Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Bundle Review

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance was first released back in 2006, with its sequel landing in 2009. Here we are in 2016 and Activison has re-released both games on our shiny, modern hardware. Both games are action role players that see you forming a team of four superheroes to smash up the bad guys.

In the first game Dr Doom is up to no good (the little tike!) banding villains together so they can succeed in world domination. Our heroes? Well, they must work together to stop the evil forces. In the sequel we’re following a much more recent story arc – Civil War – where superheroes clash over the Superhuman Registration Act – the requirement to register with, and work for, the government.

Activision have been up front about what’s on offer here – these are reissues tooled to work on modern hardware, not remasters, so instead of enhanced visuals and gameplay we should just expect little touch ups here and there.

It doesn’t take long before the true joy of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance brings a smile to your face – it’s great to be able to play a game with so many heroes and villains all in one place. It’s something we’ve only really seen recently in the LEGO games, and Ultimate Alliance gives that same thrill of a toy box full of all your favourite characters.

Both games have a similar mechanic – you pick up to four heroes who you can switch between at any time and, as you would expect, each hero has unique abilities and attacks. Ultimate Alliance 2 adds even more fun with the addition of fusion attacks, allowing one hero to link with a fellow combatant and execute a special move. For example, combining Captain America and Iron Man sees good old Tony blast his laser straight at Cap’s shield, creating a light show that takes down multiple enemies. Neat. It’s these little touches that, for us, make the second game a little more enjoyable to play.

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In fact, playing both games back to back makes it clear the development that went on between the first and second games. Everything’s just a little slicker in the second game, to the extent that we question the worth of the bundle option.

Although slicker, both games have their problems. Some were present in the originals, and some are apparent only because of the rapid pace of development since these games were first released. Games are now more sophisticated and things that were minor problems – or even unnoticed – a decade ago are glaring issues now when set beside modern games.

The restrictive – approaching top down – view employed in both games may have been a result of technical limitations of the hardware on which these games were released, but nowadays we’re used to dynamic camera angles that allow greater visibility. In both games, and especially in the otherwise fun co-op mode, the camera placement feels far too restrictive. Enemies appear from every angle but you and your co-op partner end up rooted to the same area, or risk one of you being cut off by the camera. This is especially annoying in boss battles when it gets hectic and you find yourself cut off from the camera and running around like a headless chicken trying to locate your partner. Co-op, the most fun mode on offer, does ask you to make some sacrifices, it seems.

Throughout our time with the game we suffered from networking instability during co-op sessions, frequently joining us then kicking us straight from the game.

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For a linear game the number of times we lost our bearings in the hectic firefights and ended up doubling back on ourselves was surprising. More than once we wryly observed that this never happens in the movies. Peter Parker rarely had to web-sling to a halt and ask for directions. That the addition of a simple and effective waypoint system solves this entirely in the second game makes us wonder how it could have been missed in the first.

Visually, both games feel… dated.  Executive producer Mike Jones said, ‘We wanted these re-releases to be as faitful to the original games as possible – the definitive versions.’ Whilst we took these games on knowing Activision has very clearly set aside the ‘remaster’ moniker, we had hoped that greater advantage would have been taken of the technical advances over the last decade or so. Truthfully, these feel like lazy reissues rather than anything approaching definitive. Neither title set the world ablaze with the quality of visuals on original release, and whilst certain parts of the games look fine when you’re otherwise engaged bashing in heads, cut scenes in particular suffer from pixelation and blurriness.

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Issues aside, there’s certainly some fun to be had, especially if you are a Marvel fan and superhero geek (like all of us here). The best feature of both games is the ability to choose from so many characters. The range is brilliant and each character does feel unique; as Deadpool you can hack and slash through enemies and be treated to some Wade Wilson humour; as Spiderman you can swing around and fire web shooters at your enemies.

It would take perhaps the biggest fan to overlook glitches that saw us stuck floating in one spot while a boss battle took place, but the sheer enjoyment of taking on all comers as a team of four badass superheroes, breaking heads and taking names, almost redeems it. Add in RPG-lite elements (smashing anything gives you XP to power up your heroes) and an undeniably fun co-op experience, then you’ll have a whale of a time if you can accept these games for what they are – the exact same games you played 10 and six years ago.

Exactly the same. And that’s our biggest gripe here. What could have been something for the fans – games they loved but polished and shiny – feels like a lazy cash-in, especially given the high asking price. These heroes – and those who chose to play as them – deserve better.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance Bundle is available from the Xbox Store now, priced £44.99. Alternatively pick up either the first or second games separately for £29.99 each.

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