The X-men Legends series mutates further.
The X-Men Legends series has given comic fans a treat for the last couple of years. The dungeon crawler RPG series featuring Marvel’s favorite mutants has been popular for the pure unadulterated fun of destroying foes as the X-men. Now, almost inevitably, the series has evolved to include the rest of the Marvel Universe, including the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and a few solo agents.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance takes the formula that X-men Legends made famous and improves upon it vastly. The first difference that the player will notice is that Raven has finally eschewed the cartoonish cel-shading approach in favor of a more realistic look. Visually, everything has been overhauled from the character models to the environments. It’s difficult to fully appreciate it with the overhead perspective, but it is undeniable that the game is much easier on the eyes than its predecessors. Especially noteworthy are the fire and energy effects, which definitely have a next gen look.
Raven has also improved the interactivity of the characters. In the X-men Legends games, players could basically attack and throw enemies. In MUA, you can grab a foe, punch him repeatedly with strong or weak attacks, steal weapons from them, and even attack them while they are floored. In addition to this, there are character specific attacks, such as Spidey webbing a foe from the ceiling or Colossus using foes as weapons. The one downside to this is that some grab moves are overpowered and would discourage regular attacks, such as Luke Cage’s ability to repeatedly face pound foes, an attack that the average enemy can’t survive. Also, the weapons are incredibly overpowered, as a stolen sword will kill an enemy much faster than Wolverine’s claws or Thor’s hammer.
MUA also has changed the way that powers and health are handled. Instead of finding and using health and energy potions, the player can find red and blue orbs that refill health and energy respectively. These orbs appear when enemies are defeated or when objects are smashed, and the orbs automatically go to the player who found them. If that hero’s meter is already filled, the energy or health goes to the hero who needs it most. This is a nice touch and takes away some of the micromanagement of health and energy that the Legends game had. Also, powers and health aren’t drained quite as quickly as they were in the Legends games. This allows the players to use powers more, which increases the fun factor. Also, characters that can fly can now do so without any energy penalty. Storm, Thor, The Human Torch, Ms. Marvel, etc. can fly for as long as they wish and it doesn’t affect their energy meter. Other characters can use their own method of transportation, like Spidey’s web-slinging, Deadpool’s teleportation, and Iceman’s Ice Slide (which curiously and unfortunately, must be unlocked).
While there are less powers per character than X-men Legends 2, there is much more customization. Each player has multiple skins that can be unlocked that give different upgradeable bonuses. If Spiderman wears his black symbiote costume, he can upgrade his max health and his defense, while his classic costume allows him to reflect melee damage and increase damage from webbing.
One curious choice that Raven made was to reward players for creating and maintaining a superhero team. This requires the player to choose a team, name them, and to repeatedly play with them to increase team chemistry, which can eventually translate to the team earning bonuses to damage, health, energy, or even additional slots for the roster. It seems odd that Raven would give the player over twenty choices for characters, including characters that are unlocked over the course of gameplay, then make the player feel obligated to stick with a quarter of those choices. This is a good bonus for players who do only choose their favorite characters to play through the entire game, but for the majority of players that like experimentation, it can seem like a double edged sword.
Another drawback is the use of hero points. While the system itself isn’t flawed, it sometimes feels like a chore to walk around and pick up the scattered hero points that appear. It would have probably been more enjoyable if the hero points were automatically distributed like the health and energy orbs.
The storyline of the game follows the supervillian Dr. Doom re-creating the Masters of Evil. The plot is largely an excuse to put together a massive roster of supervillians to challenge the hero. While the plot does make sense and has a few twists, (as well as points where the player is forced to make decisions that change the story slightly) it is too obviously just an engine to drive the gameplay. The voice acting and dialogue are all fairly cheesy, even moreso than their comic-book origins. They also toned down the one-liners repetition and the combos as well, so you won’t constantly have to hear the same annoying lines or announcer yelling ‘Combo” over and over. The music is functional but not memorable, although the sound effects are well done.
