One of the biggest surprises at The Game Awards 2018 was the announcement of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. The franchise had been dormant for nearly a decade at that point, and so to see it return as a Nintendo Switch-exclusive developed by Team Ninja was quite the surprise announcement. Sadly for those who waited 10 years for a new Ultimate Alliance game, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 falls far short of expectations.
By far the biggest problem with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is its camera. The camera in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a nightmare to deal with, especially when playing in co-op. The game picks seemingly random spots in levels where it feels the need to zoom the camera close in on the action, so if one player happens to step over this invisible line while the other is further back, the camera rapidly zooms in and out. Worse yet, the camera also has a tendency to get stuck behind walls, leaving players to blindly button mash and hope that they're effectively killing enemies. It's bizarre that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 struggles so much with the camera when it has never really been an issue in past games or similar titles.
The camera also has a tendency to hide enemies just off-screen, so players are often pelted with cheap shots. Luckily, the melee-focused enemies are all easily disposed of, so this isn't a huge issue except when it comes to ranged enemies. Ranged enemies in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 are absurdly dangerous, very accurate, and capable of dealing significant damage to players. Sometimes these ranged enemies are placed on high platforms that the camera simply won't let players get to without the full cooperation of their partners, which is sometimes impossible if they happen to be stuck fighting a horde of melee enemies. So the end result is that players are hit with projectiles that take out a quarter or more of their health bar and can really do nothing about it except get lucky with dodge rolls.
Combat in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is usually frustrating thanks to these issues. However, it's a passable beat 'em up when the camera isn't bouncing around like crazy, and the synergy attacks are fun to utilize when the computer-controlled characters participate. Sometimes the screen becomes a chaotic, nonsensical mess of superpower abilities going off and enemies flying everywhere, and it can be satisfying to see the damage counter rack up to ridiculous numbers while all of this is going on.
Besides the combat, there isn't much that Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has to offer. The RPG mechanics that made the original Ultimate Alliance so hard to put down have been simplified to the point that they can almost be ignored. Players can spend money for team-wide bonuses on a grid as well as upgrade specific moves, but that's about it. Later on, players can equip crystals that offer other bonuses, but they're nothing special either. What's worse is that players are discouraged from actually sticking with certain characters and leveling them up, as the new characters they unlock are much higher level and so it doesn't make much sense to stick with the weaker heroes. This really robs the game of any kind of satisfying progression, as players are able to leap forward in levels and always be on a relatively even playing field by just selecting the new heroes.
Most of the playable characters in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 are unlocked by playing through the story, but there are a handful that are unlocked through the Infinity Trials. Unfortunately, the Infinity Trials offer more of the same from the story mode. Sadly, some of the more interesting characters are locked away in the Infinity Trials, including the mischievous Loki, Elektra, and Magneto, along with a fourth unlockable character that we won't spoil here.
From a gameplay perspective, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is largely a bust. Anyone hoping that it may win back some favor by delivering a compelling story will be sorely disappointed. Whereas the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance told a fairly original tale and had thrilling, gorgeous cut-scenes, Ultimate Alliance 3 is mostly interested in mimicking the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The plot has to do with Thanos collecting the Infinity Stones, and some story beats feel as though they were lifted directly from the movies. The story is pretty barebones, fails to follow up on cliffhangers from previous Ultimate Alliance games (it's apparently set in a different timeline for some reason), and ends on a post-credits cliffhanger of its own that will also likely never be resolved. Players can't be blamed for not getting invested in the story if the developers give them no reason to be.
The plot is barebones and is mostly just an excuse for players to visit major locations from the Marvel Universe (mainly ones we've seen in the MCU recently). There isn't much in the way of transition between the levels, and so everything kind of feels standalone. This makes it even harder to get invested in the story, as it feels like the game is just checking off boxes to make sure it can include as many locations as possible.
The plot and gameplay downgrades from previous games aren't the only areas where Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 feels lesser than its predecessors. The graphics have also taken a hit, with a cheap-looking cel-shaded style and a general lack of detail when it comes to the characters and the levels. The Nintendo Switch is certainly not the most powerful video game console out there, but we've seen that it is capable of delivering far better visuals than what's on display here.
The art style is bland enough that everything sort of blends together. Even with thick, colored outlines around each character, it's easy to lose oneself on-screen. Some characters seem to blend in with the environment, and we found ourselves thinking we were attacking enemies only to realize that we were off in a corner slashing at the air.
Graphics aside, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3's presentation isn't a complete waste. The voice acting deserves some praise, with the actors doing their best with the somewhat subpar material that they have to work with. Many attempt to sound like their Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts, and while this is more of the game chasing MCU clout, it at least ensures that every character has a distinct voice.
This is important considering the large cast of characters Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 has, with most all the heavy hitters from the MCU represented, in addition to other characters like X-Men's Wolverine and the monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone. There are some glaring omissions from the roster, as it lacks major Marvel characters like the Fantastic Four and Cyclops, as well as characters who were featured prominently in previous games like Blade. However, these characters will be added to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 later on, mostly as paid DLC, or in the case of Cyclops, a free update that also includes Colossus.
One bright side to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is that it should have more longevity than the previous games. The story mode is pretty short and can be beaten in under 10 hours, but the developers do seem intent on supporting it post-launch with new characters and the like. The base game also has the Infinity Trials that add extra replayability, even though most players will likely not bother with them.
However, strong post-launch support like this only really matters if the game itself is worth playing, and we can't really say that about Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. At its best, the game is a mediocre brawler, and at its worst, it is an incoherent mess with a nightmare camera, frustrating battles, and ugly graphics. Anyone hoping for a return to form for the franchise will be disappointed, to say the least.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is out now, exclusively for the Nintendo Switch.