Available On: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Avengers have become a household name. Although the original Avengers’ decade-plus domination at the box office has come to an end, Square Enix hopes to capitalize on the superhero popularity with Marvel’s Avengers.
Marvel’s Avengers is an action brawler with the online co-op, mission-based gameplay structure of the Destiny series. The action game shines best in the heat of battle, but the level design and loot leave a lot to be desired.
The beta opens with the heavily scripted tutorial level of A-Day, when the Avengers are attacked during a big celebration around the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, and Black Widow race around the bridge tearing up masked soldiers and rescuing civilians, while Captain America deals with an attack aboard their new experimental helicarrier.
The exciting mission serves as a basic gameplay tutorial and introduction for each hero. Each character has light and heavy attacks, a ranged attack, and a defensive ability, along with three special supermoves on cooldowns.
Hulk has all his signature moves, including leaping from wall-to-wall, picking up humans and smashing them around, and releasing a mighty thunderclap with his hands. Thor can hurl and recall his hammer and rain down lightning bolts, Iron Man can fly and shoot lasers, and Black Widow can close gaps with her grappling hook, relying on a combination of dual guns and escrima sticks to take out Taskmaster.
Despite their best efforts the Avengers are dealt a serious blow. The airship goes down, apparently killing Cap and thousands of others. It’s a sequence you’re probably already familiar with, as it’s been played and replayed in all the Marvel’s Avengers trailers. The Terrigen mists are released on the surviving populace, creating a super-powered population of Inhumans. The Avengers are disbanded, and we fast-forward years later with our new central protagonist, Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel.
Grounding the single player content with Kamala is incredibly effective. Though she’s not yet represented in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which the game pulls heavily from, she is a very popular young Inhuman from the comics, with stretchy powers similar to Mr. Fantastic and an endearing idealistic personality as a huge fan of superheroes and the Avengers. Having been transformed from the Terrigen Mists, Kamala embarks on a quest to reassemble the Avengers and take on the evil AIM organization.
The beta includes a single player mission where Kamala and Bruce Banner/Hulk fight their way through AIM soldiers and robots in a forest to find the old helicarrier. In battle Hulk is satisfyingly large and powerful, but not invulnerable. Stringing together quick melee combos is easy and fun, especially leaping and slamming down on enemies. Kamala is a similar melee-focused brawler, though she’s a bit more nimble, and able to swing onto ledges with her stretchy limbs.
After a straight-forward but enjoyable boss battle versus frequent Hulk adversary Abomination, our twosome discovers the old helicarrier, and most importantly, the War Table. The War Table is the hub for launching multiplayer missions, called War Zones. War Zones are similar to the Strike missions in Destiny 2; players choose a hero, join with up to three others online, and jump into a small-ish combat encounter or series of combat encounters.
War Zones can easily be played solo, with other slots being filled by the AI. In the beta, only Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Iron Man, and Black Widow were available. I quickly fell in love with Black Widow’s zippy grappling hook, rapid-fire dual pistols, and awesome super-powered lighting-staff.
Most of these missions lasted fewer than 15 minutes. Some are as simple as entering a room and defeating all the bad guys. Others involve secondary objectives, such as holding onto control points, or destroying a group of servers, all while being attacked by a variety of enemies.
Even though combat is dynamic and enjoyable, especially with multiple heroes firing off abilities, the objectives and level designs are disappointingly boring. Superhero games benefit greatly from the freedom an open world can provide, yet Marvel’s Avengers goes in the opposite direction with a series of small, repeatable missions.
The game engine and art style is reminiscent of the large-scale cinematic action fans have come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is on triumphant display during the opening A-day mission, yet most War Zones take place in a series of underground bunkers and laboratories. Outdoor areas are more enjoyable, but they lack urban environments, and in the case of a single player mission, was almost completely empty of enemies as I trekked through snow to find an old SHIELD bunker.
The loot system is another awkward adoption from the Destiny model. Of the six playable heroes, only Black Widow really uses equipment, yet everyone can find, power up, and equip random loot with various buffs. None of the equipment actually shows up on the character models, however, losing a major appeal of dressing up our digital action figures, which makes the Destiny model so appealing.
Loot, and it’s associated power level, becomes more necessary that interesting or exciting – not to mention comical when the Hulk deigns to gently tap his toe to open a chest after smashing his way through a wall. Hulk no wear bracer – Hulk smash!
My impressions from the limited beta are ultimately mixed. On one hand, the combat feels good and plays well. It’s fun playing as each Avenger and seeing how their styles differ. Different enemies will require different tactics to defeat, while still making me feel like a powerful superhero.
On the other hand, the Destiny-like mission-based and loot-focused structure does the superhero genre a grave disservice. Both Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 and Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 did a better job providing more interesting levels, more content, and way bigger rosters while still maintaining a friendly co-op atmosphere. Finally seeing the Avengers in a big budget action game is any Marvel fans dream, but like any responsible hero, you should know what you’re getting into.
Marvel’s Avengers is out September 4 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It’s rated T for Teen.