Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Review
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is the surprise return of the beat them up series that received mixed to generally positive reviews during their original releases in 2006 and 2009. Activision would later remaster the two games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, only for them to be removed without warning later when Activision would lose the license for the Marvel characters. This would be why it was so surprising to have Ultimate Alliance 3 announced at the 2018 Game Awards and releasing of July 2019.
The good thing to say about the latest entry into the team up hero series is that it still scratches that itch of being a simple beat them up game that allows you to make teams of four of your favorite Marvel heroes. On the flip side, though, in the 10 years since Ultimate Alliance 2, no real improvements have been made and the game can feel that it released before 2010 in some cases.
The gameplay is the biggest area where Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 could have used some enhancements to make it a more engaging experience. Do not misunderstand me here, I enjoy mashing the light attack button with few heavy attacks thrown in, but maybe some form of a combo system would be nice here to mix things up beyond switching characters. I played for about 10 hours and throughout the entire game the method is to light attack the smaller enemies and the bigger enemies you attack the stagger meter until you can start using your special moves for more damage while they are staggered. The only difference between enemies throughout the entire game is how they look and their attacks.
As mentioned before, the controls are very basic. Aside from the light and heavy attacks, your only means of damage output are the special attacks and extreme attacks. Every hero has four separate special or “synergy” attacks. Each one will have a different effect and they easy to use. You just need to have enough EP that builds up from attacking enemies or gathering blue orbs. The cool thing with synergy attacks is they can be combined with other hero’s synergy attacks for more damage, but its not like they are much more impressive when teaming up. They still do the same amount of damage they would normally do on their own. I like having the four moves to choose from, but I wish there were more. I get that that would add a lot more to the developers plate considering they already gave all 36 playable characters their own four moves, but being able to swap out and choose what you move set you want would have been much more fun than using the same ones for Thor the entire game. The only customization you get here is choosing which button does which of the moves.
Extreme attacks are the ultimate moves in the game that are available when your hero’s yellow ring around their picture fills up from attacking enemies. Each hero has one extreme ability and again the group can combine them for the most damage in one shot, but it does not add anything to the experience if you combine them or not. After playing through the game only solo, it never seemed useful to use the extreme attacks solo because all four heroes build up the bar at the same pace, so launching a massive attack from all heroes at once is always the best move. More extreme attacks and varying charge build ups for each situation/hero would have added some difficulty and more thinking to the game.
Overall, the gameplay in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 feels like it was designed for the Xbox 360. It would have been exciting back then, but really does not hold up as a way of wowing anyone today.
There are a couple different ways to upgrade your characters. Any hero that you are playing gains experience while fighting. When leveling up, they can unlock bonuses for their special moves that might add a little damage or add a tiny effect to it. Every time I upgraded a move, I never really felt like I was getting more powerful. They are such small incremental jumps that you do not notice. There is also a skill tree that upgrades all of your heroes in your roster in small ways as well. I usually forgot about it because again, you do not notice the changes when you purchase the upgrades. The same story happens with the ISO-8 Crystals that are used to make your team stronger. I think a different system that could upgrade each hero individually with different moves and stat boosts would have been a much more effective form for the game to take. What is here now, is forgettable to say the least.
As I said, there are 36 playable characters in the game that mostly unlock through story progression. Only a small amount are unlocked out of other means. Lots of the popular picks you would assume to be here are present. You got the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Deadpool, Spider-Man, Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen, Venom, Doctor Strange, and more. Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Storm are available as well for some X-Men representation which is disappointing since one of the levels in the game is literally at the X-Men Mansion and Cyclops, Beast, and Colossus make big appearances throughout the game. They are all probably included in the DLC later this year where X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Marvel Knights which would be a bad move on the developer’s part. If they are locked behind a pay wall, I am sure fans of the game will be unhappy.
Aside from that issue, I was very happy with the hero selection. The roster is quite diverse and really hammers home how different each hero is from the other. Personally, I enjoyed playing Thor throughout the entire game and would also include Wasp, Ghost Rider, and Deadpool as my favorite team. While those were my favorites, I did enjoy mixing and matching the other heroes. Personal favorites from the MCU like Doctor Strange were fun to put together with Iron Man, Spider-Gwen, and Black Panther. This is where the game excels at selling itself. If the hero you want is in the roster, you can make your dream team of superheroes.