MUA has also thrown in a slew of mini-boss battles to keep the action fairly fresh. There are generally multiple mini-boss battles on each stage, with Raven tapping the Marvel archives to showcase well-known and obscure characters. The final boss battles are easily recognizable as they consist of giant foes that cannot be harmed by conventional means. Most of the time the hero have to perform an action or get the foe to perform an action before succeeding at a Shenmue-esque Quick Time Event sequence. These events should feel epic, due to the scale of the foes, but once the pattern is figured out, they are usually easy, since you don’t have to attack directly. It may have worked better to have the enemies vulnerable to attack for a limited time, then vulnerable to a QTE, then back to standard attacking.
Like X-men Legend, MUA has online capabilities. Players can hop online and play cooperatively or competitively in an arcade mode where gamers compete for points. If you don’t play online, you can still play multiplayer with friends on a single system.
Even despite its few flaws, MUA is a blast to play. If you’ve ever enjoyed an X-men Legends game, MUA is a step above and beyond that. RPG and dungeon crawler fans along with comic-book lovers will find much to love about MUA.
Hands On Preview
Beating back the forces of evil, CCC unlocks the secrets of Marvel Ultimate Alliance with a hands-on play through. by Patrick Evans
Marvel Ultimate Alliance is going to be the game that comic book fans will drool over for months after it releases. Who hasn’t wanted to take their favorite Marvel super-heroes and come up with the Marvel Dream Team or something? The sheer number of playable characters is immense, but the roster of villains is even more impressive. One concern going into the recent Activision press event was that the game would be little more than a glorified X-men Legends with tons more characters. After getting a couple hours to tinker with the game’s near-finished code, we can safely say that we aren’t as worried as we were before.
For those who aren’t familiar with the story in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, please allow me to bring you up to speed. Dr. Doom is bringing the world of evil together to concoct the ultimate diabolical scheme imaginable. To stop him, players will have to battles across a slew of different environments, and even dimensions, to stop Doom and his lackeys in their tracks. Both the game and our demonstration open aboard the SHIELD helicopter as it is under attack by the forces of Doom. Nick Fury, too busy with whatever paperwork is involved with his job, summons your team of superheroes to help repel the attack and assess the situation.
The opening level is a designed tutorial mission to introduce players to the game’s movement and combat. Players will learn how to perform simple “Open door” functions as well as combo attacks and how to use special powers. Beating up on henchmen is a cinch; players can simply hit the quick strike button to take any of these early enemies out. After meeting up with Fury and learning that his strategic nuclear missiles have been set to launch by Doom’s men, the enemy strength is notched up a little (but not much).
A few of the enemies that you encounter during this introductory level, and throughout the rest of the game for that matter, will have special attributes that you must deal with in addition to simply beating them down. For instance, some of the enemies in this first level are resistant to energy attacks, while others are constantly regaining health as you fight them. Anyone who played the Legends titles, or Champions of Norrath for that matter, will know exactly what is in store for them. Another aspect of these games present in Ultimate Alliance is destructible objects that drop collectable tokens and health or energy orbs. The tokens enable you to unlock additional powers and stat-boosting items, among other things as well. Grabbing as many as possible is never a bad thing, though they aren’t a requirement by any means.
After thumping a couple dozen henchmen and making your way to the weapon control room; you will encounter Bullseye and challenge him to get to the missile control panel behind him. This boss battle isn’t very tough, but his henchmen do a decent job of getting in your way as you try to focus on Bullseye. Early on in the game, fighting with four heroes at the same time may feel redundant given that the groups you encounter are rarely as large. Don’t let this level fool you, the game certainly gets tough a little ways through..
When smacking around evil doers on your way to your current objective, players gain experience for every dude they defeat. Like any other Action-RPG, your superheroes level up based on their current level and the level of the enemies around you. As you gain levels, you unlock additional super powers and can also strengthen the powers you already have. For instance, at level 2 Wolverine gains the ability to enter a berserker mode that increases his speed and fighting ability. Other characters will unlock abilities to support the whole team, like Iceman’s ability to freeze his team’s hands for additional damage. In addition to adding or strengthening abilities with every level gained, the obligatory additional health and energy points are also added to keep with the RPG aspect of the typical Action-RPG model.
