Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 – our favorite heroes team up for an enjoyable adventure
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order reflects the past 10 years of Marvel’s history, assembling a cast of beloved characters, both old and new, that extends its reach into almost every corner of the cosmos. The diversity of Ultimate Alliance’s playable characters has always been the series’ strongest aspect, and that remains true in Ultimate Alliance 3, where our favorite heroes team up for an enjoyable adventure brimming with synergized action. Much like its predecessors, Ultimate Alliance 3 is an isometric action-RPG, hack-and-slash hybrid featuring four playable characters at any one time that you can switch between on the fly. There are a couple of left-field character inclusions counted amongst its comprehensive roster, like the monster-hunting Elsa Bloodstone and The Inhumans’ Crystal, but it’s an otherwise familiar list of names that features everyone from Hawkeye and Doctor Strange to Iron Man and Thor. Somewhat predictably, the plot revolves around the Infinity Stones after a Guardians of the Galaxy-related mishap scatters them across the Earth and into the hands of the evil-doers in Marvel’s rogues’ gallery.
You only need to glance at the roster to see how Ultimate Alliance 3 pulls from every eclectic branch of the Marvel machine. Costumes and character designs are judiciously plucked from numerous sources–all homogenized by a uniform comic book-inspired art style that’s full of color. The most important thing about these characters, however, is how each of them feels to play. Each hero has light and heavy attacks that can unleash various combos, as well as four super abilities that are gradually unlocked as each character levels up. There’s also a block that negates some damage and a handy roll for dodging out of danger. Simple stuff. What elevates Ultimate Alliance 3’s combat is the variety inherent to each of its heroes and the numerous ways in which they work in tandem. Take someone like Captain America, for example, who’s all about punching enemies in the face and following up with a vibranium shield to the ribs. He plays a lot differently to a ranged character like Star-Lord, who is ideally suited to fighting from a distance with his dual elemental pistols and flight-enabling jet boots. The differences aren’t just restricted to each hero’s choice of weaponry or traversal, either; the Hulk is a lumbering force of nature, Wolverine strikes with quick and agile ferocity, and myriad damage types like piercing, ethereal, fire, and ice differentiate each character even further. Then there are the abilities that tap into every hero’s spate of superpowers. An energy meter governs how often you can let loose with these snazzy attacks, but Ultimate Alliance 3 is fairly generous about replenishing any lost energy in rapid fashion. This is important because using these abilities with abandon and combining them with others is a ton of fun. The basic light/heavy combat is satisfying on its own. There’s a lot of button mashing, but fights can get pretty hectic when enemy projectiles are bouncing all over the screen, so you still need to be wary of your positioning and be able to avoid danger. Abilities add another layer, letting you blast away a crowd of goons with a wrecking ball comprised of Spider-Man’s webs, spin Mjolnir around in a deadly electrified circle, or mow down anyone unfortunate enough to get in the way of Ghost Rider’s hellfire bike.
Picking heroes that work well together applies various team bonuses that can further enhance their stats. This is based on tangibles like their team affiliation, intelligence, agility, and so on. You could assemble a team of the original Avengers, the X-Men, Defenders, or Midnight Sons and see an increase in particular stats that will also take into account whether any of the heroes have shared traits like “wisecracking warrior” or “anti-hero.” Maybe you want to compile a team of web-slingers, Marvel royalty, or one that encompasses the women of Marvel. You have the opportunity to recreate canon teams or mix and match to create your own based on which bonuses are applied and how they can benefit you. After spending some time with Ultimate Alliance 3’s online co-op, it’s clear that while the server performance isn’t perfect, it also isn’t too bad. There’s some occasional lag that only affects the appearance of other players in your party, causing them to slightly jitter when moving around. Other than being a minor eyesore, this doesn’t impact the gameplay in any way. Playing with fewer than four people is less than ideal, however, as the host is the only one with the ability to change heroes on the fly. Everyone else is locked into their pick, although this is somewhat rectified by the plentiful amount of S.H.I.E.L.D. stations found within each level that allow you to swap characters in and out. Beyond this, playing more of Ultimate Alliance 3 in co-op emphasizes the game’s replayability and the sheer enjoyment derived from using its assortment of heroes. Going back and replaying parts of the campaign gives you the opportunity to use characters you previously neglected, making it easy to fall into a groove that’ll have you eager to reach the end credits for a second time.
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