Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a series I’ve long loved. I remember sitting on my couch playing the first one with friends in the neighborhood, arguing over who gets to play as Wolverine. So I was pretty excited when it was announced the long awaited third entry in the series was finally coming. But was it worth the wait?
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order revolves around the Infinity Stones, artifacts of great power and often the plot of many of the Marvel storylines. Ultimate Alliance 3 puts the struggle between the forces of good and Thanos’ Black Order at the fore, creating a compelling narrative along the way. Sure, it has its similarities to some of the more recent Marvel movies, but it’s interesting on the whole throughout. Our columnist, Mike Bitton, wrote up a great column asking whether Ultimate Alliance 3 fills the Marvel Heroes void, definitely check that out here.
You’ll travel to many of the Marvel universes’ iconic locations, such as The Raft, Avengers Tower, as well as a few others. Along the way you’ll team up with Marvel’s most iconic heroes, and the roster is very impressive. You’ve got fan favorites such as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and Spider-man. Joining the core team of Avengers are some great heroes such as Crystal from Inhumans, Miles and Gwen in their own respective Spider-Man/Gwen roles. I really enjoyed playing as Psylocke, her ability to string together attacks into special moves really came in handy, especially late in the game.
You’ll put together a team of four to take on the universe, but who you choose is up to you. Marvel doesn’t try to force you into a certain team composition, but you do get bonuses based on who you choose. The downside is Ultimate Alliance isn’t 100% clear right away as to what these bonuses give you, so early on it feels like a lot of guesswork. I tended to go with an agile melee, two ranged magic users and a heavy hitting character (mainly Venom, but later in the game I stuck with Black Panther).
Finding the right team composition you like is key, as Marvel can be relentless, especially later on in the story. Wave after wave of enemies are thrown at you, and while it’s fun to bounce around killing each enemy, after a while it can get pretty monotonous. You have both a light and heavy attack, and while there aren’t any defined combos, you can string together some of your skills with these attacks to make some of your own. It’s just a shame there isn’t a way to grab and throw your enemies as well, and while it’s fun for a while, in some of the longer fights mashing the light and heavy attack buttons gets pretty boring. There just isn’t a whole lot of dimension to the combat system itself to set it apart from some of the other brawlers on the market.
Each character has four skills you’ll unlock as you level them, and these skills really do add a much needed layer to the combat. You can use them by yourself or with a teammate to power them up with a powerful synergy attack. As you fight you’re also building up an extreme meter, which once full you can unleash a devastating attack on your enemies. This is useful in a boss fight to take out a chunk of health quickly, or if you’re at a stage in a level where you’re required to kill 35 ninja before moving on. It’s also nice you can string these together with all four of your heroes at once, dealing devastation to both your enemies and your framerate.
In fact, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has one of the most inconsistent framerates I’ve ever experienced in a Nintendo Switch game. In both handheld mode (which doesn’t look great on the 720p screen) or docked The Black Order struggles to maintain its target 30 fps at all times. This affects the gameplay tremendously, as needing to dodge an incoming attack can oftentimes feel sluggish and unresponsive thanks to a framerate dip.
It’s compounded by the fact that the camera - whether in classic or heroic mode - is one of the single worst in-game cameras I’ve used in recent memory. Oftentimes I’d find myself stuck on the wall, unable to see my character getting pummeled, worse even when the camera angle is forced high making it nigh impossible to tell where I am at any given moment, especially with all the effects and chaos going on during a hectic fight.
Thankfully, the cutscenes that break up each level are well animated and well-voiced. The comic book style Team Ninja chose to take with Ultimate Alliance 3 really suits the game, and it comes across really well, especially when docked. Seeing Wolverine in his yellow spandex brought back a ton of great memories reading old Wolverine comic books as a kid, and watching scenes with some of my favorite Marvel heroes made me want to crack open the entire MCU again.
With all of these characters to choose from, it’s a shame that Ultimate Alliance 3 works on a per-character experience system. This really discourages you from swapping characters when you feel like it, as each character will just stay at whatever level they were when you last used them. This made me pretty much stick with the same few heroes throughout most of the story - I don’t think I swapped out Psylocke, Scarlet Witch or Dr Strange since I got them.
You can level characters through experience stones which drop randomly during the story, or you can run through the Infinity Trials. These trials basically replay some of the larger set pieces from the story, making The Black Order feel very repetitive after a while.
Additionally, the ISO-8 gem system and the Alliance Enhancement tree, the latter of which will buff all of your heroes, while the ISO-8 gems add bonuses to the specific hero you equip the gem to. It feels very convoluted, and none of these upgrades actually felt meaningful, making it feel very unnecessary in the end.
You’ll be using currencies you pick up throughout gameplay to upgrade both your Alliance Enhancement tree and ISO-8 gems, and thankfully Ultimate Alliance 3 gives you these currencies in droves. But there is so much to unlock that I didn’t feel like I even scratched the surface when I finished the main story. So far I’ve not seen any microtransactions, which is definitely a nice change of pace in today’s gaming industry.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is definitely fun, especially if you're able to get a few friends to join you either online or couch co-op. But it’s repetitive combat, outrageously bad framerate and camera, as well as a convoluted RPG system make Ultimate Alliance 3 one of those games I don’t see myself going back to right away. The Trials do add some replayability to the game, but repeating set pieces on their own is way less compelling than just replaying Ultimate Alliance 3’s excellent story. It’s a good re-entry in the long-beloved series, and worth a romp if you’ve been a fan of the series.
- Outrageously deep roster
- Satisfying and entertaining story
- Fun romp through Marvel locations
- Framerate is really bad in spots
- Camera is frustrating to control
- RPG systems feel overly complicated