When I was done saving Fury’s ass and whatever unfortunate city Bullseye was aiming for, the demo moved me to a boss battle that player should occur around the time their characters are at Level 12. Walking down a snowy path devoid of enemies or desctructable objects I was surprised when I ran into Ymir, the 25 foot tall (rough estimate) ice creature with a poor disposition. He prefers to settle things with his club, so the team must take him down by force. This particular boss battle is unique because it requires Ymir to summon his henchmen, spear-carrying yetis, for you to do any damage to him. After defeating one of these henchmen, you have to climb up his club after he pounds it into the ground, climb up to his shoulders, and plunge the henchman’s spear into his neck, following on-screen commands ala God of War the entire time. After repeating this process five or six times, Ymir falls down and, like all other bosses, drops a permanent stat-boosting item for one of your heroes to collect.
Boss battles promise to range from the regular-sized villains like Bullseye to the uber-huge guys like Ymir and bigger. One “regular-sized” boss that we encountered during this demo-play was the Grey Gargoyle who guarded the Mandarin Palace. As you begin to pound away at the Grey Gargoyle, he defends himself with a number of ground-pounds, quick strikes, and even a power that encases your character in stone. As if that wasn’t tough enough, monks would spawn every so often to support the boss by enchanting him with their regeneration aura. If you cornered these monks one-on-one, they would take a couple hits and then turn into stone, immune from further attacks. After five or ten minutes of trying to beat the gargoyle and althernate to his henchmen, I was finally able to start taking them out one by one, eventually elminating them from the fight altogether and making my job much easier.
Fighting the Gray Gargoyle on the Xbox 360 was a pain in the rear, but it doesn’t compare to how tough it was on the Wii with three other guys. Ultimate Alliance on Wii is essentially the same game as the other consoles that its releasing for, with a couple obvious differences. One, it’s a lot less attractive on Wii than elsewhere, and two, the control scheme is much more interactive using the motion-sensing Wii-mote. While moving with the analog on the nunchuk, players can also use their quick-strikes by either wiggling the controller back-and-forth horizontally or by tapping the A button. For uppercuts, you jerk the want upward and for charge attacks jerk downwards. Using superpowers on Wii is both more convenient and more difficult depending on your experience with the controller itself. While players on the Xbox 360 and PS3 are stuck pulling on a trigger or shoulder button and pushing a button for their super powers, Wii players have access to nearly all their powers at any given time. All they have to do is memorize what the specific motion is for the particular power and perform it while holding the B button.
Our experience with this function wasn’t nearly as successful as with the Wii-mote as it was with the simple button combo commands on the other consoles. If, for instance, you didn’t remember what the command was for the specific power, you would be forced to take time out of the fight, look up the power by scrolling to it in your little corner of the screen, and then performing it. Even if I did memorize what the motion was, the Wii-mote sometimes had a hard time doing exactly what I needed it to do. The developer that was helping us throughout kept saying that players having trouble may be holding the controller too low for the sensor on top of the television to read accurately, but enough of us were having trouble to take what he said with a grain of salt. Not being able to use the correct power at the appropriate time with accuracy was a buzz-kill..
Where the Wii-mote really impressed us was in the Ymir battle described above. Instead of simple button commands, players had to perform gestures with the Wii-mote to climb the ice monster and successfully strike him with the spear. Even as cool as this was, I did notice a little quirk while watching others perform the series. When the screen prompted a player to thrust forward many jerked upwards instead without consequence. It seemed that, based on this and the difficulty in accurately performing super powers on demand, the Wii-motes weren’t completely mastered by the development team when they brought this demo to the press event. For what its worth, when the controls did work, they kept players interested with interaction instead of simple button mashing. PS3 players shouldn’t feel left out on the motion-sensing fun; the PS3 controller’s motion sensors are being utilized to control boss battles much the same as the Wii-mote as well. Throwing enemies will be as easy as grabbing them with a button press and a quick jerk with the controller as well .
