September 04, 2020
Consider for a moment, if you will, how challenging it must have been for developer Crystal Dynamics to ensure that six different comic book heroes feel just right. That Thor's hammer should feel worthy of a god, Iron Man's repulsor blasts should be impactful, Black Widow should have agility and balletic grace, Ms. Marvel ought to swing and stretch with proficiency, and Hulk should be able to, well, smash. Marvel's Avengers almost pulls off all of the above with aplomb, but somehow manages to fudge the landing with repetitive mission objectives, more than a few annoying bugs, and little incentive to carry on playing once the credits have rolled on the campaign.
It all starts so promisingly, too, the game's core 'Reassemble' campaign seeing Kamala Khan taking centre stage on a journey to bring the disbanded Avengers back together, and ultimately take on the mantle of Ms. Marvel. What follows is a thoroughly enjoyable procession of blistering set-pieces, interspersed with far less inviting multiplayer missions. It goes without saying that this is something best enjoyed with friends, but as single-player campaigns go, Marvel's Avengers is actually a cracker, telling an original story teeming with references and nods that even the most casual of Marvel fans will get a kick out of.
In the wake of an enormous disaster befalling a gaudy celebration of the eponymous heroes, dubbed 'A-Day', Kamala takes it upon herself to bring the team back together, putting her at the heart of the narrative. She's an extremely likeable, relatable character – initially starting out as a fanatical Avengers follower who wants nothing more than to be part of the team, and when she's infected amid the A-Day disaster, she becomes an inhuman: one of multiple victims imbued with super powers. As Ms. Marvel, Kamala can stretch her limbs, inflate her feet and fists, or 'embiggen' to stomp enemies underfoot. You spend a fair bit of time with the character, too, until she enlists the help of the likes of Hulk, Iron Man, and Black Widow, in a bid to bring SHIELD back from the dead and gradually restore the Chimera helicarrier to its former glory.
Before you know it, you'll be charging headlong into battle against AIM, taking on MODOK and Monica Rappaccini's army of robots and high-tech operatives. And then it all starts to grow a mite samey, as you tackle fairly uninspired objectives shoehorned into the campaign from the game's multiplayer missions. That means standing in a designated zone to capture it or simply clearing an area of enemies, before bashing a contraption to smithereens to sabotage the enemy. Boss encounters, meanwhile, are a lot more involved, as you chip away at their defences in grand battles of attrition.
It's not until you delve into the Avengers endgame that the multiplayer objectives become infinitely more engaging, as you embark upon a war to rid the world of AIM once and for all. Marvel's Avengers has been assembled in such a way that the quest for loot (be it gear or cosmetics) is where the long game lies, and much of that comes in the form of War Zones, Drop Zones, Vault Missions, Villain Sectors, Hives, and other missions that involve doing much the same thing you do during the campaign.
That said, Marvel's Avengers leverages Crystal Dynamics' considerable expertise and years of making Tomb Raider games when it comes to delivering sensational set-pieces during its campaign – in this department, the game is certainly no slouch. During combat, the level of pyrotechnics and environmental destruction on show is admirable, and each hero has their own moves, skills trees and unique abilities. There's clearly been a concerted effort to make Ms. Marvel, Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, and Thor all feel distinct from one another, and you'll quickly find a favourite, despite the idea being to float between characters.
Once the story is all done and dusted, there's ample content to explore in a quest to power-up your Avengers with new gear or unlock new cosmetics with the resources and currency you can find in lockboxes and breakable crates. There's plenty in here for fans of Marvel comic books and MCU aficionados alike, with collectible comics and skins cherry-picked from across 80 years of the publisher's illustrious history. It's more than evident that this is a labour of love, despite its shortcomings, which to be fair, are mostly technical. Occasional crashes, bizarre glitches (floating heads, stretchy arms that stretch for miles, spawning onto the helicarrier as the wrong character to name but a few), a choppy frame rate when things get hectic while playing online, lengthy load times, and the creeping sense of repetition, all conspire to mar your Avengers experience.
Ostensibly, the game's gear system seems rather sterile, too, but eventually comes into its own as you figure out the benefits of ploughing resources into boosting your best pieces of equipment, while balancing perks and stats. It does everything that a gear system should, apart from providing any sort of cosmetic attributes – that's covered wholesale by the various different looks you can earn by discovering patterns that can be 'deciphered' in the helicarrier's tech lab, completing daily and weekly Challenge Card tasks (these work like Battle Pass tiers), or via story progress.
This is all well and good, but when you're playing the game just to be rewarded with a different coloured Hulk skin or whatever, it's not the most compelling reason to keep plugging away. What ends up keeping you hooked are the new skills you unlock that gradually develop each character into a force to be reckoned with – what starts out as seemingly repetitious combat transforms into something with a lot more variation and depth, especially as you learn the strengths and weaknesses of each hero. You can really get to grips with the ins and outs of every character by training via the helicarrier's HARM Room challenges.
There's a lot more to Marvel's Avengers than meets the eye, then, and the core fighting and traversal mechanics are remarkably solid. Once you start to understand the loot system, the game becomes increasingly layered and deep, so in no time at all you'll be farming resources, looting every chest you can find, and making a beeline for the Gear Vendor or Faction Vendor, looking for your next Power Level-boosting piece. It's just a shame that the game doesn't quite manage to follow through on its promise, with dodgy (albeit mostly minor) technical issues and insipid objectives recycled ad nauseam.
At its core, Marvel's Avengers is so very nearly there, and while there are some glaring similarities to Anthem – BioWare's maligned attempt at aping Destiny – it's still an enjoyable and addictive game, for the most part, with a compelling gameplay loop that makes it easy to overlook the lack of multiplayer mission variety. If you were just to play Marvel's Avengers for its campaign, you wouldn't feel too hard done by, but clearly this is something that's built to last, and on that front we're unsure of where the game's fortunes will ultimately lie.
A cinematic score that wouldn't be out of place in one of the MCU flicks, and a cast of actors that put in excellent performances across the board. Fantastic stuff.
Character models, environments and cut-scenes are sensational, while the sparks and debris flying in the midst of combat all looks suitably epic. Sadly, a smattering of unwelcome bugs conspire to ruin the party.
The minute-to-minute action and set-pieces are superb, while each hero has their own unique attributes to master. It's all been expertly put together, and is the best Avengers experience you'll have ever played.
Here's the rub: the dearth of unique objectives for Avengers' multiplayer missions that make up the majority of the game aren't the most inspiring. The loot system, too, is lacking, offering little compulsion to keep playing once you've finished the campaign.
As trophy lists go, this one is only okay. Leaning far too much into the whole endgame grind, you'll really need to put in a lot of hours if you want to attain that hallowed Platinum. Rally round and assemble some friends, and you'll have a lot more fun on your way to achieving 100%.
If Marvel's Avengers were an MCU movie, it'd be Age of Ultron. It's perfectly entertaining and well put together, with some great set-pieces, but it isn't necessarily one you're going to return to again and again.