At the conclusion of 2005’s X-Men Legends 2, a stinger set up a third chapter in the excellent action-RPG series that we would unfortunately never see. Unlike other franchises that have languished in limbo with no conclusion however, like MegaMan Legends, it wasn’t because the series was dead or the creators had been taken off the series. X-Men Legends 3 didn’t happen because developer Raven had moved out of a tiny corner of the Marvel Universe into a much, much bigger playground: The ENTIRE Marvel Universe. Before the release of MUA there were plenty of Spider-Man, X-Men and other Marvel games but none that had allowed all facets of the Universe to exist at the same time and also wrapped in a package that’s very fun to play. Whether you’re a fan of the films, the comics, cartoons or other video games based on Marvel properties, Marvel Ultimate Alliance has something for everyone.
When Doctor Doom attacks a S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier and announces to the world that he has gathered a new Masters of Evil, Nick Fury assembles an ultimate alliance of super powered individuals from every corner of the Marvel Universe to stop the evil dictator from conquering the universe. That’s the basic premise of Marvel Ultimate Alliance and through the course of the fifteen to twenty hour campaign there are a few twists and curve balls thrown. Admittedly the story is not the strongest part of this game, and the between level cut-scenes are perhaps the only aspect of the game that have not aged well over time. What it does accomplish however is linking the entirety of the Marvel Universe which is a very hard thing to do when you think about it, especially as at the time it hadn’t really been tried before. You have characters like Iron Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, members of the X-Men and Fantastic Four and locations as varied as Atlantis, Asgard, Latveria and the realm of Mephisto and yet they all make sense in the context of this game.
Like Lego Marvel Super Heroes that would come over half a decade after it, Marvel Ultimate Alliance not only does right by its characters and villains, but in its environments. As mentioned above, you’re visiting a lot of strange and bizarre locations that shouldn’t really mesh with one another but do within the context of the game and its conflict. This brings a lot of excitement to each level as you’ll play one more level just to see where the game will take you next. This also adds a lot of environmental variety where one second you’re exploring the fiery realm of Mephisto before going to the snowy home of the frost giants and the Skrull home world while it’s in the middle of an attack by Galactus.
What Marvel Ultimate Alliance does great is explaining everything it presents because the developers understood that this game would not only be played by the hardest of hardcore Marvel fans, but those who may not have read a Marvel comic in their life. Between level conversations with characters provide insights into character origins, motivations and history that’s not too long for those who already know, yet long enough for those who don’t know who the Inhumans are or what their home of Attilan is. Anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed about getting into comics could do a lot worse than playing through this game. I thought knew a lot about Marvel comics before I played this game for the first time, but learned about Lockjaw, the teleporting dog, by playing through this for the first time.
Those who played either of the X-Men Legends game will feel right at home with Marvel Ultimate Alliance as the fundamentals are more or less the same, which is not a bad thing at all. Playing as a team of up to four characters, whether alone or with friends, you punch through waves of goons and bosses to level up your team and enhance their abilities. Holding down the a trigger allows you to use all four face buttons to unleash character specific attacks like firing impact webs as Spider-Man, repulsors as Iron Man or hurling Captain America’s mighty shield. Characters also have alternate costumes that can be unlocked by meeting certain requirements that are more than just a palette swap. Spider-Man for example can wear his classic costume, the Scarlet Spider outfit, the alien black costume as well as the Iron Spider costume and all have different stats and upgrades that encourage you to play through the game more than once.
These outfits are unlocked by completing objectives in the game, or by collecting character specific mission discs that provide more game outside of the standard campaign. This extends your playtime greatly by not only providing an extra mission, but by giving you further incentive to explore the massive levels. These bite-sized missions. like the mid-mission character chats and the larger game, provide a lot of back story to characters both old and new. When this game came out for example, the Winter Soldier had just come on the scene and was relatively unheard of to people who weren’t reading comics.By completing the Captain America side-mission, you get a complete history of the character without having to read or buy stacks of comics.
X-Men Legends and its sequel succeeded by being the most authentic X-Men video game out there and Marvel Ultimate Alliance’s roster of characters allows you to tailor your experience however you see fit with added bonuses. If you want to make your team the Fantastic Four, you can and will get a team stat bonus for doing so, the same as if you wanted to roleplay this in the same universe as X-Men Legends by having a team of all mutants. Of course if you just wanted to fulfill your inner most head cannon you can also mix and match to your hearts desire and have members of the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Avengers on the same team. The roster is not only made up of the best of the best, but also somewhat less marketable characters like Blade and Ghost Rider. Yes, I am aware that Blade had three films, but he still isn’t exactly Spider-Man or Captain America in terms of popularity.
Shortly after release, Marvel Ultimate Alliance received DLC in the form of new playable characters and for the first time, villains. These characters have since been removed from all download services due to licensing issues, however you can still play them by getting the Gold Edition of the game that was released exclusively on Xbox 360. Though it can be pricier than the standard edition, it’s well worth it for Marvel fans as it lets you play as characters like the Hulk, Venom, Hawkeye and even the game’s villain, Doctor Doom.
This year will mark the tenth anniversary of the release of Marvel Ultimate Alliance and in that time, few games have managed to squeeze so much Marvel love onto a disc. From the characters, teams, costumes and environments, this is not only a Marvel fans dream come true, but a great way to ease someone into the world of Marvel who may have been afraid to even dip their toes into the comics. If you have the hardware, grab the Gold Edition, however if you can’t, the extras found on that disc are just icing on top of an already delicious and filling Marvel cake.