All of these mechanics and jargon above will mean little to die-hard Marvel fans who have been itching to get experience as comprehensive comic experience such as this. Players will be able to construct their own team, complete with their own custom team name and team icon, from any combination of the 20-plus playable characters. If instead, players want to stick to the traditional teams instead, they can choose to play with the Fantastic Four and gain a team bonus such as regenerating health or additional damage. For you statistic nerds out there, 20-plus characters with four possible spots to fill, where order doesn’t matter, equals a hell of a lot of different team combinations. What, I’m not a math major! Our team you ask? Oh, we’re the Floating Morons of Justice; comprised of Spider Man, Thor, Silver Surfer, and Iron Man.
And that’s what we imagine will appeal to most gamers about this title the most. Players will be able to throw the most improbable character combinations together and smack Doctor Doom around until he starts crying for mommy. Sure, on the surface this game looks like a really nice sequel to X-men Legends 2, but when you dig deeper into it you find plenty more to be excited about. Well, that’s what we are hoping at least, because we won’t be completely sure until we see it’s final build when the game releases later this month (or until launch of the PS3 and Wii)..
Fresh from X-Men Legends, Raven and Activision team up to bring gamers the ultimate Marvel love-in. by Vaughn Smith
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance sounds like an ambitious project to say the least. Featuring 140 Marvel characters (from the often quoted 5000+ roster of heroes and villains), 20 of which will be playable, Raven is taking their experience from the X-Men Legends action/RPG series and unleashing it in this multi-platform comic book fans dream. Gamers can expect Marvel: Ultimate Alliance on everything from the next gen consoles (Xbox 360 & PS3) to the current gen (PS2, GC, Xbox) and even the handhelds (DS & PSP) as well as the PC. No word on a Nintendo Wii port at this time.
|Marvel: Ultimate Alliance – PSP Screenshot
Spider-Man, Wolverine, Thing, Captain America, Thor, Elektra, Ghost Rider, Silver Surfer. and the vampire hunter Blade will be playable, but the 11 other characters remain under lock and key at the moment. From the screens we’ve seen the gameplay appears to be much along the lines of X-Men Legends, although I must say I prefer the visual design of Ultimate Alliance. Players will be able to utilize the various powers of their favorite heroes but right now we have no information on how exactly the RPG elements of the game will be implemented.
The game also features offline and online cooperative modes, but we’re currently unsure of how many players. We expect it will be 4 offline, but perhaps that number would increase online.
“Marvel: Ultimate Alliance delivers a new twist on action/RPGs where players’ actions and choices ultimately determine what happens to the Marvel universe,” states Will Kassoy, Vice President of Global Brand Management for Activision. “This coupled with the game’s enormous character roster will deliver an action-packed experience that comic book fans have been waiting for.”
|Marvel: Ultimate Alliance – Current Gen Console (PS2/Xbox) Screenshot
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance features a deep, rich gameplay experience by offering total team customization, where players create their own team name, icon and vehicle, as well as establish their team reputation as they play throughout the story. Gamers also have the option to level up each character individually to their liking, or all team members at the same time to keep their heroes balanced. With the game’s new combat system, players battle against the world’s most notorious Marvel Super Villains in the air, underwater, and on the ground, using grappling, blocking and dodging moves, by charging up their Super Hero powers before unleashing them, and using environmental objects as one and two-handed weapons.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance features a unique storyline where the missions players accept, the objectives they complete, and their interactions with other characters throughout the game directly impact how the story plays out. The game also features a robust multiplayer component where fans can band together with friends as their favorite Marvel Super Heroes, and fight evil in both on and offline cooperative story modes. There’s also a Competitive Mode where the game tracks various in-game stats so players can see how well they stack up against one another – affecting the amount of experience points earned and how equipment is distributed.
|Marvel: Ultimate Alliance – Next Gen Console (X360/PS3) Screenshot
Created by Raven Software and C.B. Cebulski, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance will be the first Super Hero game out for all next-gen gaming systems, and will also be available on current-gen, handheld and PC platforms. The game is currently rated RP (Rating Pending) by the ESRB and is planned to ship this fall.