The Infinity Saga may be over but the Marvel train appears to be showing no signs of slowing down with phase four of the cinematic universe recently outlined at Comic-Con, TV shows revealed for Disney’s new streaming service, new rides coming to its theme parks… you get the idea. If there’s one area you might argue the comic book behemoth has yet to take over though, it’s video games. At least yet, anyway.
Of all the Marvel licensed outings – both recently released and upcoming – Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order has easily been the most unexpected. A sequel in a series out of action for nearly ten years and exclusively on Switch? Even now it still doesn’t seem quite real.
Much like the recent two Avengers movies, the story in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order revolves around Thanos’ quest to retrieve the six Infinity Stones. Fortunately, the Guardians of the Galaxy also happen to stumble across the powerful gems, accidentally scattering them across Earth during a battle and zapping themselves too in the process. What follows is essentially a hunt for the remaining stones as you meet a whole host of heroes who’ll join the cause and villains willing to do anything it takes to stop you. The narrative is a simple one and really acts as a loose reason for all these characters to cross paths but at the very least it does bring with it some great chances for amusing interactions.
Combat is simple button-mashing stuff, your light and heavy attacks usable at the press of a button any time. Hold the R Button though and you’ll have access to a handful of energy-sapping abilities. Time the use of these with your other teammates and you’ll perform an even more powerful synergy attack. Captain America, for example, will reflect projectiles off his shield such as Spider-Man’s web shots into enemies. Fill up your Ultimate Alliance meter by defeating enemies and you’ll be able to unleash an over-the-top attack that again can be combined if your crew manage to use theirs too.
The combat system is rather uncomplicated amounting to little more than hammering on the buttons and timing your special attacks here and there. Think of it like the older side-scrolling beat ‘em ups of the 90s but on bigger and longer scale. Levels will occasionally throw a puzzle or two your way to mix things up but to be honest they’re rarely taxing and if anything hurt the flow of the game.
The dangers of monotony are somewhat extinguished though largely thanks to the expansive and diverse cast of heroes (and villains) to play as. The surprisingly generous thirty plus line-up includes everyone from huge powerhouse names like Captain America and Ironman to lesser-known faces like Nightcrawler and Ms. Marvel. While the general controls for each remain largely the same, it’s their varying attacks, special moves and level of mobility that make them interesting to take for a test drive.
Guardians of the Galaxy’s Star Lord, for example, can soar above the battlefield courtesy of his jet boots whilst sporting a flamboyant move set that relies heavily on long-range gun and elemental attacks. Someone like Captain America meanwhile keeps his feet firmly on the ground focusing more on up-close-and-personal combat with his trusty shield also acting as a handy projectile when needed.
It should come as no surprise but getting to play as such a wide and diverse line-up of beloved characters is one of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order’s strongest selling points. The game knows this and within the first half-hour, your crew will grow from four to over a dozen continuing to inflate as you progress through the story. Sure you’ll likely gravitate toward a quartet by game’s end but it’s always worth checking out a newcomer even if just to see how they tick.
Sandwiched between all the punching, kicking and general superhero spectacle is a surprising amount of character management. Take leveling up, a process that will not only increase the stats of heroes you play as (or use special XP cubes on), but also unlock new abilities that can be upgraded too. The four characters you choose for your active party can influence stat bonuses depending on their relationship with one another – such as choosing members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, agile heroes or those with web-based attacks.
Alliance Enhancement meanwhile is a series of hexagonal-shaped skill trees filled with a whole host of stat boosts and perks for your entire crew. I haven’t even touched upon the ISO-8 crystals either; collectibles that again will further enhance your characters when equipped (of which you can eventually assign four as you level up) and can even be broken down or improved. There’s a surprising amount going on underneath the hood of this game and it’s this customization and watching of the numbers going up that keeps you playing through the oftentimes repetitive combat.
Clocking in at around twelve hours, the game’s story mode proves an enjoyable romp but one whose difficulty bounces up and down unevenly throughout. One chapter I’d find myself flying through only to hit a roadblock in the form of a boss battle the next. It hurts the flow of the adventure to have to farm experience just so you’re powerful enough to advance. You’ll spend a lot of time not just between playing the story but afterward too in the Infinity missions, a mode where you’ll both farm items and level up your team.
Each mission takes a situation from the story mode whilst injecting new stipulations such as stronger enemies, time limits and health that slowly drains but regenerates when you attack. Completing these missions is no easy task especially if you’re also trying to tick off one of their numerous extra objectives. Just like the rest of the game, the amount of content here continues to grow as you keep playing, the difficulty continuing to rise and the rewards greater. It’s another way the game keeps pulling you back in.
A lot of my time with the game has been spent playing alone, an experience that works surprisingly well even if your AI-controlled teammates are prone to taking a beating in some of the more heated battles. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was my preferred way to play the game. Multiplayer meanwhile can be played both locally and online, both offering a fun albeit chaotic time. Playing with everyone on one Switch also brings with it some issues when it comes to the camera. No problem when playing alone, the camera has trouble following the action of all four players zooming out too far or getting caught in weird positions entirely. With often dozens of enemies on screen and abilities being used left, right and centre the camera angles and placement can make it really tough to follow the action.
In spite of its flaws though, I still found myself having a fun time with the game. Sure the combat can feel a little repetitive or the difficulty uneven. Sure you’ll fight with the camera amongst the villains themselves but at the end of the day, these are problems that irritate rather than ruin your time spent playing. In essence, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is like the movie summer blockbusters it’s trying hard to imitate. It’s big, it’s silly, it’s sometimes shallow but every time I pick up the controller I’m always left entertained.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo