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Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (PlayStation 2) artwork

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (PlayStation 2) review

"Like its big brother X-Men Legends, Ultimate Alliance wastes no time; thereís no cities to traverse, no prologue to wade through, no sappy love story to stomach. Things start off blazing and they stay that way right up until the final battle."

He is the undisputed ruler of Latveria, a man who took a country of gypsies and beggars and poverty and hunger and single-handedly turned it into one of the worldís most prominent superpowers. He is a genius surpassed only by Reed Richards, a leader surpassed only by the Black Panther, a strategist surpassed by no one. He has taken on every hero from Thor to the Punisher, has matched wits with gods and beings higher than gods, has braved the very flames of Hell and has always managed to find even the smallest of victories.

He is Dr. Doom, and he does not know defeat. Just minor setbacks.

For a game like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, a game with so many villains and so many heroes beating those villains up, only Doom could fill the righteous role of chief antagonist. Only he has the charisma to bring together dozens of villains whoíd sooner spit on each other than team up. Only he could keep the heroes running themselves ragged, dealing with distraction after distraction but never coming close to him. Only he could create a plan so ridiculously complex yet utterly effective that even his subordinates-if you can call two gods, a hyper-intelligent robot, and a master magician Ďsubordinatesí-donít have a clue what heís really trying to do until right before he tries to do it.

Heís always there, always menacing you. Heís always being mentioned, heís always leading you around, heís always a pain in your back. He earns just as much respect here as he does in the comics (save for that rather embarrassing incident with Squirrel Girl) Heís a truly villainous villain, and heís one of the reasons part why Ultimate Alliance is such an awesome ride. One reason.

A bigger reasonís the sheer volume of heroes at your disposal. Popular characters abound; Spider-Man shows up and brings his trademark quips along, the Mighty Thor and Iron Man lend their metal, the entire Fantastic Four shows up, and, of course, Marvel seems to have trouble making a videogame and not including Wolverine. Fan favorites like Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, Ghost Rider and the Merc With a Mouth, Deadpool, and you canít forget the slew of unlockable costumes; Black Symbiote Spider-Man, Captain America circa World War II, even Storm from that weird period of her life where she had a mohawkÖchances are, if youíre even remotely familiar with comic books, thereís someone here you know and love.

So whatís the plan? You pick four of those someones and you start playing. Thatís it. Like its big brother X-Men Legends, Ultimate Alliance wastes no time; thereís no cities to traverse, no prologue to wade through, no sappy love story to stomach. Things start off blazing and they stay that way right up until the final battle.

See, Ultimate Alliance emphasizes speed above all else. This isnít turn-based, this is straight live action; each hero has a variety of attacks, you chose three to correspond with the controls and you can activate them at any time. Some RPG elements remain; even though they took out the ability to control stat growth, you still decide which abilities to emphasize and which abilities to ignore. Add on the fact that each different costume gives different bonuses to different heroes. Add on the fact that you can establish your own superhero team, decide its name, decide its symbol, decide its roster and get team bonuses for every successful mission. Put one and one together and it equals out, makes you realize why the lack of stat control isnít such a big deal: You really donít need it anymore. Thereís already dozens of ways to customize. It was about choice before and itís about choice now.

Choice, and fighting your way through battles worthy of any comic book. Forget the variety of henchmen coming your way; deformed super-soldiers, dead Vikings, frost giants, and the forces of AIM, to name a few. Cool they are, but theyíre just filler between boss fights, and there are many fights; you can hardly go ten minutes without some classic Marvel villain taking a swing at you.

Some are fairly low-key. Spider-Manís rogueís gallery show up often; Shocker, Rhino, Mysterio, Scorpion and the Lizard. Spideyís taken them solo dozens of times; itís hardly a sweat when the odds are four-to-one. They show up, they banter, you beat them in one or two minutes and move on.

Some are tough enough to be a problem. The Grey Gargoyles touch can turn you to stone, the Executionerís axe can rend you in two, Blackheartís dark arts can mystify you, the Radioactive Manís blasts can waste you to nothing and the Enchantressí kiss can turn you into her willing slave.

But some battles are epic affairs, and no amount of leveling up can get you the win. Itíll take some thought. Some.

Like when you square off against the mighty dragon called Fin Fang Foom, stand between him and the destruction of SHIELDís airbase. Attacking him normally is fine, but when he takes flight you have to take action; manning a nearby gun turret and shooting him out of the sky.

Then thereís the time you find yourself trapped in an arena, battling against the fearsome Kraken in the ancient underwater city of Atlantis. You can swim here and breath freely, but, really, swimming and breathing are lower priorities at the moment; the Krakenís big, the Krakenís impervious to every attack youíve got, and the Kraken is royally ticked off. Strong he may be, but heís not that smart; you trick him into destroying the pillars, wait until he raises back for a great punch and dodge at the last moment, and he brings the entire arena falling down around his ears. If giant, undersea frog creatures have ears.

But I would be remiss if I didnít mention the fight with Galactus, if you can even call it a fight. Galactus is the Devourer of Worlds, the scourge of planets, a being with enough power to utterly destroy a planet on his lonesome and the experience of doing so countless time. So, naturally, you spend your time running away from him, biding time until you can find his equipment, tamper with it, distract him and turn his own tech against him at the last moment, saving the Skrull homeworld from certain annihilation, even if the Skrulls are complete jerks about it.

Hold up for a second. I realize not everyone knows who Fin Fang Foom is, or what SHIELD stands for, or why itís not weird for Skrulls to treat earthlings like trash. Not everyoneís hardcore. Not everyone collects comics. Not everyone cares.

But thatís the beauty here: You donít have to. Every major characterís backstory can be found out by simply going up to them and talking; you can find out if youíre curious, ignore it if youíre not. The story makes a few nods that only avid readers would appreciate, but it never does anything so farfetched you canít understand, and it leaves nothing unexplained. Ultimate Alliance isnít just for fans, itís for people who wouldnít mind being fans, too.

Itís short for an RPG. The blazing plot and action make the five chapters go by fast.

Itís a bit stuffed. With so many characters and so little time, not everyone gets the exposure they deserve.

But these are minor failures in a major success; by and large, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is what it promised to be. Good for fans. Good for gamers. Good all around.


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Staff review by Zack Little (November 03, 2006)

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