Things begin on a grim note in Marvel Ultimate Alliance
. Dr. Doom has formed the Masters of Evil, a coalition of some of the Marvel Universe’s worst villains. Their first act is to attack a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, prompting Nick Fury to call upon the world’s superheroes to help divert the attack. After saving the world from a nuclear disaster, Fury enlists the heroes to help track down and thwart Doom’s plans.
As the game starts, you begin with the team of Captain America, Wolverine, Thor and Spider-Man. Once you’ve completed Fury’s first mission, you are given the option of creating your own team from a group of heroes including The Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Deadpool. As you play through the game, you’ll add to the roster of available heroes by unlocking characters like Blade, Silver Surfer and Ghost Rider. The PSP version also throws in three exclusive characters: Captain Marvel, Ronin and Hawkeye.
The roster of available heroes is extensive, to the point where it can sometimes be hard to decide which four you want to take with you. To counter this, all available characters level up as you go through the game. Unused Characters will not be as strong as those you use a lot, though they are still strong enough that you can easily swap to them during a game and not suffer a massive disadvantage.
All of the included characters have their own unique abilities and powers, so there are none that are simple palette swaps. As characters level up, they earn skill points that can then be used to upgrade their special moves. Each has a selection of abilities at their disposal, so one player’s Spider-Man might be different than another’s. Also, you aren’t locked into the abilities you choose to upgrade, so if you decide you don’t like a particular ability, you aren’t stuck with it.
Characters also have a set of four stats (health, energy, XP gain…) that you can upgrade using S.H.I.E.L.D. tokens. All of the characters have alternate costumes that are unlocked by playing with them. Each costume has a different set of four stats, allowing for a little more flexibility when deciding which roles your characters will play. For example, if you want Captain America to act as your tank, you might select a costume that favors Health and Strength over one that promotes agility and energy.
When selecting which characters to use, you can either create a pre-existing team, like the Fantastic Four or Avengers, or create your own user-created team. Playing as a named team gives your characters additional advantages that level up similar to character abilities. Once you choose a team the membership is stuck, so if you don’t like a particular character you’re stuck, at least until you unlock additional roster slots. There are even a number of secret teams that you can unlock by combining certain characters in a group.
After selecting a team, Ultimate Alliance follows the same core gameplay as any other dungeon crawl. You control your team through a series of maze-like levels defeating hordes of enemies and leveling up. The story takes you nearly everywhere in the Marvel Universe, from Namor’s underwater kingdom to Mephisto’s Realm to a planet about to be consumed by Galactus. Generally, levels are well crafted, though there are some rough spots, like Mephisto’s Realm, which feels way too long and borders on being cheap towards the end.
Both ad hoc and infrastructure modes are available. Playing with the A.I. is fun; playing with friends is even better.