Why You Should Play Marvel: Ultimate Alliance

UPDATE: Activision has provided comments on the missing DLC in Ultimate Alliance:

"We're very appreciative of the excitement fans have for the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series and would like to provide an update based on the feedback we've heard from players. 


Think back to a world before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Remember when Marvel was always a single unified entity, rather than separating the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Avengers onscreen? In 2006, Activision released Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, an action/role-playing game that embraced the sheer breadth of the Marvel universe and delivered exactly what it promised.

With more than 20 playable characters, you could mix and match your own Marvel dream team to take on Dr. Doom, either by yourself or cooperatively with up to four players, locally or online. The game was an instant hit among both fans and critics, and its 2009 sequel garnered similar praise. But then the Disney/Marvel buyout happened, and Activision got cut out of the loop. The games seemed doomed to fade into the mists of Marvel history, along with Rom Spaceknight and Howard the Duck.

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That all changed on July 26, when the games returned as digital releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. If you havenꞌt played these games before, you’re in for a treat — but if you have, be aware that they may be missing a few things you remember. In fact, depending on your platform, they may be an outright mess.

Like Diablo, But…

If youꞌve played the Diablo series, youꞌre well aware of how to make an addicting action/RPG. Start with an isometric perspective, add a wide variety of character classes, throw in a system that mixes special attacks with regular light and heavy ones, and season with some loot you can pick up along the way. The Ultimate Alliance series is a little slower-paced than the Diablo games, as well as more party-centric and less dependent on equipment, but the basic principles are still the same.

Putting together your dream team of Marvel heroes is pretty much its own reward, but once you do, the gameplay is rock solid from start to finish. Nothing feels radically different between the prologue mission and the final boss, but seeing your characters get stronger and learn new special abilities is gratifying. If you have a group of friends who also loves Marvel, it’s easy to sink hours into couchside co-op.

(Hereꞌs a tip: If you can get four friends together, donꞌt try to coordinate a team. Just pick whichever characters you want, and see what combination you end up with. Trying to figure out how the characters justified teaming up will be almost as much fun as playing through the game.)

Ultimate Alliance 2 takes the formula one step further by giving certain hero combinations Fusion Powers. If youꞌve seen Iron Man bounce his repulsor off Captain Americaꞌs shield or Colossus hurl Wolverine at an enemy in the comics, you can accomplish the same thing in-game.

The Ultimate Alliance games arenꞌt deep, but they are compulsively playable. Between secret characters to unlock, alternate costumes to find and multiple story paths to complete, theyꞌre perfect for multiple playthroughs, too.

Crossover Event

Thereꞌs no dearth of quality action/RPGs out there, so why play Ultimate Alliance over, say, Diablo or Torchlight? Well, the playable characters themselves, for one thing. While the 25 or so characters per game wonꞌt include everyoneꞌs favorite, youꞌre almost guaranteed to find four that you like. Captain America, Ms. Marvel, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, Wolverine, the Fantastic Four, Jean Grey, Elektra and Black Panther are all present and accounted for.

The stories themselves are also classic Marvel crossover events, for better or worse. In the case of Ultimate Alliance, it's unfortunately toward the "worse" end of the spectrum. Dr. Doom has reassembled the Masters of Evil and leveraged their abilities and resources to gain a powerful artifact ─ I'm going to stop right there, because you can already guess how this story goes. Basically, Dr. Doom is up to no good, and it's your job to stop him. As an excuse to get a bunch of different heroes and villains together, though, it works.

Ultimate Alliance 2, on the other hand, tells a much more ambitious story. The events are somewhat closely based on the 2006 Civil War storyline, which was also the basis for the 2016 Captain America sequel film of the same name. Not only does the plot have some emotional weight, but it also plays out differently depending on whether you choose to side with the pro- or anti-registration faction. The resolution is a good bit more satisfying in the game than in the comics or film, too.

What's New?

Activision wants $40 per remastered game, or $60 for a package deal. Considering the games are between half-a-decade and a decade old, you might expect the company to add something really substantial. However, that's not the case. There are some slight graphical updates; beyond that, these are the same games you played the first time around.

But Wait…

In fact, the first Ultimate Alliance game may not even be as good as you remembered. The legality of the situation is confusing, but basically, Microsoft had the rights to release eight additional characters for the game on Xbox 360. Now, the PS4 and PC versions of the game lack some pretty notable playable heroes and villains, including Cyclops, Hawkeye, the Hulk, Magneto and Venom. To make matters even stranger, the Xbox One version lacks these characters as well.

Conversely, Ultimate Alliance 2 includes the notoriously short-lived DLC pack that includes Magneto, Black Panther, Cable and other fan favorites. Activision hasn't commented on why the first game is missing DLC but not the second, or whether the characters will be available as free or paid DLC at some point in the future. But if you still have an Xbox 360, you may be better off buying the Gold Edition of the game from the system's Games on Demand service.

Finally, users on Steam have reported tons of glitches and oddities with both games, from graphical and audio issues to controllers flat-out not working. I personally didn’t encounter anything that affected gameplay on PS4 versions of the games provided by Activision, but did notice that the audio during cutscenes was both static-laden and muted.

I’ve contacted Activision about the game’s issues, and will update the story when I hear back from the company.

Bottom Line

Some DLC oddities aside, the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series is well worth a second (or first) look all these years later. Although Marvel has been (Luke) cagey, the company did hint that if fans demand it, a third game could happen. If you can stomach the high price tag, gather a few friends and see how much fun you can have when you take the Marvel universe into your own hands. Excelsior!

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.