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- REVIEW: Metro: Last Light
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Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Review
developer: Raven Software
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Oct 24, 06 (released)
|» All About Marvel: Ultimate Alliance on ActionTrip|
Comic book geeks (like myself) have had it good for the past few years. I am not talking about the change in local laws that allow full grown men to wear tights and a cape around town. No, I mean the genre has enjoyed a revival in all forms of media, least of which is in the realm of console gaming. Raven software and Activison have helped play a role in all this thanks to their X-Men Legends series. In the two previous X-Men games, players took control of a group of up to four (at a time) of Marvel super heroes in a colorful comic book style romp that combined super power smash 'em up with RPG elements (level-ups, allocation of points to increase powers and attacks etc). The X-Men Legends series was extremely popular because the games looked good, were fun to play and featured one of the most popular super hero teams ever, The X-Men. This time around, Raven has popped the top off of the Marvel universe and crammed Marvel Ultimate Alliance with a staggering number of Heroes and Villains.
First off, anyone who has not had a chance to play either X-Men: Legends or X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is a loser! You are missing out. Both games allowed the player (or players) to guide a team of up to 4 super heroes though a series of settings that any fan of the comic book series would recognize. As players defeated enemies in a top down view, their heroes would gain experience and pick up equipment that would buff character's abilities. The system was compared to the same sort of game play The Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance games offered but with numerous improvements such as having four characters on your team (with the computer controlling the team members who are not being played by humans) and the ability to switch between heroes in your group on the fly. It is an elegant system that worked well and proved to enhance the frenetic pace of gameplay.
Flash forward to today and Marvel Ultimate Alliance (MUA) keeps the tried and true system of the four hero team but has added a few extras. You start the game with a team of four heroes that you must use to complete several levels before you can create your own custom team. However, once you get to that point, players can mix and match a team of their choosing (from more than 20 heroes in total) or go with a preconfigured team like The Fantastic Four, The X-Men or The Avengers. Taking one of these veteran teams will give you a slight reputation bonus but you can get other bonuses by mixing and matching other heroes. It's a little feature that forced me to play with all sorts of hero combos. I loved it.
As for the story this time around, Dr. Doom has finally figured out that just being a cape-wearing bad-ass is not enough to take over the world when you are only one man (I found that out the hard way over the holidays last year). To that end, he has created a sort of Super Villain union called the Masters of Evil (Although I think the 'evil geniuses' should have sprung for a PR firm to come up with a scarier name) (Twisted Syndicate? -Ed). The idea is that by combining their efforts, the villains will finally be able to rule the world, cosmos and any other dimension they are currently aware of. There are a few surprises along the way but do you really think an evil super genius like Dr. Doom would have such a simple plan? It's really too bad that super heroes like Captain America, Ice Man, Nick Fury, Spider Man and a host of others have to come along and put the kibosh on the bad guys' schemes. It's nice to see so many super villains this time around. Everyone who has seen any of the Marvel films or read the comic books should be able to recognize at least some of these baddies but a comic book super fan will be pleasantly surprised as well with the cast of evil characters contained in Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
Leveling your team of heroes can be accomplished by beating up bad guys, destroying barrels and crates or just about anything else on screen to find power ups and by the new addition of answering trivia questions from the Marvel universe. These questions range from the kind that a person who is passing familiar with comic books can answer to the kind that the Comic Boy guy from the Simpsons would be hard pressed to get right. Don't worry too much about having to quit your day job to research the answers to the harder questions, as most can be learned by talking with NPCs in game. (Google is your friend. - Ed)
As the group you are playing with levels up and you decide which powers you wish to upgrade, the heroes who you have not been playing will stay within acceptable level range so if you find in a later mission Wolverine is not getting the job done, you don't have to go level grind with Ghost Rider so he can go toe to toe with Loki and be mashed to fine red paste within the first 30 seconds of the fight.
Graphically MUA looks great with more detailed characters, more variety in the environments that you will lead your team through (including a more open feel this time around) and departure from the Cel Shaded look of the X-Men games to a more realistic and striking presentation of Heroes and Villains. The cut-scenes and in game effects are top-notch and I have yet to tire watching them. Visually this is a game that makes good use of the Xbox 360. Speaking of pluses for the Xbox 360 version, Xbox Live allows you to play with other online, so you can kick super villain butt in co-op mode. Also, the Xbox will keep track of in-game achievements while you play the game, which gives you bragging rights to throw in your buddy's faces.
As far as drawbacks with the game there were a few slow downs (mainly due to all the eye candy that is par for the course for any good game involving super heroes) that I noticed while playing. Also sound quality was for the most part good but there were a few places where audio was annoying. It's not a deal breaker, but it's a low point in an otherwise great game.
As I said before, comic book fans will take to this one like a fat guy to an all you can eat buffet (in some cases we are talking about the same person), but players who are looking for an action RPG that offers great visuals, polished gameplay and solid co-op for the roughly 20 hours to complete the game should pick up Marvel Ultimate Alliance. I don't really need another excuse to wear tights and a cape but if it prevents yet another restraining order from the neighbors, I'll take it.
8.5 Very Good
Lots of heroes, improved graphics, team bonuses, fun gameplay;
Some graphical slow-downs and minor sound annoyances.
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