Wednesday, August 05, 2020
What's more appealing than the notion of playing as your favourite superhero? Being given free rein with superhuman abilities like flight, invisibility, super strength, or whatever else, seems like something tailor made for video game fantasy fulfilment. But for every Marvel's Spider-Man or Batman Arkham game, there's a dozen examples of stinky superhero fare, like that horrid Superman N64 game, 2011 misfire X-Men: Destiny, or any number of shocking comic book movie tie-ins. At the moment, we're not quite sure where Marvel's Avengers is going to land in the all-time superhero video game rankings.
There's no denying the level of ambition that Crystal Dynamics and Eidos-Montreal are striving for with Marvel's Avengers, but in its current state it's something of a hotchpotch. Movement is needlessly sluggish, gameplay often falls into button-mashing monotony, and, as one of 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes', the majority of the time you feel anything but mighty. Of course, this is a beta build of the game, so a lot can change in a month, but at present, Marvel's Avengers clearly needs work.
The beta's opening sets out its stall with a fun, linear sequence in which Thor beats back A.I.M. robots and troopers while wielding Mjolnir, spinning and swinging the legendary hammer as it powerfully crackles with lightning. The action switches breathlessly from Thor to Iron Man, then to Hulk, before you're given a chance to throw around Captain America's shield, then battle Taskmaster as Black Widow. It's a promising start, although the moment you belt an enemy with Thor's mighty mallet and they don't go flying across the screen and smash through the side of a truck, you quickly realise that you're playing with severely underpowered superheroes.
Even Hulk doesn't have the sense of weight and raw power you'd hope for, his attributes neutered so he can leap from walls during pointless, linear traversal bits and take down enemies in several strikes rather than pounding them into the floor with just one. As a comic book nerd, you'll be constantly questioning why Thor is having trouble fighting A.I.M. infantry or why Iron Man can't lock-on his projectiles. The reason is obviously because that wouldn't make for a particularly interesting gameplay experience, yet even given that as a basis for reining in the Avengers, the game still feels somewhat flat and anodyne. That said, a showdown between Hulk and Abomination is certainly a highlight.
An over-reliance on QTEs doesn't really help either, because it's not 2006 anymore. But perhaps Marvel's Avengers' biggest problem, in its present guise, is that it's a bit boring. Objectives are mostly variations on beating up bad guys packing rifles and mechanised menaces of varying types, or doing it while standing on a circular zone as a gauge fills up. Or maybe, you'll get to hit a few switches, also while beating up bad guys. There's a kernel of something really good buried in here somewhere, but it's hard to find amid fairly insipid button-mashing and lacklustre loot.
Ah, yes, the 'loot'. Marvel's Avengers' loot doesn't actually seem much like loot at all. Taking the form of Gear that you can use to augment your hero's abilities, loot brings with it a range of buffs and perks that can be levelled-up and boosted using resources. The trouble is, none of the items you'll dig out of loot boxes are cosmetic, so if you were hoping to deck out Thor with an enchanted jockstrap, nab some new gauntlets for Iron Man, or give Hulk a fresh pair of shredded trousers, you can't. Well, you can, but none of it will appear on your character in-game. That falls under the label of 'Cosmetics' – skins that change the wholesale look of your chosen hero. Destiny, it ain't, despite the promise of quite a lot of Cosmetic costumes, all featuring nods to various comic book lore.
Throw in a messy UI and you'll often resort to just pressing the 'equip best gear' button to sidestep the need to sift through uninteresting loot like an enhanced ribcage for Hulk or a lovely set of shiny bangles (again, non-cosmetic) for Kamala Khan. Cosmetic skins are cool and a great piece of fan service, with grey Hulk's Joe Fixit guise, Khan's Ms. Marvel costume, and specific armours cherry-picked from various Iron Man comic book arcs among the skins you can unlock by completing 'Card Challenge' tasks. These are the game's most interesting rewards, by far, but we're not sure they're going to compensate for such a tepid loot system. The best loot systems have you excited for what you'll find popping out of a box, but in Marvel's Avengers, it's difficult to care.
Co-op vastly improves the overall experience, as you get to assemble and take the fight to A.I.M., but then, what game isn't instantly made better by playing with friends? War Zones and bitesize Drop Zones accessed via the War Table of your SHIELD Helicarrier hub give you plenty to do as part of a team of up to four heroes, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses which you can master in the Helicarrier's holodeck-style combat training H.A.R.M. Room). The hope is that the full game will be more varied and interesting than the vertical slice the beta presents, otherwise it's easy to see how this could get pretty dull, pretty damn quickly. One month out from release, we can't help but be somewhat concerned.
On the basis of its beta, Marvel's Avengers isn't without potential. Wielding Thor's hammer does have its charms; Iron Man's flight can be empowering; Black Widow has plenty of tricks and gadgets up her sleeve; Hulk's abilities are devastating, despite feeling watered-down; and having the excitable, stretchy-limbed Kamala Khan as the through-line tying everything together in the game's story campaign is a neat idea. However, with anachronistic QTEs, an uninspired loot system, and unsatisfying gameplay (at the moment, anyway), the concern here is that Marvel's Avengers could run the risk of becoming another Anthem.
Marvel's Avengers launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on 4th September, with PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions to follow. The PS4 pre-order beta weekend commences on 7th August, before heading to Xbox on 14th August, then arrives as an open beta on 21st August.
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