Of course, the most popular Marvel characters are either available already or will be in the future, but I think there is a nice selection of the lesser known characters as well. For example, I had never heard of Emma Bloodstone before playing this game. She appears in the back half of the game and I have to say I enjoyed playing her and witnessing her unique personality within the team. While not playable (besides Crystal), the Inhumans make their presence known within the game as well. Comic fans will know these characters much better than anyone who only has watched the movies like me. I love that they included a little bit of every team and it should help hardcore fans to at least come back and try the new ones when they arrive.
As for the villains, that side of the game is much more predictable. Nebula, Magneto, Loki, Kingpin, and of course Thanos and the Black Order make their presence known. Aside from the Inhumans portion of the game, anyone who has at least a little knowledge of Marvel stories should recognize every villain within the game. I would have liked to see more surprises here. Something that lets me learn more about the biggest baddies in the game, but if you have watched MCU, X-Men, or the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies you will have a good idea of everyone you will need to fight.
To end the characters portion of the review, I want to say I love the voice cast for the game for the most part. Yuri Lowenthal who voiced Spider-Man in the PS4 exclusive game last year reprises his role as Peter Parker here. Nadji Jeter has voiced Miles Morales for years in animated shows and in the PS4 game, returns to voice him here as well. Laura Bailey who is playing Black Widow in the 2020 Avengers game plays her in Ultimate Alliance 3. If you played the Guardians of the Galaxy Telltale game, all of the voices of the team in that game returns except for Gamora who is played by Vanessa Marshall who voices her in the Disney XD series. My personal favorite was seeing the Nolan North not only makes his return as Rocket, but also reprises his role as Deadpool for the first time since the 360/PS3 Deadpool game that I personally enjoyed. The voice cast list was absolutely nailed for the most part, and aside from a few slip ups, the acting is brilliant and a great call back to past Marvel projects.
The story begins with the Guardians of the Galaxy finding a vacant Kree ship in the middle of space. They board it to see if anyone needs help (or to find treasure in Rocket’s case) and find Nebula along with a Kree army trying to protect all six infinity stones from Thanos getting his hand on it. Of course, seeing Gamora leads Nebula into leading an assault on the Guardians which alerts their position to Proxima Midnight who quickly proves how powerful she is. To prevent Proxima from delivering the Infinity Stones to Thanos, Starlord snatches the Space Stone and teleports himself and the Guardians through the universe. This leads the stones to being scattered around Earth so the Guardians team up with the Avengers to begin hunting them down and along the way they begin teaming up with other heroes.
The story is decent. It does not blow you away or anything and it is very easy to understand. In fact, a lot of the writing feels like it could have come straight out of a Marvel comic book. The quips and side lines the characters say call back to that comic book style writing that adds to this game’s charm.
The way the third parties in the game get access to the Infinity Stones is never really explained aside from when Star Lord teleported through space that they just happened to land in the hands of the perfect candidates to take advantage of the stone’s individual powers. For example, Ultron gets the Mind Stone and uses it to take over Tony Stark’s defense suits. Dormammu gets the Reality Stone and uses it to merge the dark dimension with Earth. I think the villains uses of the stones are well used, but unfortunately you never get a chance to use the stones yourself. It is explained multiple times that the power of the stones would corrupt any person and they should only be gathered and protected, not used. While I understand this, it was still disappointing to me. Maybe a cool end credits thing where you get to take on a wave of enemies while using the stones to your advantage would have been a lot of fun, but at the end of the day it does not matter that much.
One thing about the story that really surprises me, is that there is no snap with the stones. Everyone knows that Thanos uses the stones, snaps his fingers and half of all life is wiped out. You have to figure that this game was designed to run off of the back of the Avengers movies and having that missing here made Thanos’ quest for the stones feel unexplained and out of place besides he just wants to be powerful. I found the conclusion of the story to have unneeded and predictable threads that lead to a weak ending.
Overall, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a fun time waster. By no means will this win any awards at the Game Awards later this year, but regardless I enjoyed my time with the game. Setting up my own four-man team of heroes and having them fight alongside each other was an experience I had been missing for the last decade and I am very happy that the series was continued. That being said, I am not so sure about there ever being a fourth installment in the series, but it is definitely possible. I think Marvel is very open to allowing the developers to make their own games and strive to create unique experiences with their characters. There is always the chance someone will want to make another huge team up game like this again, but hopefully change up the formula a little so I do not feel like I am playing something made in 2008.