Saving the world from total annihilation takes guts, a steady hand and real determination. And with the Avengers on your side, anything is possible in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. With 30+ characters available to play and some of Marvel’s biggest and best supervillains sharing the limelight, The Black Order should be an MCU fan’s dream. But with an overenthusiastic camera, ill-thought-out puzzles and nonsensical story pacing, this alliance isn’t as ultimate after all.
Marvel Studios may have broken box office records with Avengers: Endgame after reaching a gargantuan $2.78 billion worldwide, but after showcasing its up-and-coming projects at San Diego’s Comic Con, it’s clear the studio has some exciting twists and turns in store. While Avengers merchandise has been flying off the shelves in Disney stores for the past decade, fans have also been able to capture some of the Marvel magic and form their own dream teams through the videogame series, Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
Appearing on consoles for the first time back in 2006, the Ultimate Alliance series is an action ‘hack and slash’ RPG built for co-operative play. While the first scored favourably amongst fans and critics alike, its 2009 sequel lacked the same gusto. Now, the makers of Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem Warriors – Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo – have taken the reigns of the titular series to help bring back the vigour of the first with a soft reboot.
Featuring 36 unlockable characters in the base game (excluding DLC), Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order has the most playable superheroes and supervillains in the series’ history. You’ll find everyone’s favourite merc-with-a-mouth Deadpool, the original X-Men characters Storm and Wolverine, the full Avengers team, the Guardians of the Galaxy and more. On the flip side, Venom, Magneto and Loki all join the alliance too. So, if they’re in a MCU cinematic film, they’re almost guaranteed a spot.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Ultimate Alliance 3 is played with a team of four roster characters, all of which have their own unique special abilities that can be levelled up throughout gameplay. While it’s best played as a co-operative game, Story Mode and Infinity Trials can be played easily in single player mode with three CPUs. Plus, you’ll also have the option from the get-go to start the storyline on either ‘Friendly’ or ‘Mighty’ difficulty, with ‘Superior’ difficulty unlocking only after you’ve beaten the story.
Segmented into 10 distinct chapters, story mode takes anywhere between 10-12 hours to complete, largely banking on the classic cat-and-mouse chase sequence as the Alliance tracks down six Infinity Stones to stop Thanos from destroying the entire eco-system. It relies heavily on the player’s foreknowledge of the world, making the player – rather than the script – do all the legwork. Pacing is an issue here, too. Character introductions within chapters are awkwardly thrown together (although, as a bonus, they are unlocked quickly), with many of them making very little sense mid-scene. Then there are the cringe-worthy cutscenes that ‘forget’ to match up with your current team. Lastly, there’s no staging scenes to weave each chapter together. It’s a hot mess of portal jumping – and that doesn’t sit well on the stomach.
Story mode does have its moments though. The voice acting – while not from the stellar cast of the films – is well executed, plus there’s some visually interesting scenery on display during the Dark Dimension and Wakanda chapters to break up the hack-n-slash vibe. You’ll also be able to discover and unlock Infinity Rifts, which offer up a nice change of pace with a fresh set of trials and challenges in ‘Infinity’ mode. These are, perhaps, the most enjoyable aspect of the third instalment and are certainly the most riveting to play. And if you’re good enough to beat them, you’ll be able to unlock some nifty character outfits and additional characters as rewards too.
Unfortunately, the game’s main flaws reside in its overall playability. While the combat is simplistic enough and is more than just ‘button bashing’, it does lack depth and customisability. No matter which character you play, they all feel very similar when in battle. Flying characters often control elemental attacks from a distance, brute strength characters like to get up close and personal, and finally sword and gun wielding characters get a mixture of both. Though each of their four special attacks are unique to the character, there’s no real way to discern if one ability is more critical to a boss than another. Ultimate Alliance 3 hinges on one main skill; whittle down the boss’s stun gauge then hit them where it hurts with a Synergy combo attack and Extreme group attack. Luckily, it’s still fun and there’s some customisation available with ISO-8 crystals and the Alliance Enhancement hexagonal grids to buff up your character’s stats and traits.
Combat aside, Ultimate Alliance 3 is plagued with camera issues. While the Heroic camera style is the lesser of two evils, both Classic and Heroic styles suffer from juddering and real-time framerate drops. In co-op mode, you don’t even have the option to lock-on to enemies either, resulting in a swinging, overenthusiastic camera that likes to put baby in the corner (literally). And if we thought the camera issues were a nightmare during boss fights, they’re also off-putting while in exploration mode too. From bizarre top-down angles on puzzles (which can be hilariously avoided in Shadowland by just flying through them) to weird looping when switching characters, the camera feels like the real villain here.
If you can keep the camera in focus for long enough, boss fights are outrageously fun to play. With an over-saturation of effects on screen, you’ll hardly know whether you’re coming or going during each wave of enemies and, while it can be tempting to ‘button bash’ your way to victory, it’s all about making Synergy with your fellow teammates to really take these supervillains to town. It’s a real shame when boss fights from Chapter 6 onwards feel repetitive with overused patterns and they begin to break out unfair tactics; many of which you can’t even dodge in time.
For those who want to play Ultimate Alliance 3 with online friends, there’s an opportunity to do so. Encouragingly, you can join up with friends online instantly and either search for a room or create one yourself. Both story mode and infinity rifts are available to play together, so there’s no qualms with the multiplayer search functionality.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a standard, run-of-the-mill, hack and slash action RPG. Its shining moment squarely falls on the shoulders of its Infinity mode, with boss fights flying by in a close second. But its lack of polish and attention to detail means gameplay falls by the wayside, leaving a gaping, sore wound that no ultimate alliance can solely heal. Nothing more than a fun beat ‘em up that’s best played with friends, not CPUs.
A review copy of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order was provided to My Nintendo News by Nintendo UK.