CBR Visits Raven Studios, Home of "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance"

Wed, October 25th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT | Updated: April 2nd, 2008 at 2:32am

Video Games
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

Click the image above to load the "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance" launch trailer. Flash 8 required.
In "Civil War" the bonds between the superheroes of the Marvel Universe are being shattered, but starting today you can forge new ones because "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance," the new video game from Activision and Raven Software, hits stores. Last week, Activision invited some lucky fans down to the Raven offices in Madison, Wisconsin to play the game and to chat with the developers. CBR News was on hand and spent plenty of time getting acquainted with the game.

My flight was delayed by a half hour, so I got a late start, but when I arrived I got my own private tour of Raven's offices by "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance's" lead programmer Dan Edwards. Our tour included the programmers' offices the onsite recording and motion capture studios where the sounds and scenes for many games are created.

When the tour began my eyes were immediately drawn to the walls. Many of the walls were adorned with promotional art from the "X-Men: Legends" games, although I did spy a "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance" poster signed by Stan Lee.

The audio booth, recording studio and motion capture studio at Raven Software.
As we walked through the cubicles and various offices I saw many comic book posters, comic books, and comic book related action figures on display. Edwards admitted that Marvel gives the programmers a lot of swag, but the way they proudly displayed it showed that much of the staff at Raven are comic book fans.

It was amazing to think that the cut scenes of many video games, especially ones that are epic in scale, were brought to life in the motion capture studio. You might expect this grandiose, almost Danger Room style production facility, but in fact it was rather basic and seemed almost mundane. It reminded me of the drama room from my high school or something you'd see as the set for a one act play in a community theater.

The same could be said of the recording studio. It seemed so mundane for the task it was designed for. Edwards pointed out that it was set up for Foley effects. So, not only is the dialogue for the heroes and villains of various games recorded here, but the sound effects as well. It's all recorded in a room that would remind me of a dentist's office if it weren't for the presence of recording equipment.

My tour was quick because Edwards wanted to make sure I got some hands on time with the game. verall the vibe I got from the offices was the same I got from the Motion Capture and Recording Studios; with the exception of the comic posters and promotional art, everything seemed just seemed so ordinary considering what the scale and size of the projects produced there. Since I'm not really familiar with what it takes to program and design video games I guess I wasn't sure what to expect. The Raven Software offices showed that you don't need a flashy workspace to create great video games.

Once the tour was over, it was time to get down to business and actually play "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance." I sat down in front of a large screen TV and pressed start on an Xbox 360 controller.

I was instantly blown away by the opening cut scene of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier under assault by an army of Ultron Robots. Fury sends out a distress call that gets answered by four of Marvel's premier heroes: Captain America, Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Thor. You get to see each hero show off their unique powers and skills and then it was game time.

The game play should be instantly familiar to fans of the "X-Men: Legends" games. You and your three team mates fight through hordes of enemies, while occasionally solving puzzles on your way to a confrontation with a variety of boss enemies, the first if whom is Bullseye.

The game has also improved many of the features of "X-Men: Legends." Instead of having to keep an eye on the health of the members of your team, health pick ups are automatically given to team members who need them most.

At any point in the game you can switch between the four different members of your team. Since Captain America is one of my favorite Marvel heroes, I chose to begin the game as him. I had so much fun playing as the Sentinel of Liberty I stuck with him the entire first two levels. When Cap throws his shield, it's appropriately devastating. If you throw his shield and continue to hold down the power button, you can actually control where Cap's shield goes.

Next, Dan Edwards sat down and we started up a new co-op game. Since our game was going to be on a later level of the game, I was able to assemble my own team of characters. The variety of playable characters was just plain cool. Of course there were familiar characters from Marvel's film franchises: Blade, The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and many of the X-Men. There were also familiar iconic characters like Iron Man and Captain America. Best of all, though, were the number of playable characters that only Marvel fans would know: Deadpool, Luke Cage, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel.

As I was building my team, Edwards informed me of another very cool feature that makes character selection even more fun. As you play through "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance," you can unlock different costumes for the various characters. Each costume also gives the character a boost in different abilities. You can play the game as Ultimate Captain America, classic 616 Cap, or the World War II era Ultimate Cap. You battle enemies as Ultimate Thor or Beta Ray Bill; web swing as Spider-Man in his classic red and blue duds, his black costume, or even his current "Iron Spider" armor.

Once I had assembled our team, Edwards selected one of the Murder World levels for us to play. We lead our team into battle against a horde of killer robots including our team's own doppelgangers. The level perfectly captured all the twisted mayhem Marvel fans can expect from the villainous Arcade's death traps. We ended our trip though Murder World by battling the Rhino.

Next we jumped ahead and played one of the Mephisto's realm levels. It was loads of fun laying the smackdown on skeletons and demons with Luke Cage's many moves.

It was on this level that I got to see another fun feature of the game. Players can engage certain enemies in tests. In these tests you need to press the right button at a specific moment. It's challenging, but rewarding. I watched Edwards beat a fire giant in a test. This allowed the Thing to disarm the Giant and wield his huge flaming sword, which proved to be a very powerful weapon.

After a brief sojourn in Mephisto's realm, Edwards jumped ahead to the last level of the game. We selected our team and were instantly doing battle with hordes of enemies on the Skrull homeworld and, to make things even more challenging, Galactus was bringing the planet down around us.

Edwards then jumped us ahead to the final battle of the game; where you and your heroes confront the World Devourer with the help of the Silver Surfer. This level was as challenging as you would expect. Your heroes have to avoid the attention of Galactus, battle an onslaught of enemies and flip three switches. Once you've got that completed, you find yourself in control of the Silver Surfer. You must successfully complete a series of button prompts which allows the Surfer to fly around and attack his former master. Sadly, we weren't able to complete the level in the time we had.

When I first heard about "Marvel Ultimate Alliance," I was skeptical about how a game of that size could work. Now having played the game and spoken with the game's developers, I'm sold. The game has so many fun features and an amazing amount of depth. Personally, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy this week and send my own team of heroes out to save the Marvel Universe.

 
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