Marvel is big business these days, and with the world still reeling from the hype of Avengers: Endgame it would be almost foolish for Ultimate Alliance 3 not to tie in somehow with Thanos and his Black Order.
Acting as a soft reboot, MUA3 follows a freshly penned story which sees The Mad Titan once again searching for the infinity stones. He’s not the only one, though. Many villians from across the Marvel Universe turn up to make sure the Avengers and friends have a pretty rubbish time of it. But that’s OK, because you have thirty six fantastic heroes to choose from, including Avenger staples like Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, and including a whole host of Spider-Verse regulars. One of the first teams I put together had both the Spider lads, Spider-Gwen and Venom, earning me a ‘Web Slinger’ bonus.
Assembling teams is a feature that’s been present in all the Alliance games, but it’s much easier to track in this version. Putting together unique little teams is cool, right? When selecting your team, one button press gives you all the information you need, showing the various synergies between characters and the bonuses they provide. If you plan correctly, you can even pull off multiple synergies and in turn get multiple bonuses. Hulk and Thor both count as Heavy Hitters and Avengers, so that gives them a strength bonus and an energy bonus.
The core gameplay has massively improved over the last two entries and feels slicker than ever. When the original games were released on current gen consoles, they hadn’t aged well, feeling stiff and janky. With a graphical overhaul in tow, MUA3 feels like you’re playing a moving comic book.
Big numbers appear on screen as you smash enemies around like you’re on commision. It’s quite the spectacle. Lights flash, fists fly, fires rage and bodies hit the floor. It can get quite messy at times, but then it’s expected with these kind of games. You’re a hero at the end of the day. Enjoy it. Press buttons. Hulk Smash.
Using the D-pad, you can flick to any of your heroes at anytime to scrap at your leisure, using standard and heavy attacks to build up power for your abilities. To add to the chaos, you can also perform synergy attacks that usually cause masses of pain in the villians’ nether regions. Playing solo, these are not always that easy to pull off, whether hoping that the AI will manage to work with you or trying to get stuck in when the large arrow prompts you that a friendly hero wants to synergise. This was clearly designed with co-op in mind and as a result is much easier to do with friends. I will say, however, that towards the end of my run, I was getting used to being in the right position at the right time and reacting quick enough to prompts, so don’t get yourself down in the beginning if you feel like you’re missing them a lot.
Want to completely blow your eyes out of their sockets? Well, don’t worry. MUA3 has got you, fam. Extreme attacks are back with avengence, triggering when the yellow bar around your hero’s portrait is full and pressing both shoulder buttons together. On your own, these are blistering and ridiculously over the top attacks, but it’s even better if multiple heroes have full bars and you can keep pressing those buttons to trigger all the ultimate attacks at once. It’s enough to make a boss’ health bar just melt away.
Customising character abilities and levelling them up has been stripped back compared to the earlier games, with fewer skills on offer and less chance for truly unique builds. Abilities can still be levelled up, increasing viability and honing their unique properties. The Hulk’s signature Thunder Clap, for instance, gains a significant damage buff at level three and will do more stagger gauge damage at level four. This is fine, but there was an element of fun in the first two games when it came to making a truly customised team with your own builds. Here, once you’ve maxed out the four abilities, there’s little else to play with.
In a bid to add some customisation elements to the game, characters can be outfitted with ISO-8 crystals, each adding bonuses to characters stats and coming in different rarities and colours. A small Red ISO-8 adds 4% to your Vitality stat, increasing a characters health, but I stuck the large Purple ISO-8 on the Hulk as soon as I saw its massive 500 point strength bonus! These can be upgraded further using materials and cash found in game.
Other upgrade materials are used to buy upgrades in the Alliance Enhancement grid. Each hex on the grid can be purchased using Enhancement Points and credits, adding stat boosts to the team as a whole. There are seven hex grids in total and completing them unlocks some powerful buffs.
The enemies you’ll face come in all shapes and sizes, but sometimes feel a little uninspired, especially during the opening levels where every enemy is a weaker version of your selection of heroes. It’s forgivable, as it’s difficult to find variety to match such a big roster of playable characters, but I was sat there thinking, ‘why do all the enemies have Wolverine’s claws?’ Things pick up in the later levels when you’re introduced to enemies like The Hand, and you’ll often have to contend with larger enemies that need you to whittle down their purple Stagger gauge before you can deal serious damage to them.
Boss fights are something else though, and don’t feel like they follow a set formula. The end of level bosses have generally gotten their mitts on Infinity Stones and manage to use them uniquely, leading to some very cool fights. Apart from Green Goblin. He freezes time and is a poopy head. Don’t be like him.
The game’s inspirations from the recent Marvel films and the Infinity War comics is clear to see, and a lot of the content in this game will feel familiar as a result. From the Guardians kicking things off to running into Doctor Strange in the Dark Dimension, which is instantly recognisable to those who’ve seen his debut film. It’s a clever move, because I bet there have been plenty of people watching those films, wishing they could take part. Well, now you can!
One of the standout parts in MUA3 is the stirling voice talent. Mr ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz, Brian Bloom reprises his role as Captain America from Marvel versus Capcom Infinity, and Eric Loomis, who’s been voicing Iron Man for almost ten years, is another fixture. You also have the likes of Steve Blum, Ashly Burch, Liam O’Brien, Tara Strong and Nolan North bringing all your favourite characters to life. Props to Tom Kane who is doing his best version of Ian McKellan and making Magneto sound wonderful, and they got Yuri Lowenthal back to play Spider-Man, which is just perfect.
Sadly, there is little in terms of endgame content – video game endgame, not Avengers: Endgame – aside from a NG+ mode and finishing off Rifts you unlock as you progress. Rifts are basically challenge rooms which unlock things like character costumes and top tier upgrade materials.