Yes, you read that correctly: a shocking total of 140 Marvel characters will appear in Activision's new mutant mash-up, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. And if that doesn't make superhero buffs quake in their jet-powered boots with excitement, nothing ever will.
You pick a team of four heroes, switching control between them as you batter your way through dozens of enemy-filled missions set in 17 different locations in this classic-style brawler. Activision has already confirmed there'll be 20 playable characters to choose from to start with, including Blade, Dr Strange, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man, Thor, Elektra, Captain America, and of course, everybody's favourite mutant, Wolverine. Naturally, that's not enough heroes, so there'll be loads more playable fighters to unlock later in the game, with the likes of Nick Fury and the super-slick Silver Surfer turning up to join your team. And the best thing for Marvel fans will be seeing how each fighter uses their powers to maul enemies.
We've seen Spider-Man use his webbing to swing and throw enemies through the air like stones. Wolverine is as brutal as always, planting his claws into the faces of his attackers, with the big 'POW' and 'SMACK' captions flashing up to make things that little bit more satisfying. And Captain America might dress like a girl, but when he lobs that shield of his, it bounces around the place beating the crap out of multiple enemies and even wrecking bits of the scenery. It's carnage on screen, as you hammer buttons to deal the pain with one hero, while the AI gets stuck into the action controlling the three other fighters on your team.
Things get even more chaotic later in the game when you upgrade your fighters' moves with bigger and more devastating attacks. A simple RPG-style level-up system will allow you to upgrade your super-friends as you bust your way through the levels. Some enemies will drop bits of protective armour and various other performance-enhancing items, which you can pick up and assign to any of your fighters. You can also earn experience points from battles and level up, the game giving you stat points to assign to your fighters' attributes, letting you improve them in your own special way.
Although if, like us, you can't be arsed with all that number-crunching stuff, a nifty Auto Assign option will save you the hassle, distributing your upgrades evenly between your fighters.
For total masochists, there's also the option to disregard all the upgrades and continue with your standard abilities, although there are some nasty villains later in the game who'll send you home in a box if you don't have the strength to take them out.
Scorpion was the first major villain we faced, with a killer tail-swiping attack that smashes your heroes backwards. But the most impressive villain we saw was the giant Galactica. This huge boss stomped towards us, destroying a risen walkway as we ran along it to get away from his deadly finger lasers and hefty melee attacks. We weren't able to see how you can eventually defeat such a formidable foe, but it's bound to be cool.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance isn't due for release until next winter, but it's already looking like a polished action-packed brawler. And with the option to play the quest co-operatively over System Link and Xbox Live, we're looking forward to some cool online gaming action. This is one to watch!