That’s my secret Cap: I’m always patching
After some time with the live version of Marvel’s Avengers, I realized that it had a lot to prove.
Now that I’m finished with most of the content that the “1.0” edition has to offer, it still has plenty to prove.
Marvel’s Avengers (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: September 4, 2020
So with the character factory that is Marvel, you might be wondering: “who’s in it?” Well, look directly above!
Ms. Marvel is the charismatic star that leads back into the light, with Hulk, Iron Man, , Captain America, and Black Widow tagging along for the ride. Kate Bishop and Clint Barton are arriving after launch, with Spider-Man (exclusive to PlayStation) and more to follow. Straight-up, it needed another character at launch: not dangled as free eventual DLC. We’ll talk more about the homogenized cast later.
As far as the narrative is concerned, Ms. Marvel does a decent job of trying to carry it on her shoulders with her wide-eyed approach to superheroism, but doesn’t manage to fully hold up all of the baggage involved. The voice acting, to put it mildly, is alright. There are some veteran actors in there, with Edmund Kingsley pulling off a spot-on JARVIS, but several (like the bro-ey Cap) simply do not work or allow you to be drawn into the characters in any meaningful way.
The campaign, which is a roughly 10-hour separate component from the Destiny-like live service mode (more on that later too!), is all over the place. It’s a very linear and guided affair, that at times feels held back by the confines of the MCU or Marvel guidelines. No, it’s not directly based on the MCU (MODOK is in it after all), but it’s very clear that Square Enix, like other developers, is leaning hard into the appeal of the blockbuster film franchise.
Part of the issue is that it’s almost solely focused on one faction that isn’t all that menacing. The Inhuman saga was always a polarizing aspect of the comics, and it’s front and center here, as are plenty of AIM robots. Putting Ms. Marvel at the focus was a smart move; Sandra Saad’s vocal performance serves as a proxy for the player, as we witness the nuances of each Avenger. Seeing her perspective (including the wonderful Avengers convention intro) is great. Walking in guided tunnels to slowly re-acquire classic comic book characters like currency, not so much.
Even at 10+ hours, the campaign is slow-going. It might be ages until you get to play the hero you want, who may or may not actually meet the fantasy of said hero. The drama of the tired “outlawed superhero” angle is just not enough to justify this approach. For as many approval bodies as this likely had to go through at Marvel proper and Disney, it might be the best that Square Enix could do though, given the circumstances.
When the game opens up a bit and allows you to embark on sandbox missions, it gets way more fun. There’s more room to screw around and strut your super stuff when you aren’t stopped every minute or so by dialogue or cutscenes that show cool confrontations but don’t actually let you play them outside of sparing QTEs. The Destiny comparison became more apparent the more I played it, as there’s even objectives like “protect the area” with restricted respawns and other action-centric goals tied to loot.
Surprisingly, this is really where the game shines for me: where Marvel’s Avengers soars past its aggressively average presentation with the moment-to-moment slugfests. Loading up into a multiplayer mission, any mission, and seeing Hulk leap across your screen from one side while you fly around as Iron Man is a treat. Messy or not, this is some classic Marvel beat ’em up action come to life in the modern era.
I don’t use the phrase “arcade-like” lightly, as the combat system could use more refinement. Breaking it down, everyone has a dial-a-combo with light and heavy attacks. Holding down the heavy button usually charges up some sort of smash that breaks shields, but you also have the option of dodging or triggering three specials (one of which is an ultimate ability). It’s very clear that the framework started as an homage to the Arkham Asylum series, but it never really blossomed from there.
Heroes have some unique characteristics — especially when you level them up and gain skills — but the combo system for the most part remains constant and is the tie that binds them. Thor can throw his hammer and recall it. Iron Man can hover and shoot repulsor blasts. Hulk can grab people and fling them around. I can see where they were going with everything, as a few specials like Hulk’s Thunderclap look cool and feel true to the comics. But in-between those sessions where you’re beating up things and smiling, it can fall flat when everything you’re fighting is so homogenized.
As enemies, AIM robots solve the “problem” of The Avengers straight-up murdering too many humans (you don’t have the “Spider-Man safely webs up all of the baddies after throwing them off a roof” solution here), but AIM never truly feels formidable. Whereas the Ultimate Alliance games weren’t afraid to get weird and throw all sorts of strange oddities at you at all turns, Marvel’s Avengers feels comparatively safe. Even in multiplayer, it can lead to a lot of “have I been here before?” gut feelings.
I also dabbled in the endgame and I’m not exactly inspired to keep going. Battle passes, which are doled out for each individual character — free for the starting lineup but $10 for each DLC addition — are slow-going and feel like a grind. There are only a few vendors available in the endgame, and gear (which often lacks personality) and resource acquisition are similarly grindy. Several outfits are outrageously priced and low in quality.
When Avengers isn’t getting in the way of itself with its tacked-on campaign, it’s a bit of silly arcade fun. If a lot of these concerns are answered via post-launch patches and the DLC characters are fun to play, there’s plenty of room for improvement with Avengers. At launch, it’s not going to wow everyone. Maybe Marvel wanted this out as soon as possible, but it could have used another delay.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]