultimate Alliance. Although these people don’t really have much of a head start as anyone new to this style of game could quite easily make it to the end of every level by just walking forwards and mashing the X button repeatedly. Easy, but fun. Seriously: you are not going to be struggling with this title; you’re much more likely going to be frustrated by the repetitive nature of the whole thing. The AI of your team mates is also a concern; whilst you are in charge of one character, the rest tend to zoom about like lobotomized smack addicts.
And the graphics in the game fail to stand up to scrutiny. The landscapes and backgrounds especially look like they were erected by a primary school set designer on a very tight budget. And the in-game characters, though much improved from the X-men Legends days, still appear to be malformed clumps of clay with oven mitts on.
Overall, though the game is fun, it just isn't really challenging enough. The are times when you feel truly sorry for the henchmen – especially when there’s only one or two left and you descend on them with four super-powered individuals and basically gang bash them to death. I would recommend this game to anyone who loves Marvel comics and wants some simple mindless fun.