Who saw this coming? After Spider-Man hit big on PS4, I was expecting a kind of unique, video-game based MCU (an MVU if you will), one similar to the MCU but ultimately free to go in its own direction without fear of muddying the narrative waters of the cinematic iteration. Don’t get me wrong, I suspect that we might well get that and wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was some kind of narrative link between Square Enix’s Avengers title and Insomniac Games’, Spider-Man….but this? Yeah, this has absolutely nothing to do with those games. This throwback is to a pre-MCU world – ok, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 did come out a year after the original Iron Man movie, but we were still a long way off an established and successful MCU – this is a call back to a time when Marvel was still primarily in the business of making and selling comic books.
And oh, doesn’t it show. Like its predecessors (games which remain all but identical to this latest and incredibly belated sequel), Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is pure comic book nonsense. Thematically similar to the Lego games but arguably even simpler, this primary coloured co-op action role-playing series is as fun, stupid, repetitive and ultimately addictive as it was back in the mid-2000s.
Honestly, despite the back of the box description and the RPG-lite bells and whistles, at its core, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 really is an old school arcade-style beat’em-up. Yes, there is basic levelling, unique abilities and moves to unlock as you progress, but for the most part, this is a game about spamming the low and high attack buttons…..and that’s about it. Additional abilities that need to cool down between uses, a handful of special moves and the co-op friendly synergy moves do help to mix things up a little, but despite the huge cast of playable characters, they all pretty much control in the exact same way. Sure, it lacks depth, and the absence of any kind of loot system ensures that it doesn’t have the kind of long-term appeal of the mechanically similar likes of Diablo III, but as pure, unadulterated, cotton-candy fan service, there is little out there that can match it.
With more than 30 playable characters (with more due via DLC – the likes of the Fantastic 4 have already been confirmed) and plenty of support characters, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is rife with cool nods for hardcore fans and plenty of brilliant art design. The environments aren’t much to look at, but unlike the odd middle ground that Square Enix’s Avengers game seem to be struggling with, by embracing a more comic book-esque design, the game successfully finds its own distinct look while always remaining true to the characters we all know so well. Also, by forgetting about the MCU, it allows for that rare opportunity to see the X-Men fight alongside the Avengers. That won’t remain unique for all that long of course, but for now at least, it still feels pretty special – doubly so since Capcom screwed the pooch with Marvel vs. Capcom 3 when they moved to an MCU-centric line-up…..really Capcom? No Wolverine? Really?
Whether you’re playing via local co-op (definitely the best way to experience the game), via the occasionally iffy online options or simply on your lonesome, Marvel Ultimate Alliance always has four characters on screen with your friends or the slightly suspect AI taking control of the other character in your team. Whoever you pick, each team will be able to pull off an array of synergy moves, but if you pick truly compatible characters i.e. Iron Man and Captain America, they will unleash character specific combo moves rather than the more generic moves that result in some of the more imaginative team ups. The results are often the same, but these unique combos do at least encourage experimentation.
The same is true of the challenge modes – these force certain requirements upon you i.e. time limits or the use of specific characters, but these do at least force you to approach the game in a slightly different way while providing a more interesting way to grind levels for those looking to take on the game on the higher difficulty settings. On the standard setting, most will cruise their way through the majority of the game and its silly but rather enjoyable story, but if you’re looking to ramp things up, you’re going to need to buff up your superhero squad.
Sure, the RPG options are incredibly light, but the constant carrot of higher levels and unlockable moves does provide a surprisingly compelling reason to plug away at a game that is unquestionably repetitive and more than a little one note. You’d think that by bringing in Team Ninja (the folks behind Dead of Alive), the team would look to expand upon the template established by its predecessors, but no, there aren’t any combos and there really isn’t any depth….and yet. And yet it remains fun. Would it work if it was just some generic brawler with characters you don’t care about? Perhaps not, but the fact of the matter is, going to town on Thanos and his goons with a custom team of Marvel superheroes is just cool. Well, perhaps ‘cool’ is the wrong word, but it sure is enjoyable.
I don’t think anyone expected to see the return of the much liked but ultimately forgettable Marvel Ultimate Alliance series, but honestly, despite the fact that the gameplay has hardly changed in over a decade, and despite the fact that it remains repetitive and relentlessly shallow, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, like its predecessors, delivers a huge amount of utterly mindless entertainment. It’s chock full of fan service, and by embracing a truly comic book aesthetic and tone, frees itself from the visual and narrative constraints inherent to the MCU. It’s a shame that Team Ninja didn’t get to impose its style upon the basic but admittedly tried and tested mechanics, but what it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in sheer unadulterated fun.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order Video Game Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 7/10
User Review( votes)
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, like its predecessors, delivers a huge amount of utterly mindless entertainment. It’s chock full of fan service, and by embracing a truly comic book aesthetic and tone, frees itself from the visual and narrative constraints inherent to the MCU.