Comic book crossovers have usually been, at least in my eyes, difficult things to juggle – a myriad of problems can pop up that can result in a reduction of quality in all of the comics involved. There are some comics that just aren’t compatible with each other, and any combination of comic books always carries a risk of making the plots of each book incomprehensible. However, if any company can do a successful crossover with the myriad of characters in Marvel’s panoply, it’s Raven Software, developers of another beloved comic book game series, the action RPG X-Men Legends series. Having had ample experience in crafting action RPGs outside of their usual fantasy settings, Raven Software is set to deliver another seminal action RPG experience, this time expanding beyond merely one Marvel comic book series and throwing the whole darn superhero melting pot into the mix.
According to Raven Software, over 140 Marvel characters in total will show up in the course of the game, but in terms of who the player will control, that total is more manageable at just over 20. Among the selectable superheroes for you to control are such Marvel staples as Spider-Man, the Thing, Captain America, Wolverine, and more of the most popular of Marvel’s superheroes, but some lesser-knowns are being made playable too, such as Blade, Elektra, Dr. Strange, and Ghost Rider. The impetus behind this massive coming-together is a similar happening on the other end of the comic book moral spectrum – a gathering of a handpicked assortment of super villains, led by the nefarious Dr. Doom. This time, their evil plans extend across all the planes of the Marvel universe.
Just like in the X-Men Legends series, much of the action will take place from an isometric viewpoint, as you control one superhero leading a team of four AI-controlled heroes, or have all four superheroes player-controlled via Xbox Live. Although the action will still be mostly hack-and-slash, in true Legends tradition, there will be some new twists this time around. One of these twists is a much-improved and more in-depth combat system, which will involve more buttons to create more in-depth attacks and combos, and even the ability to block. Also promised is more in-depth control of the powers each superhero wields to add another degree of mayhem to the combat – for example, with Captain America you can control where and how his shield flies with the analog stick, for some crazy arcs of baddie-killing. This promises to add a dimension to the team-up maneuvers, also a staple of the Legends series, with such crazy team combos now possible like Spider-Man netting a goon and sticking him to the ceiling while the Thing punches the suspended goon like a punching bag. Characters can even use improvised weapons from the environment or even from enemies.
Also enhanced from the previous Legends games is the addition of some new team customization abilities. When you pick a team of four superheroes, you have the option of saving the team for future use. You can then further label your dream team of superheroes as your own creation by customizing a logo for the team, and even picking a team vehicle. You can also earn team points while playing the game, which can be used to enhance your team’s special abilities. There are also some new modes of gameplay this time around which add subtle little twists to the formula. One of these new modes is a sort of co-op competitive mode, where all players are playing on the same side, but are competing to see who can take out the most bad guys. There is also the Comic Book Mission mode, which has missions structured around events lifted right from the pages of Marvel comics past, where players can play as either good guys or bad guys, and relive these moments and possibly even rewrite them.
Judging by from first impressions, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is definitely shaping up to be a game that’s going to be fun to play. The new, more action-oriented brawler focus as well as the new modes of play seem to be indicators that Raven Software is not just looking to do a repeat of Legends, but expand its core concepts into new territories. Here’s hoping the changes will be different enough, and fun enough, to warrant a play-through when Marvel: Ultimate Alliance ships sometime in the fourth quarter of 2006.