It has been many years since an Ultimate Alliance game and now it is all about those pesky Infinity Stones. Somehow the Kree collected all six and thanks to you being a curious hero, the Black Order now knows where they are. Get ready heroes, Thanos is coming.
It isn’t hard to see a comparison between the story of the MCU and The Black Order. Get ready to spend time with all the heroes from the last 23 movies, the characters from the Netflix forays and more as everyone teams up against Thanos and his goon squad. The comparisons are even easier to make when you see that some of the characters are sporting a look like their movie counterparts, or the voice actors are trying to mimic (with varying levels of efficacy) their big-screen peers.
Flashy, but shallow
Having a game with so many characters comes at a cost, however. In a bid to make sure you don’t feel overwhelmed by the large roster, every character is controlled in the exact same way. Each character has a light attack and heavy attack, and will have four abilities that you can access on the face buttons if you hold in R. As a result of this, you can pick any character and be on your merry way to bashing buttons and kicking ass, but if you were hoping for some nice combo play or fighting with any finesse, you will be sorely disappointed at how shallow the combat is. Prepare to see the same three-string light combo attack for as long as you use that hero, with heavy attacks having a single hit or a one-two punch.
To get any real damage going, your light and heavy attacks are merely there to help you chip the stamina bars of all but the weakest foes. Once you break them you have a short window to do real damage to an opponent, and this is where your special abilities and your extreme attacks will help you level the playing field. Sadly the extreme attacks will also level your frame rate, both in docked and handheld mode, making the visual spectacle lose its punch.
Sadly the extreme attacks will also level your frame rate, both in docked and handheld mode, making the visual spectacle lose its punch.
Fun with friends, not with AI
Playing the game in co-op lets you discuss tactics, flank an enemy or split up foes to fight a large group. Playing alone however, means the AI will do… well, I am not sure what to call the specific actions of the AI. Some characters seem to do almost nothing, like ranged heroes that often miss attacks. Or they group up on the same weak foe, wasting energy on special moves to kill something that is hardly worth the effort. The only benefit of the AI is its uncanny ability to dodge massive area attacks of bosses, meaning they are at least healthy when you take over.
The game’s biggest, flashiest move, and the one with the highest damage potential, is often completely wasted by the AI. Asking Wolverine to unleash his fury will often see him attacking thin air, with an enemy right behind him, or launching beyond a boss and attacking their obviously offensive shadow.
The camera works against you so often, I hope it becomes an honorary member of the Black Order.
When playing co-op, you have to entertain a new enemy: the camera. The screen will zoom, rotate and show you a pretty view of a wall in front of all the action pretty often as you run around, making for more of your couch co-op calls being asking someone to move so that the camera reaches a workable angle. The camera is a problem in solo too, with it battling to track the frenetic pace of some bosses, or just getting stuck on level architecture for a few seconds as you fight. Hopefully, it is something that can get fixed, but so far the camera works against you so often, I hope it becomes an honorary member of the Black Order.
Too old for this, bub
I get the feeling that I am not the target market for this game. Too many of the characters arrive and give a tiny summary of who they are when they do, similar to a book aimed at 13-year-olds will always say the character’s full name when they haven’t been around for a short while. Unfortunately, it means that a lot of the time you are just being introduced to hero after hero after hero, without a chance for any real story to happen. By the time the story really gets off the ground, it is the final chapter of the game, which is woefully late for getting people invested. I am okay with this being for younger people who are there for the spectacle, but the game needs to trim its structure in a different way if it really wants to appeal. Even if you only use the latest heroes you acquire (which arrive level appropriate) or stick with one team of favourites, you will find yourself behind the recommended level of the story unless you go and complete Infinity trials for rewards and experience, or replay chapters to get more XP.
This breaks the momentum completely as you are pulled out of the story, the level you are on as well, to sit in a menu, find a mission you can do that you are the correct level for, then try do those levels. Some of these levels take 3 minutes or so, but the load time before, after and to get back to the story all break any momentum you had, giving you time to stare at hints on loading screens for bosses you defeated hours ago.
Similarly, the levelling system is overwrought with currencies and items you require to do anything. As your characters level, they unlock their four abilities. These abilities can be strengthened up to level 4, but you need AP, which they get by levelling, and Ability Tokens, which you find in levels or as Infinity Trial rewards. Each character can also carry crystals, which increase a stat or light attack damage or credits earned, and these can be levelled by using credits and crystal dust of the correct colour. Once they level enough, they need to be fused with crystals of the same shape and colour to get bigger before you level them and by this point, you are wondering if this is all worth it for 0.2% more energy or whatever the crystal offered. The game can’t decide if its action is on the battlefield or in menu management.
The levelling of the entire alliance is the worst offender. You get a large grid of hexagons, with a central one surrounded by hexagons related to a specific stat. You spend credits and enhancement points to unlock these, which will give you bonuses to the entire alliance. You only get enhancement points when characters level, so even though you eventually have the credits to burn, you can’t unless you level a bunch of the weaker members of the team. It all ends up feeling overwrought like the system was built for mobile and you could buy more of whichever of the 10 currency items you currently needed to get better.
Something about tacos?
There are things to love here. Seeing your favourite heroes or making them all work together. Watching which of their various abilities got turned into attacks or how they tried to convey the style of a character in their attacks and flashy specials. Ms Marvel and her crew have some fun moments despite the doom and gloom action and some of the voice actors have gone above and beyond. The little one-liners when characters are introduced are great and I wish there were more quips, especially during combat. For some reason, a lot of them were used in the first and last boss battles, with generic callouts for most of the other fights.
Enemies hit so hard and have such big health pools that often you will feel like you need to group up to beat anything but the weakest mobs, and sometimes you will gang up on them too.
But then there are also times when you wonder how it is that Hulk just got killed by a lowly grunt Hydra agent, or why Captain Marvel is battling to punch through a crate. Enemies hit so hard and have such big health pools that often you will feel like you need to group up to beat anything but the weakest mobs, and sometimes you will gang up on them too. Boss fights play out like an MMO, with large floor telegraphs showing where you can’t stand if you want to survive long enough to chip away at monstrously large health pools. I hope you like dodging because you need to dodge a lot to get anywhere.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, for a game that released 10 years after the previous one, feels like it has learnt too little of what games are doing in the interval of time that has passed. This game feels stuck in the Xbox 360 / PS3 era, complete with simple levels, opening doors, unwinnable fights that progress the story and one of those “avoid the spotlight in the corridors” stealth sections. So many games have grown and flourished in the time between MUA2 and MUA3 and a few pages could have been taken from their books. Games like Disney Infinity and the various LEGO outings have shown that you can have some complexity to your various characters and that levelling up can be more meaningful than a stat boost. If you don’t mind going back to a game from a decade ago with a bigger roster, finicky camera and menu management, you will enjoy the few tongue-in-cheek references to the MCU and Netflix shows as you go on a romp through almost location you enjoyed in the movies.