The Marvel: Ultimate Alliance PC ports are overpriced and undercooked

Last weekend during Comic-Con Marvel gave the surprise announcement that updated PC versions of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 would be out in just a few days. Back in 2006 and 2009, the Ultimate Alliance games were fun, cooperative beat ’em ups that wrapped in a few light RPG mechanics. Heroes level up, divvy out skill points, and equip basic loot—they’re basically stripped down Diablos where you play as Marvel heroes. And while they were never lauded as classics way back when, they tapped into the same, simple fun of classic beat ‘em ups like Streets of Rage 2 and TMNT: Turtles in Time.

They’re playable ports—WB and DC certainly did worse with Arkham Knight—but each has enough problems to make the $60 asking price ($40 individually) laughable.

Go, go, punchmen!

Port quality

The good news is that both games are capable of rendering at my monitor’s 2560x1440 resolution and 165 Hz refresh rate with no noticeable slowdown. But In Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, even though I was running at 2560x1440, the graphics menu listed my resolution as 1280x800. When I changed the resolution to 2560x1440, just to be sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks, it started rendering at a squished aspect ratio and a noticeably lower, fuzzier resolution. Since, I’ve yet to be able to return to true 2560x1440. Adding insult to injury, the Graphics Quality button doesn’t even have a function as far as I can tell. I click it and nothing happens. That’s life, I suppose.

The options are fairly broken and confusing, not because the game is incapable of running at high resolutions, but because the menus are buggier than a flea circus. Ultimate Alliance 2’s graphical options don’t share the same issues, but its menus and game audio crackles like fire over a loudspeaker. I'm not alone, either. Listen for yourself.

Steam users are reporting other issues as well, including bizarre collision bugs, frozen characters, and issues with controller button-mapping with no way to rebind. Mouse and keyboard control isn’t a much better option in either game. Ultimate Alliance actually has a better UI than M:UA2, which maps attack, heavy attack, and jump to 1, 2, and 3 on the keyboard. Stretch out those mitts before committing. Better yet, if you’re one of the unafflicted, just play with a controller.

Even if the ports were without these technical issues, I couldn’t recommend them. $40 individually or $60 as a package is way too much to ask for a decade-old re-release. Likewise, neither Steam store description notes that they’re slightly updated versions of games from a decade ago—there will be players that buy these new and expect a new experience, only to get a shoddy bargain bin redux for a month’s allowance. Let’s hope they see the Steam reviews first.

The screen can get a bit busy.

Nah-stalgia

I could see myself playing through Ultimate Alliance with friends, but 10 years later, its combat feels crowded, repetitive, and sloppy. I keep losing sight of who I’m controlling amid all the indistinct man-shaped characters. Beating up the same robot person again and again doesn’t have the charm that I remember. Not even a crowded couch can fix those problems.

Ultimate Alliance and Ultimate Alliance 2 are most interesting as windows into Marvel properties before the cinematic universe took hold. Thor channels He-Man with all his might, Wolverine spouts sexist garbage to the group regularly (“What’re you girls looking at?", he says to The Guys), and villains profess their villany with reckless abandon. Seeing dated, cheesier interpretations of these characters is endearing from a distance, but their depictions are also  a nice reminder of how far we’ve come.

Hopefully Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2 will get the fixes they need within a few weeks (and not six years), and Steam sales are likely to bring the prices down to an agreeable place someday, but until such time as the world ends, it’s safe to skip these.