LOS ANGELES--Marvel Ultimate Alliance is the upcoming action RPG from Activision and Raven Software that drops you into an epic battle to save the world from certain doom. The recently announced game promises an evolution of the formula that Raven has been perfecting in its X-Men Legends titles. For this endeavor, the developer has broadened its scope to offer players a diverse roster drawn from the entire Marvel universe. We had the chance to get an early look at the E3 demo of the game, which, although shown only in demo form, left us with a positive impression of the promising game.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance's premise is an original one that draws its inspiration from the pages of the comics that serve as the stomping grounds for the game's cast. The world is endangered by Doctor Doom and his handpicked assortment of Marvel supervillains, whose evil plans extend beyond this plane and reach into the very heart of Asgard itself. Though the collected array of evildoers is formidable, this being a comic game, it's not like they're going to go unopposed--which is where you come in. You'll take control of a customizable team of heroes, drawn from more than 20 initially selectable characters from all over the Marvel Universe. In the demo we were shown, the team of four was drawn from a sampling of the game's final roster. The characters in our demo included Blade, Captain America, Dr. Strange, Elektra, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man, Thor, Wolverine, and the Thing.
The demo focused on three of the areas you'll find yourself in over the course of the game. The first, a shield helicarrier, is where the action kicks off at the start of the game and features a team composed of Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. The quartet responds to a distress call from Nick Fury, who manages to fire off the message as the massive airship comes under attack from the villainous Ultron's robotic minions. The level begins on the deck of the craft and follows the four heroes as they venture to its interior to deal with the assault. While they'll face waves of Ultron's forces, the big challenge is the Scorpion, Spider-man's exo-suit-wearing nemesis.
The second area in the demo is the homeworld of the alien Skrulls, which finds the shapeshifters having a fairly negative reaction to the newcomers to their planet. The team for this level included Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider, Thor, and the Thing, facing a unique challenge as a secondary force, besides the Skrulls, is on hand to oppose them. It seems the most well-known devourer of worlds in the Marvel universe has opted to chow down on the Skrulls' home. Though the large purple dude is an intimidating fellow, his menace factor increases exponentially as he gives chase to the group of heroes, smashing the city and anything else in his way. Finally, the Atlantis level lets you experience underwater combat as your group of heroes brave the ocean's depths to fight evil. Thanks to the magic of convenient technobabble called "nannites," the group is able to breathe underwater while fighting evil.
Now while screens and video may suggest that the game is a new coat of paint on Raven's "legends" formula, that assumption is only partially correct. Though the basic mechanics are still similar to the X-Men games, Marvel ultimate Alliance is its own unique beast thanks to some sweet additions to the formula. When you start the game you'll be able to select the members of your team, name it, select an icon to represent it, and even pick a team vehicle. As you play through the game you begin to gain the ability to customize your team, which includes enhancing your team's special abilities, by distributing team points. Combat has been expanded to new buttons and combos, as well as the ability to block. Above and beyond the standard melee combat, you'll be able to use a number of different special abilities that are taken straight from the comics. You'll be able to use Captain America's shield, Thor's hammer and lightning, Spider-Man's webslinging, Wolverine's claws, Elektra's sai, Blade's guns and knives, Dr. Strange's magic, Ghost Rider's chains, and the Thing's raw strength. Each character will also have super attacks that will come in handy when you're in a pinch.
The visuals in the game are a smart mix of high-tech gloss and comic-panel authenticity that benefits from the added power of the Xbox 360 and PS3. The heroes look great, albeit a little glossy, and animate well. We're pleased to see little touches, such as unique animation for characters like Spider-Man, that offer flashes of their personalities. Visual perks such as lighting, bump-mapping, high-res textures, shadowing, and particle effects are all on hand to give the game a very slick look. In addition to the game graphics, the rendered cinemas look great and, based on the intro cinema we saw, have a stylish flair that works. Audio in the game was tough to gauge given the title's work-in-progress condition, but we expect that it will include a good assortment of proper sound effects.
Based on what we saw, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is shaping up to be a cool evolution of Raven's work in the Legends games. The game's expanded gameplay should appeal to action fans, and the customization helps you create the superteam of your dreams. We're pretty anxious to see more of the game so we can check out its roster of characters, see how it plays, and find out who else is appearing as a cameo. Action adventure fans and comic aficionados will likely dig the game, thanks to its gameplay and content. Look for more on Marvel Ultimate Alliance in the coming months; the game is slated to ship this fall for current- and next-gen systems.