As Marvel and Disney slowly infect their way into every piece of entertainment, I don’t know why they haven’t done the same with video games. They’ve got mobile games I see a lot of ads for, and Spider-Man has had a few beloved solo games, but MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE seems like the perfect framework to rope in fans of every stripe and degree. All those characters you love from those movies you went to go see? You can play as all of them, you can create your ultimate dream team, so many interesting possibilities for level design, cool abilities, and thrilling boss fights.
I’m the target audience for this game, because I’m one of those easily amused normies who enjoys most of the Marvel movies and my brother and I played MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 2 at least 12 times through. It’s easily my most played console game of all time. I don’t know how many of the problems I have with THE BLACK ORDER are leftovers from 2, because it’s been 9 years since I played it, but nostalgia and my enjoyment of these characters was not enough to carry me through a lot of clunky gameplay and baffling decisions that make this game seem so ancient and old-fashioned.
To this game’s credit, one of the big issues with ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 2 was the drab locations. A lot of it was in interchangeable factories or ruined cities, which seemed like a major misstep given the huge variety of fantastical locations they could have used. Maybe they didn’t want to use the same locations that were in the first one, like Asgard and Atlantic, but fortunately 3 does not have such qualms. You travel to Asgard, the Moon, the Dark Dimension, and other such locations, and they are a lot more creative and visually interesting than anything in the second one.
Yes I still have this. No, I don’t have a problem with throwing things away.
The new XP cube system is another nice touch. One of the appeals of THE BLACK ORDER is the variety of characters you can play as, and you keep unlocking new ones for the first half of the game. These new characters are generally the same level as you are, but there are times when you want to go back and try out an older character that is severely underleveled. The XP cubes function like Rare Candies except they are in no way are rare, and they circumvent any grinding and let you play as characters you are interested in without feeling restricted by levels. The game does provide you a lot of side missions and timed challenges in case you want to use those to help level someone as well, and having the option to practice with a new character or just powerlevel them with XP cubes is quite nice.
Sadly, even though the leveling should make it easy to play whatever hero you want at any point you want, MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 3’s gameplay itself restricts the potential characters you can use. It stupidly locks you into a combo without the ability to block or roll out. Such a decision would be fine in a game like CONDEMNED or the DARK SOULS series where you are only fighting a few enemies at once. However, you are regularly fighting 12 to 15 enemies at a time in the BLACK ORDER, so your moves often get interrupted by off-screen enemies or projectiles. As a result, fast assassins like Nightcrawler and Wolverine feel incredibly useless and a lot harder to use effectively than a tank like The Hulk that can soak up some damage or a projectile spammer like The Wasp or Crystal. I tried using Wolverine in a fight where you take on three bosses at once, and I couldn’t get off a move because I kept getting interrupted by something else.
In case you’re curious and/or you want to criticize my taste in heroes, here’s my team!
The only major gameplay hiccup irrespective of anything related to Marvel or comic books is the camera, which is a pretty basic element to screw up this badly. I played half of the game with my brother and then completed the game entirely on my own, and it was unbearable in both playthroughs. You can’t control it in co-op mode, so in enclosed spaces or hallways the camera would stretch to try to encompass both players and yet one of us was often off screen. Boss fights would involve us crossing our fingers that the camera would include the boss on screen so we could tell where it was: I can only imagine how much of a nightmare it is with more than two people. You can actually control the camera in single-player, but then there are sections where you simply can’t or it will move on its own. In outdoor locations it worked slightly better, but indoors I would find myself being hit against a wall by an enemy and the camera could not follow it, or it would get stuck between a wall or other pieces of terrain.
You know it’s a great game when you can’t tell if a situation like this is a glitch or a stylistic choice
I realize no one goes into one of these games for the story and I would normally be one of those people before, but I found it to be a waste of some decent ideas. It involves keeping the Infinity Stones from falling into the hands of various villains and amplifying their powers. It’s a similar plotline to SPIDER MAN:SHATTERED DIMENSIONS, except that game was more creative when it came to how these MacGuffins affected the villains. Hammerhead grew guns for arms, Carnage raised an army of zombies, and the Green Goblin turned into an actual monstrous goblin. Here, their only physical change is an ugly color tint and maybe one new attack in their arsenal, which is a criminal underuse of a story element with nearly limitless potential for cool effects, new art designs, and twists on familiar characters. The only exception to that is maybe the level with Ultron, where he hacks into Tony Stark’s suits and controls a massive robot, but besides that the Stones are not used in any interesting ways.
I’m focusing so much on the story because there is so little here otherwise. Again, I’ve played DYNASTY WARRIORS, DYNASTY WARRIORS: GUNDAM, and over 50 hours of MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 2. It’s not hard for me to enjoy a game that is solely based upon beating up waves and waves of enemies with lasers and swords. Even with the messy story, the choppy cutscenes with way too many black screens, and the criminal lack of creativity that went into the use of the Stones, I could have tolerated all of that if the combat was fun and the characters were satisfying to play as. Sadly, the camera is atrocious, the gameplay is clunky, and the number of viable characters is limited as a result. The base appeal of the game, where I can play as my favorite heroes that I’ve spent a dozen years watching on the silver screen way past the point that everyone else was sick of them, is not there, and the fact they couldn’t even get that right in the 10 years it’s taken for this to come out is unforgivable.