There have been two key decisions that Activision have made recently that will keep them at the top of the game for quite some time, and one of these decisions was to renew their exclusive license with Marvel. Marvel games have been huge and Activision have really cashed in with Marvel: Ultimate Alliance - the latest game to come out of the stable. This is a landmark title because for the first time Marvel has allowed the developers to build a cross-comic game and while it's based on an old engine and reminds us a lot of another Activision game, it still is one of the better RPG games on the 360 and the use of Marvel characters is superb.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance as you may have guessed focuses on the entire catalogue of main Marvel characters coming together to beat Dr Doom, the enemy of choice for this title. Overall the storyline revolves around the Marvel villains banding together to take over the universe and of course on the flipside the Marvel characters do the same to beat them. What you won't find is a storyline which is anywhere close to any of the individual character storylines, which is a little disappointing in some ways, but the game kicks along at a pace that you don't really get to involved with what's going on.
Those of you who have played X-Men Legends from Raven will be instantly familiar with this game. The engine appears to be exactly the same with a few tweaks and the maximum number of characters in a team as per usual is four. Played from an isometric perspective with an adjustable character, MUA is a button mashing RPG that as we mentioned reflects very much the gameplay of X-Men Legends. You are given sub tasks to complete and generally move from A to B to do that. It's harsh to criticize the game for this however as along with XML, MUA really is a fantastic game. The fact that you can play a number of Marvel characters just makes the game even better, but there are a few problems.
The first problem is we have already seen this all before. The new characters allow you to look past this somewhat and find an enjoyable game but the innovation is lacking here and it's hard to say this is a must have RPG title when compared to some of the competition. There are also some camera issues with the game as well although these are alleviated somewhat by the fact you can move the camera.
As with X-Men Legends you get a wide variety of characters to choose from but some are only found later in the game. The roster for this game is unbelievable and if there is a Marvel comic out there, a character appears in this game. One disappointment is that the actual playing roster is significantly less than the overall characters featured. As well as this the characters gain experience with certain combinations. For instance if you put all the X-Men featured together or all the Fantastic 4 cast, then you will gain bonus points which is a nice touch however it does detract from the fact that you can build the four man team however you want.
The combat takes place in real time and you use button combinations as well as unlocked options to defeat enemies. With some boss fights, which are fairly run of the mill, you have to perform a combination of sequences. Throughout each level you will find some mini-boss characters, plus one big character right at the end. Another annoyance we have with the game is that the developers insist on placing points for save games rather than anywhere. We don't have issue with having to start further back if you get beaten, but we'd like to be able to turn our console off when we like and not lose ground.
Outside of this, the levels themselves haven't had that much thought put into them but they do allow the game to flow well. The game itself is fairly long although don't expect forty plus hours that you would see in some Japanese RPG's. However the game does pace itself well - there isn't really a point where you feel a level is dragging on too long and because the game has quite intense combat you will be too busy to notice anyway. This leads us to one area where the Xbox 360 shines and that is the visuals. Some may complain that the shiny, bump mapped visuals destroy the style of Marvel but we think it looks absolutely fantastic, especially in HD. It won't win awards for graphics design, but it does look significantly better than the PS2 and PSP versions which isn't always the case for the 360 and cross platform games.
Those with Xbox Live Gold can also play online in both a competitive and co-operative format. Obviously the co-operative format is the most popular and as long as you have a fairly fast connection you shouldn't experience lag. The X360 does have some exclusive characters and levels as well but this is something every version of the game has. It wouldn't surprise us to see the PSP exclusive content available on Xbox Live marketplace sometime soon.
While this game isn't a must buy, it is a must play for RPG fans, especially those who own the X-Men Legend series of games. However it is those people which actually may not like the game because it is so close to the XML formula. Generally, the change of universe and characters should be enough to keep this going but if a sequel is going to be made (and considering the history of XML, we can't see it not coming) then some changes are definitely in order.