Just in case watching Marvel’s mightiest heroes stop Thanos from collecting all of the Infinity Stones wasn’t enough for you, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order does it all again. This team-based action role playing game doesn’t retell this story, but instead creates a space where we get to choose up to 4 of our favorite Marvel characters to assemble a dream and tackle this event.
Hell yes. One of my most anticipated games of the year is finally here. If you’re new to the series, you’re in for a treat. If you’re a longtime fan, you’ll still enjoy the treat, but it’s a bit off. Graphically, Marvel Alliance 3 looks great. I never really understood the moronic “this looks like a PS2 game” jokes that were going around when the first trailer dropped. Everyone looks spot-on and their animations remain smooth throughout the chaos…
DEE ASSASSINA: Agreed. Even though you choose four characters, you can swap them out for others very frequently to see what pairs work best in combat. Every character has a light, heavy, special, and extreme attacks. If you’re by another character in combat, you can press a button to trigger a synergy combo. Doing this is extremely satisfying thanks to a breaking sound, similar to how primers and detonators sound in some Bioware games.
Actually, a lot of the different sound bytes enhanced satisfaction for doing simple things and some sounds gave me hardcore Diablo vibes, specifically when completing a boss fight. Extreme attacks are unleashed after a meter fills and everyone on your team can activate theirs at the same time for a super omega supreme extreme attack. That’s not what it’s called, but it does massive damage. Even though you can choose any 4 characters, some pairings give you special boosts, such a anti-heroes, agile warriors, web warriors, or women of marvel.
FELIPE CRESPO: And those pairings are damn near infinite. Speaking of which, the story, as with all Infinity Sagas, is sprawling and has you visit practically every corner of the Marvel Universe (no Atlantis/Namor though, wtf). The pace is fast and it almost feels like every new character intro tops the previous one. Stay after the credits for a very short teaser for the sequel.
DEE: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Fel. Players’ll face a variety of enemies including Kree, Raft prisoners, Hand ninjas, Sentinels, Hydra and more. Some tougher enemies have a stun meter that must be depleted before significant damage can be done. The combat might be simple, and simply bashing the buttons can get you through a few chapters, but later chapters bring out a lot of stronger enemies, forcing you to utilize the dodge roll and time your attacks. At least this is the case on Mighty difficulty.
Some boss fights will throw out attacks that will greatly deplete your health if you don’t pay attention to the attack indicators and boss patterns. A few of my friends reported issues fighting bosses like Ultron, but considering I played most of the game in co-op with one other person, I didn’t have that much trouble. Dormammu was a bit more of a pain in the ass since there are tons of enemies thrown at you in a small space. Either way, it’s clear this game is encouraging cooperative play. However, if you want to play solo, changing in between characters is seamless, synergy combos are easy to activate, and the AI are decent.
FELIPE: Gameplay is deceptively complex. If you go into it just button mashing to oblivion, you’ll make it to the third boss at best. You have to take into consideration what hero configurations and synch attacks work best. There’s also ISO-8 (crystals that boost your stats) which can play a big role in how you decide to take down more challenging enemies.
DEE: Yeah, it was difficult for me to notice the difference in each of these ISO-8 upgrades and enhancements offer in combat, unless I saw green numbers above my characters head from a health regain upgrade. The XP cubes were tough too, since I needed to try every character; so I held off on beefing up some characters with boosts until I was sure. Some characters are left at a lower level if you don’t choose them as consistently or feed them with XP cubes. Nevertheless, this is a personal problem for being a hero whore instead of staying faithful to a few like my cooperative partner did.
Fortunately for me, you continue to unlock characters and they’re always at the highest level you should be for that stage. Another upgrade system is the Alliance Enhancement that has branching out hexagon shaped grids that upgrade your entire teams statistics (e.g. vitality, strength, master).
FELIPE: This game definitely has a lot more in-depth combat than initially imagined. That said, combos were best in X-Men Legends 2. Ultimate Alliance had some, but they were pretty stripped down. When I heard Team Ninja was working on this, I was so hyped! Combos making a comeback in a big way! …Then I played. You only get one light attack combo throughout the entire game and one heavy attack. That’s it. Don’t bother trying different combinations or delays. Also, there’s no grabbing enemies. Such a weird design choice considering that some objects can be grabbed. UA1 had these bad-ass grabbing finishers (i.e. Cap would try to decapitate you with his shield) that are just stuck in that crappy re-release from a few years ago.
DEE: Definitely a bummer. But let’s talk those “PS2” graphics you mentioned earlier, Felipe. It’s blasphemy. The Ninja Temple, Avengers Tower, Xavier’s Institute, and Wakanda all look cool as hell, and only the trees in the Xavier institute resemble anything “PS2”. Each stage is supplemented with epic music, too. My personal favorite is the Ninja Temple with a red moon (the blood moon rises again) and the Ultron boss fight.
The cut-scene animation also really pleased me; I really enjoyed when the camera panned to a 2D side scroller, especially during the Ninja Temple hallway scene where all you see is silhouettes in battle. That camera angle is cool but the camera overall is wonky as it occasionally cuts off your character view. The camera is my biggest issue with this game and the sometimes frame-drops during extreme combo attacks are a close second.
FELIPE: For those new to the series, Ultimate Alliance 3 gets 4.5 infinity gems out of 5. It’s great! But, now, for those who have been with the series longer (we know the series started with X-Men Adventures, not UA1) , there are some letdowns that newcomers won’t notice. One is Alternate Costumes, which peaked in UA1. Not only did each character get around 4 or 5 alternates, but they were actually distinctly different outfits. Here? Wolverine doesn’t even get his classic yellow and brown. He gets an alternate color. Black Widow gets alternate white color, etc.
Also, unlocking each costumes is a pain in the ass. Each one is locked behind an Infinity Trial (seperate game mode, hard challenges that unlocks items, characters, and costumes). I got another gripe, but let’s hear Dee’s take on the story… you know, since it’s superhero comic-driven and all..
DEE: Oh, that! Sure the narrative is decent, but the real charm is in the dialogue and good voice acting. Every character has its moment to shine and unlocking new heroes is very satisfying. The voices and interactions between characters felt very much so like a nod to live action Marvel media (e.g. MCU, Netflix series). The story is short but you can extend your time by participating in Infinity Missions which give you requirements to unlock during a battle sequence (e.g. beat character X in 1 minute, deal 200,000 damage with special attacks). These reward you with better upgrade materials, extra characters, and costumes. You have plenty of characters to max out and after beating the game once, you unlock Superior difficulty, which starts at level 40.
FELIPE: Oh the voiceover work here, Dee, is top-notch. Completely agree on that notion and how impressive the heroes sound like their MCU counterparts– except, unfortunately, for two dorks: Thor and Cap. Maybe it’s because I love MCU Cap so much, but hated seeing him lean back into always sounding like a boyscout caricature and Thor like he’s going H.A.M. at a ren fair. Other than that, a design choice that I found “interesting” was how some characters are — thankfully — heavily influenced by the MCU (Cap, BP, Iron Man) and some look painfully dorky in their original costumes… Right, Dr Strange? I don’t usually do this, Dee, but I’m adding a second score — the “longtime fan” score : 3.75-4/5 Children of Thanos.
DEE: Haha! Those are funny and fair points, yet there’s definitely a bunch of graphical and gameplay improvements from previous Marvel Ultimate Alliance games. That said, The Black Order doesn’t cater as strongly to comic book fans, as it mostly provides MCU fan service. Either way, I like it and agree that it’s a very simple but fun action RPG. 3.25-3.5/5 Bibles.
-Dee Assassina & Felipe Crespo