Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360)

I recently finished Marvel: Ultimate Alliance for the Xbox 360, arguably one of the best comic book games to date (though it's in some ways a shiny skinned update to the X-Men Legends franchise, to which I'd given the title previously). And it may have to share that title with Rogue Trooper.

I finished the game for a number of reasons.

First, I was clearing by Xbox 360 plate for Friday's release of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, and the upcoming Crackdown demo (then full game) at the end of this month and the end of February (respectively). Second, I want to give Raven Software some feedback on the game, and what I hope to see in the sequel. Third, I'm a comic book geek, and this game really scratched an itch.

And by "finished" I mean I finished the main story. I've also done a bunch of the training sims, but I'm missing about 4. And I'm missing two figures to unlock Black Panter. Mother.

First, a quick reminder of my past impressions:

Those two previous posts focus on some of the needed areas of improvements, so here's more of the positive. And some more areas for improvement.

Overall, this is a great game, and I think Raven really hit the mark. Being able to play with such a huge stable of diverse characters, multiplied by the number of variations that actually change their stats and leveling up, is wicked cool. And the types of costumers are real fan service, too. For example, as a fan of Captain America, it's a big deal for me to unlock the same WWII skin that's on my desk as a Marvel Selects figure. And getting to unlock the Beta Ray Bill variation on Thor is tops. Other skins aren't as great (I think the Iron Spider variation of Spider-Man, due largely to timing, isn't all that big of a deal).

I've seen the story badmouthed in a few places, which I'm not sure I understand. Pultizer-winning it ain't, but it's actually not a bad device for tying together the game, and I could totally see it as a comic book arc. There are a few artificial inclusions (like Atlantis), but better than a lot of games.

And there's a lot of good voice acting in the game, which is nice. There is also, unforgiveably, what sounds like Raven employees doing horribly bad voice over, like during simulation missions (voice over's not that easy, is it, guys?).

I also like how Raven's chosen to mix up camera angles over the traditional 3D isometric view. Occasionally, it's a bit wonky, but works most of the time.

Where the camera didn't work (and needs some serious help) is on same-screen cooperative play. I'm bummed that I introduced to friends to MUA as I finished the game on the final boss battle, which made for a wildy swinging camera, disorienting respawn repositioning of each other, and a generally frustrating, ungraceful experience for my cronies. And this was just 3-way play, and I suffered the same kinds of problems in 2-way play.

The training simulations in a lot of ways seem unbalanced. I was focused on leveling up Captain America throughout the game, but even with that, it was a long time after I found his training sim disc before it was playable. That play balance needs to be tuned quite a bit. Other levels (like Lizard), were serious walks in the park.

The whole My Team mechanic -- where I get create a dedicated super team and increase skills and reputation -- is pretty slick, but needs some tweaking as well. For example, the feature isn't unloocked until you're later in the game, and you're penalized (lose points) if you change out any of your team members. I think the mechanic should be available earlier (or outright), and you shouldn't be penalized if you switch out to characters or skins that weren't available when you first formed your team.

The replayability for the game is decent. But Raven needs to seriously fix the experience. This goes back to the "appropriate cutscene/mission briefing" gripe I've mentioned before (everyone learn from Dead Rising). To get pieces of the the same dialogue for things I've already completed is -- to me, in a now-gen game -- unecessary. Plus, I'd like to unlock some areas, or have things tweaked a bit. Going back into Mephisto's realm should be a bigger deal, because he should be pissed at my last foray into his kingdom.

Again, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a great game -- especially for comic geeks. But even if you're just a fan of great RPGs, this title should be at the top of your list.

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