It’s 2019, and the Superhero revolution rages on. Seriously, if you would’ve told me 10 years ago that superheroes would’ve had the mainstream success they’ve had so far, I wouldn’t believe a single word of it. But somehow, here we are. Endgame has dominated the box office, asserting Marvel's dominance in the film industry. It’s only natural that after a long absence from notable video games, that Marvel try and conquer that market too. Spider-Man lead them onto a strong start, but how does Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order fair on this leg of the race?
MUA3 is the revival of the once-beloved, thought forsaken Marvel Ultimate Alliance series, and it is back and better than ever. It’s a pretty simple game, but it basks in its own simplicity, opting to execute a few things well rather than execute many things poorly. With an ensemble cast of heroes, tight gameplay, and a story set across space and reality, this game has a little bit of everything for every kind of Marvel fan out there.
It follows in its predecessors’ footsteps, being a 4 player isometric beat-em-up in which you fight against enemies as your favorite Marvel superheroes. The gameplay here could be described as “simple.” While I agree with that, I think it is better described as “easy to learn, difficult to master.” Many people seem to think that all you have to do in these games is mash to win, and while that may be true for the earlier sections in the game, button spamming will only get you so far as you venture through the game’s later stages.
The game gives you a light attack, a heavy attack, 4 special attacks, a guard, and a dodge-roll for a reason - it’s about knowing when to use each of those. Maybe you need to dodge to evade an oncoming enemy attack, use your light attack to close in on your enemy and follow it up with a heavy attack to break through your enemies stun meter. This creates an opening for you to unleash T-Rated hell on your foes with your special attacks, which can even be used in combination with other characters’ special attacks. It’s easy to pick up, but you’ll definitely need to do a little more than just mash buttons if you’re gonna have a shot at conquering the gallery of rogues featured in this title.
And who better to conquer an all star cast of villains than an ensemble cast of heroes? It’s like going to eat at a buffet, there’s a little bit of everything. You’ve got the Avengers, Web Warriors, the X-Men, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and many more. A good chunk of the characters are unlocked pretty early on, allowing you to jump right in and start crafting your team. It’s truly impressive how different all of the characters truly feel. There are no clones in this game — and even for the characters that share certain moves, there is still a big enough difference to justify them as separate characters. The game actively encourages you to try out different teams of characters by rewarding you with bonuses based on the composition of your team. For example: putting Thor, Cap, Black Widow and Iron Man on a team will net you stat increases for having multiple Avengers on one team. It’s a small touch, but one that makes you really think about what you want your team to look like.
To aid you on your adventure are ISO-8 crystals, the ability to upgrade characters’ special moves, as well as more traditional skill tree. The ISO-8 crystals can be found in abundance all across the game’s levels. Each of these crystals possess stat-altering affects when they are equipped onto a character. Some may outright make your character stronger, but some also might increase a character’s rating in one stat category, while reducing their rating in another. Crystals can also be modified and deconstructed for materials at each checkpoint, and can be swapped from character to character. It feels like a solid equipment system that doesn’t overcomplicate itself too much.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the game’s MASSIVE skill tree. If you think it’s large enough already in the beginning of the game, just wait — it gets absurdly larger, 5 times larger, to be exact. Each Hexagon of skills correlates to different stats, and once each hexagon is complete, a buff for the hexagon’s respective stat is unlocked and applied to the characters. The biggest problems the skill-tree has are that it’s too overwhelming, and it doesn’t impact gameplay enough. Upgrades already exist in the form of equippable ISO-8, as well as individual character attacks, so it baffles me as to why the game needs this many upgrades, let alone a skill tree this large. It’s difference in gameplay can be rather minimal, as leveling up yields far greater stat increases. It’s a lot of work for a little reward, and never really felt worth investing much time into.
But one part of the game worth investing time into is the story mode. The story here, like the gameplay, is simple. But unlike the gameplay, there aren’t many layers of depth underlying the story. While the game keeps your attention by constantly introducing an all-star cast of heroes and villains, and transporting you to all kinds of different planets, dimensions, and realms, that’s all it really does. It doesn’t have much in the way of character work, which is a shame given how great some of these characters can be in other forms of media. You never see too much of the characters interacting with one-another either, which feels like a missed opportunity in a game that has a cast this large. About ¾ through the game, the story tries to establish something of a character arc for a particular character, but it never really resolves by the time the game reaches its unsatisfying conclusion.
Despite all of this, it’s a freaking blast.
The game throws in some surprises every now and then to keep your on your toes. Around each corner is a new hero to join your team or a new villain for you to defeat. What the game lacks in plot and character development, it makes up for with a great amount of character moments. Whether it be snarky quips by Spider-Man, goodie-two-shoes one-liners by Captain America, or one of Deadpool’s various non-sequitors, each line is delivered in such a way that manages to really breathe life into the characters. This is all thanks to the great performances given by an all-star cast of voice-actors.
Outside of the story, your main thing to do will be the Infinity Trials. These trials generally take a setting or situation from the story mode and throw in some kind of gameplay-modifying twist. These generally consist of damage multipliers for certain kinds of attacks, defeating waves of enemies, defeating a certain amount of enemies within a certain time limit, and having to go through entire sections of levels as one, lone character. The rewards yielded from this challenge mode are pretty worthwhile as a whole. Rewards such as in-game currency, alternate costumes, and even more characters to unlock definitely give this game some lasting appeal and replayability. Completing the game once also unlocks the harder “Superior” difficulty, for those seeking more of a challenge. It should be noted that character progress carries over across all modes of gameplay, allowing you to continue improving your team, no matter what mode you’re playing.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order has been a pleasant surprise this summer. It’s flaws certainly exist and can be hard to ignore, but it by no means makes it a bad game. It’s layered gameplay, emphasis on co-op, and replayability definitely make this a game with some lasting appeal, and with DLC on the way, I’m confident that isn’t going to change anytime soon. In all, while it may not be as Spectacular as Spider-Man, Ultimate Alliance 3 still manages to be a fun, engaging romp that makes assembling with your friends a blast. I’d chalk this one up as another win for Marvel. In conclusion, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 gets a…..