Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Content at a glance:
Violence: Comic book style violence is used throughout.
Language: d*** and h*** are used a couple times.
Sexual Content: Some women wear comic book style tight & skimpy costumes.
Spiritual Content: Characters are sent to a hellish underworld with demons and what possibly could be the devil, one instance of a pentagram, playable character Ghostrider is part demon, the Norse god Thor is playable and Loki is a villian.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is an action role-playing game set in the Marvel Universe of comic book fame. In his plans for world domination, Dr. Doom has assembled a team of super-villains known as the Masters of Evil. The heroes band together to stop this evil plan and save the universe. The game shares many similarities to its predecessors X-Men Legends I and II, which were produced by the same Raven Software and Activision collaboration. If you enjoyed these games you will most likely find Ultimate Alliance an enjoyable experience. It is available on several systems; this review refers to the Xbox 360 version. Also, two versions of the game exist: the standard Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and the re-released Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Gold. The Gold edition adds to the standard version by inclusion of eight new playable characters (although they are also available for download with the standard version from Xbox Live) and exclusive character costumes.
The game starts with a cut scene of the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier under attack by unknown forces, and Spider-man, Thor, Captain America and Wolverine retaliate in defense. Later the player can select a team of four hero characters from a pool of 18 to combat Doom’s minions. Additional playable characters (seven) can be unlocked by finding items in the story mode or completing certain objectives. You can change team members at specified locations throughout the level. Each character has individual abilities and attributes, with upgradeable strength achieved by leveling up (after enough enemies have been defeated), gathering ‘S.H.I.E.L.D. points’ – collected after defeating enemies or destroying environmental items – or by picking up tokens which increase specific to a particular attribute (e.g. defense). All characters have eight special abilities, with four being available for use during combat at one time, which include projectile attacks, temporary attribute upgrades (boosts), or more powerful melee attacks; all of which can be upgraded. I found that all this customization really improved the gameplay experience.
Your team progresses through 13 distinct levels or areas. The action is seen from an “iso-view” camera, placed above and at an angle to the team. The focus of the game is combat, using the limited melee moves (punches, kicks, grabs/throws), as well as the special attacks particular to a character (fireballs, lightning strikes, shield throws, etc.). The majority of the fighting is against a handful of lesser enemies (e.g. robots, mermen, walking clay statues, wolves, and many other creatures) and a ‘boss’ character (e.g. Scorpion, Bullseye) that has substantially more health. The story is quite well done, but at times I felt some of the plot points were ‘forced’ to allow the developers to include as many Marvel locales as possible. Complementing the story mode, additional objectives include collecting items for non-playable characters, trivia games and collecting “game discs” which are playable in an in-game simulator to access one-level missions not tied to the story mode.
The control setup is simple and intuitive to use. All characters have basic ‘normal’ and ‘smash’ attacks, as well as the ability to jump (and fly for some characters) and interact (grab, pick up, open doors, etc.). You can switch between any of the on-screen heroes by pushing the relevant direction on the D-pad corresponding to the position of the hero on the heads-up display. Holding down the right trigger and pressing one of the four color buttons activates a particular special attack.
The game also allows coop of up to 4 players on a single system as well as online play.
This game is meant to be cartoonish in nature, and in this sense the graphics are very well done. Each new area is rich and vibrant, and the characters look well-detailed considering the distance from the camera. The use of color is especially good and prevents the game from appearing drab and monotone. One of the major disappointments I had was the quality of many of the cut scenes. The characters looked block-like with skewed faces and their movements were not natural. Only two or three of the cut scenes were not like this. In total the graphics work well for this game, but are not going to blow graphics-intense games out of the water.
The music works well to convey a level of urgency required by the heroes, but is otherwise forgettable. The voice acting is average. When interacting with the enemy bosses in the game sometimes your character will talk to the boss (if the two characters have a background), and other times they will not and you will be left with reading text on the screen. I found this mildly disappointing. I wanted Peter Parker to be able to throw his corny lines at all the bad guys.
There is no blood shown in this game. The fighting is of a cartoon nature and most of the enemies are non-human. When an enemy is defeated, it simply disappear.
The number of profanities in the game are few, and are limited to scarce instances of d*** and h***.
The domain of comic books has included its fair share of questionably clothed women, and Ultimate Alliance is unfortunately not immune to this trend. Female costumes are generally based on the one-piece swimsuit design, or a tight full-body approach. For the most part you can avoid this by not choosing a particular character for your team, but some is unavoidable due to cut scenes and interaction with non-playable characters.
Spiritual Content: (contains spoilers):
One of the levels Mephisto’s Realm is basically set in hell. You have to battle through hordes of demons, and one of the puzzles in the level involves lighting torches on the points of a pentagram to free a trapped prisoner. You must also defeat the devil’s son Blackheart on your way to battling Mephisto, the devil himself. There is some debate in comic lore as to whether Mephisto is the devil or an arch-demon, or whether his realm is hell or not, but many of the references are consistent, or at least have similarities with the Biblical view of Satan. Regardless of Mephisto’s true persona, the level can be quite frightening, and the demons and pentagram are indicative of occult themes.
At one point in the game, you must choose one of two non-playable hero characters to die by Mephisto’s hands in a flaming pit. Although it is not explicit, the choice can be slightly unnerving.
One of the playable characters, Ghost Rider, is a mixture of human and demon, and has a flaming skull as a head. The special attacks he uses have names that are spiritual in nature, and include “damnation”. Also the player can play as the Marvel hero Thor, based on the Norse god and Loki is one of the main villains.
On a lesser note, one of the levels is called “Murderworld”, but is not as frightening as it sounds as it is modeled after a large amusement park/arcade game.
There is also magic used as special attacks, in particular by the playable character Dr. Strange.
From a gameplay point of view this is a great game with ~50 hours worth of content including side missions and collecting all items. The sheer diversity of playable characters and their skill sets is very refreshing in a video game, as is the inclusion of many of Marvel’s heroes and villains. Although most of the combat is similar in form, the customization of your team and their powers makes every challenge unique. Most of the levels are well-done, and borrow from the vast environments in the Marvel Universe to offer distinct combat areas.
The inclusion of Mephisto’s Realm truly degrades the quality of this game from a Christian standpoint. I enjoyed playing the game immensely until I encountered this level, and it changed my outlook on the game as a whole. If you can truly get past the occult themes in this level you’ll have a fun time; but I would question the game’s appropriateness for younger teens (and perhaps older ones).
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.
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