By Matt Carey
The problem with comics and the characters therein is that they have been around for too long. There are too many of them. Unless you are one of those people in their forties that still live with their parents and appear on programmes entitled “Why am I still a virgin?”, then you are not likely to really know half of the characters, where they were born, who killed who, and what over-elaborate experiment created what powers. Or why they all wear spandex.
The majority of normal people, and I include myself in this, only know the ones that got turned into Saturday morning cartoons back in the Seventies and Eighties. So, Spiderman, obviously, the Fantastic Four, X-Men, maybe Iron Man, certainly the Hulk, and Spiderwoman are about it. Anyone after that have made cameo appearances in one of them at some point, and that is where the extent of our knowledge of them ends. Well, aside from some of the associated bad guys.
This doesn’t mean we don’t like them. It doesn’t mean we are not fans. It also doesn’t mean we don’t soil ourselves when Wolverine is knocking seven shades out of Sabretooth. It does mean that we like other things and have had sex before.
So when a game like Ultimate Alliance comes along, featuring god-knows how many comic book heroes and villains, you find yourself scratching your head. Who the hell is Speedball, for example? Surprisingly, the game was fun -kind of like a cross between the old Gauntlet game and an RPG. And now there is the obligatory sequel, I’m guessing with bigger this and more that.
And guess what. It’s the same game with bigger this and more that, with a bit of extra something or other thrown in for good measure. This is not necessarily a ‘bad thing’ though, and it certainly isn’t in this case.
The story here has taken inspiration from a story that ran in comic form at some point; there is a mutant civil war raging after the Government passed legislation requiring all those lovely folks with super powers to register and reveal their true identities. One mob, led by Captain America think that this is bad, the other, led by Iron Man think this is good. Needless to say, as is usual with comic book stories, there are a few twists and turns along the way.
The game begins with a few heroes at your disposal, and as you progress through the level, more become available to you. However, a couple of levels later, and you face a choice – pro-registration or anti-registration? You make your choice, and suddenly the number of heroes available to you reduces, as some of your allies become, well, your enemies. This has been handled both cleverly and strangely though. For instance, a certain number of heroes are available whichever side you choose; they will just go along with whatever you decide, which is fine in one respect. The downside of this though is that, no matter which side of the war you make your stance, the other side are strongly presented as the enemy, both in the attitude of you colleagues, and the way they speak to you. It’s quite bizarre, for instance, to see Iron Man et al snarling about “taking you down”. It just seems hideously out of character.
The game play runs exactly the same as that in the original title, namely run through levels jumping, hacking, gunning and punching your way through swarms of generic enemies, before reaching a boss. Yes, I know. It is not original, but it doesn’t matter. It’s mindless fun and that always gets a thumbs up. The devs have also tried to spice things up with ‘Fusions’. After defeating a certain amount of minions, you earn yourself a star which can be used to trigger a ‘fusion’ attack. You hold your left trigger, pick one of your allies, and all of a sudden the pair of you explode or hurtle around the screen dealing out much comic book death. The nice part about this is that every combination of heroes has the ability to do this, no matter who you choose. The bad part about this is that, in truth, there are only 3 standard attacks, and who you pick to ‘fuse’ with determines which of these 3 attacks you do. Still, it’s a nice little addition.
As in the original game, there is an absolute ton of things to find, unlock, and digest. Whether it be art-work for the game, or profiles on pretty much every character in the game, there really is a wealth of goodies for both the serious fans, and those that like comic book heroes and villains but don’t devote all their time to it. Like me. If you want to learn, there is plenty there for you.
Graphically the game isn’t that far removed from what we have seen before, thankfully. The original outing saw some lush graphics, environments and character models, and it really is no different here, just more so. From the utterly pant-moistening cut scenes to the many varied and detailed landscapes, you cannot help but marvel (ahem) at the gorgeousness of it all. Especially when the screen is full of good guys, bad guys, robots, environments exploding, and super powers flashing without the slightest hint of slowdown, pop-up, or screen tearing. To keep all this in check is no mean feat, and the developers have done a superb job of keeping it in line.
I don’t often mention the whole “replayability” thing with titles. More often than not, it is down to the game and the person playing it as to whether it gets thrust onto E-Bay or played until every point has been gleaned. In this case however, I’m impressed. The wealth of things to unlock and search out mean that scanning through the levels again for items you may have missed the first time round isn’t that much of a chore. There is also the option of taking the opposite choice to the one you took in the first place. I, for instance, went anti-registration on my first run through, but was keen to have a blast at the other side of the coin to see what I had missed. And to top it all off, the whole game has an on-line co-op mode. Heck, it even has co-op on the trivia games.
This type of game isn’t the best graphically. It hasn’t got the best storyline in the world. It hasn’t got the most impressive game-play mechanics either. However, everything here is done with such attention to detail and love that you cannot help but be sucked in. And to top it all off, the number of playable heroes has been greatly reduced. Now there are only a couple that I have never heard of before rather than a lot. But more than all this, the game is damn good fun. In all honesty, what more do you need?