E3: Activision Makes Game out of Marvel Handbook with "Marvel Ultimate Alliance"

If there is one thing gamers have come to learn, if Activision releases a super hero game, there's a better than average chance it's pretty good. Sure, "Fantastic Four" was disappointing, but between the "X-Men Legends" series and a variety of Spider-Man games, they have a pretty good track record.

That said, from the demo shown at E3, "Marvel Ultimate Alliance," designed by Raven for the PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, PC, PSP, Nintendo Wii and GBA, appears set to be the ultimate word on superhero games. Pun possibly intended.

This looks like the biggest superhero game ever. And by biggest ever, I mean at least 140 characters, with at least 20 of them being playable, not counting unlockable characters. That's right, there are enough characters to fill a volume of "The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe."

The storyline is still under wraps, but what we know so far is that Dr. Doom and a Masters of Evil team that apparently includes Ultron and Scorpion are threatening the earth. Locales include the SHIELD Helicarrier, Atlantis and the Skrull homeworld, which is being eaten by Galactus.

You heard me. You get to fight Galactus.

So far, the list of known playable characters include: Captain America, Spider-Man, Thing, Ghost Rider, Dr. Strange, Thor, Blade, Elektra and Wolverine. Most of the characters' default costumes are their Ultimate designs, although skins of their classic costumes will be available. The heroes will be based more on their regular Marvel Universe counterparts, so, as one game producer put it, "Captain America won't be kicking anyone in the head any time soon." It does not exist in the same world as "X-Men Legends," however, as the standard Nick Fury is white.

Although the game play is very similar to "X-Men Legends," "MUA" is not just a rehash. The game has a completely new engine, allowing more dynamic camera angles. The combat has been turned up a notch as well, with each character having his or her own fighting style, as well as super powers. So, the Thing might pick up an opponent and smash him into the ground, while Spider-Man has a more acrobatic repertoire of melee moves.

The multi-player aspect has been tuned up as well. Four players can take command of their own hero like before, but now they compete for XP, with only the person getting the final kill receiving the experience.

The game was shown running on a PS3, and the graphics were positively stunning. The ribbed armor Bryan Hitch draws on Ultimate Captain America was actually visible. Ghost Rider's hellfire created waves of heat distortion.

The best thing about "MUA" though was the geeky level of detail to the comic characters. The game drips with Marvel lore, which makes sense, given it was written by writer and editor C.B. Cebulski. There's minor stuff, like the appearance of Galactus' Punisher. Not Frank Castle, but the robot Galactus sent to beat up the Thing when he first came to earth. And then there are big things, like flashback missions. Each character will have a single character flashback mission to an earlier point in their history, where players get to find out what makes the character tick.

Activision displayed a few other comic book-based games, but none in any sort of playable format. Trailers ran for "X-Men 3" and "Spider-Man 3," and while graphically they looked amazing, they didn't show much game play. There was also a large statue of Optimus Prime to herald the acquisition of the "Transformers" license, but it didn't even have a trailer.

Stay tuned for more "Marvel Ultimate Alliance" news as the game progresses.

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