No matter how many times Thanos threatens the Marvel Universe, Earth’s mightiest heroes — along with their intergalactic friends — are always there to stop him. It’s a theme that’s run throughout numerous stories in Marvel’s comics, movies and other media, and with Ultimate Alliance 3, it gets a full-fledged video game treatment.
While you can be forgiven for thinking the plot device of Thanos attempting to gather the Infinity Gems to become the master of all reality has worn out its welcome, Team Ninja marries the story with action-packed gameplay, superb graphics, quality voice acting and a massive amount of replay value.
The most noticeable aspect of Ultimate Alliance 3 is how accessible combat is. There are two primary attack buttons: one for light attacks and one for heavy. Light attacks take down enemies’ health quickly, while heavy attacks take out stronger opponents’ stagger gauges to stun them.
It seems simple, but the beauty of not having complex controls is that Team Ninja lets the heroes and their unique abilities shine. Instead of focusing on what buttons to input to stun, knock down or pop up an enemy, the attention shifts to how each character’s unique play style fits into your team of four.
That each character does feel unique is a testament to the development team’s love of Marvel and their appreciation for the characters. Wolverine feels like a feral monster, thrashing away with his claws as he absorbs damage with his healing factor, wiping out hordes of enemies in a violent rush. A character like Hawkeye, on the other hand, is best playing controlling the battle from the edges of the fray, raining arrows down on weaker enemies and using his powerful piercing shot to eliminate elite foes.
The way these characters synergize is also a joy to experiment with. Characters can combine their attacks for massive damage when close enough to each other, and the AI does a great job keeping your team together to pull off these flashy displays. Seeing Wolverine slash through the air while Ghost Rider lights everything around him ablaze never gets old.
But just to be on the safe side, the developers made sure there was little chance of things getting too repetitive. With so many characters and possible team combinations, Ultimate Alliance 3 makes sure there’s always a new character or team combination to try out, with more than 30 characters at launch and almost 50 planned through downloadable content.
To encourage team building, every character has a set of attributes that enhance one or more of your core abilities when paired with another character who has the same attribute. Putting Psylocke, Wolverine, Storm and Nightcrawler together forms — wait for it — the X-Men. Or you could throw in Cyclops, Colossus or any other members of the mutant team for a boost. Adding Venom, Spider-Man, Mile Morales and Spider-Gwen creates a team of web slingers, offering yet another of the myriad teams you can assemble for an extra bonus.
Additionally, characters can equip stat boosters called ISO-8, crystals that do everything from increasing the experience you earn in combat to adding elemental attacks to certain characters’ weapons. Playing around with the different team combinations and stat enhancements creates a meta-game unto itself, and I spent hours sitting in menus theory-crafting my perfect squad.
The replay value of team building alone makes Ultimate Alliance a great value, but unlike past entries, the game doesn’t stop once you’ve beaten the main story. Infinity Rifts offer new challenges and rewards, putting together multiple bosses, attack boosts, time limits and other sets of conditions that require everything from twitchy fingers to careful team selection in order to complete.
It’s no exaggeration to say that some of these challenges aren’t for kids. Some of the early levels can be handled with simple button mashing, and others can be finished by out-leveling them, but the ones toward the end require genuine strategy and planning to complete. Their rewards are worth it, though, with everything from classic costumes to unlockable characters.
For as good as the gameplay is, this is a comic-book-themed game, and the graphics matter — a lot. Fortunately, Team Ninja hit the mark like Bullseye (who also happens to make an appearance in the game). The highest compliment I can pay a game like this is to say it looks like you’re playing through a high-end version of an animated series. The colors pop off the screen, and the attention to detail in everything from Captain America’s shield to the reflected light on the Infinity Gauntlet made me want to run out of my house and buy a stack of comic books.
Great voice acting brings the characters to life, too. With so much attention in the art, the performance of the voice actors delivers an impressive polish to a great story. It could have been an afterthought, but the care the development team took with Ultimate Alliance 3’s atmosphere is a love letter to all things comics.
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I could wax philosophical all day about the virtues of a great comic book game, but the bottom line is this: If you at any point have enjoyed a comic book, comic book movie or an action-RPG, you owe it to yourself to play Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. It’s great fun with great characters, and an amazing game from developers who clearly know and respect the source material.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order earns 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5.