For me, the best co-op games are the ones that make me feel like a total geek while playing them. Left 4 Dead did this for me, since I was constantly remarking how it was like 28 Days Later, in addition to other obscure zombie movie references. The only way the co-op game can be any more fun is if I am surrounded by other people basking in geekery. Fortunately I got the chance this week, as I played a game that is essentially a perfect storm for geeks: Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
I have played Marvel Ultimate Alliance by myself, and found it to be immensely fun. However, I simply could not find three more uber geeks in order to get the full experience. This week, I looked around, realized that I was at a liberal arts college, and found the geeks necessary (myself included) to have some good wholesome superhero fun. We had a great deal of fun, and developed a great deal of insight into the gaming and comic book worlds.
Our team showed the remarkable diversity of Marvel characters. We were a foursome of Ghost Rider (played by myself), Deadpool, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange. Indeed, such an odd assortment could not be found anywhere else. On a personality level, it was quite entertaining, since all four are quite unique. My Ghost Rider would just be growling or making odd sounds, while my roommate’s Deadpool was making wise cracks with Doctor Strange. And Iron Man was just Iron Man, mechanical and awesome
But once we got over choosing characters, we actually played the game and that’s when the game got good. The gameplay is simple, essentially a Diablo-like RPG; i.e. you have customizable superpowers and regular melee attacks. However, the Marvel angle of the game is what makes it so much fun. Sure you are playing a basic RPG, but you are playing as the greatest superheroes of all time. Indeed, this is what kept us playing the game so long. I mean, when you have Deadpool chucking grenades at enemies while Ghost Rider throws his burning chains around, it doesn’t get much cool. That is unless you’ve seen Iron Man firing energy beams while Doctor Strange is turning enemies into crates. To some degree, it is pretty amazing that you are actually able to do this in a video game. Maybe it’s just the comic book geek in me, but those sort of things make me smile inside.
However, let’s set geekery aside for a sec. I’ve said the game plays well, but how in particular? Well, the game does well by having different unofficial “classes” of characters. You have your magic/ranged characters like Doctor Strange and melee characters like Deadpool, with various sort of subclasses in between (i.e. The Thing is a beast of a melee character, while Deadpool is speedier). This allows your team to have a good deal of strategy, which our team used to great effect. My character (Ghost Rider) and Deadpool fought up close, while my other buddies lobbed attacks from the back as Iron Man and Doctor Strange. I was very pleased that there was this sort of variety in characters, and that the characters were not merely basic characters skinned to be comic book heroes. Also, all of us were at varying degrees of skill, from “pretty good” (me) to “not a big gamer.” We all had fun, and all were effective members of a team.
However, even though gameplay, fan service, and great characters are fine and dandy, the best co-op games have to make you feel like you are working on a team. Left 4 Dead is my shining example, but Marvel Ultimate Alliance does a pretty good job. Part of this comes from the fact that you can recreate famous Marvel comic book teams, like the Avengers and the X-men. But also, it’s hard not to have fun with your buddies when you are all playing as superheroes, as it’s a way to relive your childhood dreams. I played this game as a kid, only it was on the playground with my buddies, and we had to use our imaginations. “In my day…” comments aside, the game is just fun, and my buddies and I had a blast. We loved being able to choose from a fairly robust roster (we played with the Gold Edition), and found that there was a good variety of play styles. Plus, for the super geeks in us, we noticed many awesome unlockable outfits (the many forms of Ghost Rider was nice). Ultimately (I hope you appreciate the pun), we had a lot of fun with a game that is not too complex. However, we had fun mainly because we got to experience a part of our childhood in the form of a nice RPG. And what is more awesome and geeky than that?