Marvel’s Avengers review in progress – too much game and not enough fun
GameCentral offers its initial verdict on Square Enix’s big budget Marvel tie-in and finds a game with a severe identity problem.
For some people there’s no such thing as a video game that is too long. They reject the suggestion that the likes of Alien Isolation or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, or even The Last Of Us Part 2, would have been better games if they were shorter, more focused experiences. If you also object to the idea that less is more, at least when paying for a £60 video game, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Marvel’s Avengers. At the moment though, it feels like at least three different games awkwardly jostling for attention, only one of which is genuinely interesting.
Before we start we’ll emphasise that this is a review in progress and not only have we not completed the story campaign but we’ve only dabbled with the multiplayer (although we did also play it during the beta); so it’s going to be early next week before we can offer a final review.
The game itself advises you to complete the story first, to avoid spoilers, but there are co-op sections during the campaign that can be played either with a friend or a randomly matchmade ally. On top of this is an end game mode that is designed to mimic multiplayer looter shooters such as Destiny and carry on for years with new characters constantly being added as free DLC. Although at the moment that feels more like a threat than a promise.
If you played the beta you’ll know it was extremely generous in the amount and variety of missions you could play – another indication of the game’s overall size – which you almost come to regret when you have to play through those same first few hours again. Except, the tutorial-like stage on the Golden Gate Bridge is not actually the opening of the game. Instead, it begins with Kamala Khan, the future Ms. Marvel, winning a trip to meet the Avengers on a new experimental helicarrier powered by a Terrigen power source – which if you know your comic books will seem a very bad idea indeed.
Developer Crystal Dynamics has always said that Kamala is the central character in the game, but the true extent of that statement is not obvious until you start playing the story from the beginning. Although you frequently take control of all five established heroes (Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, and Captain America) she remains the main point-of-view character and so far at least this often feels like Kamala Khan: The Game. Importantly, that’s also when it is at its most entertaining.
For the first couple of hours this plays out almost as if it’s a sister title to Marvel’s Spider-Man, as Kamala’s parents are introduced, she discovers the conspiracy surrounding the Avengers disbandment, and you get to learn the controls as she scampers across rooftops and sneaks through a memorial park to avoid robot policeman.
These sections are a world away from the scrappy brawling that makes up the majority of the game and while the plot itself is not very interesting Kamala herself is a delight. Just as in the comics, she’s a hardcore superhero fan and her infectious enthusiasm and inherent likeability manages to paper over what would otherwise be a pretty dull sequence of cut scenes and character interactions.
Her powers are based around being able to stretch her body, including growing to giant-sized, which is probably going to look pretty goofy when she makes her film debut. In the context of a video game it seems less silly though and works very well mechanically since it means you don’t have to worry so much about judging distance when attacking, while she can also grab onto ledges and poles almost in imitation of web-swinging.
Kamala has not been in any of the movies yet and you soon begin to wonder whether the game shouldn’t have gone that same route for all of the main characters. There are several conceptual problems with Marvel’s Avengers but one of the core ones is the way it tries to mimic the look of the movies so closely. Hardware like the helicarrier and Iron Man’s suits are almost identical, but all the characters look like cosplay wannabes, with soundalike voiceovers that are neither accurate impressions nor sufficiently different to offer something new.
The art design is disappointingly unadventurous at every step, with an uninteresting grounded look that fails to embrace the intrinsic silliness of comics or the novelty of real actors dressing up as superheroes. Instead, it just looks like a knock-off of the movies, like those fake Disney cartoons that pound shops used to trick your nan into buying at Christmas.
Kamala’s utterly charming but because of the way the story’s set up all the other Avengers have to go through the same routine of moping about and then finally getting back into character to fight evil. An evil which is represented for 90% of the game as a legion of non-speaking robots. The big bad is MODOK, who can control robots with his mind, but so far at least there’s precious few other supervillains in the game.
Some do turn up, such as Taskmaster and Abomination, but their appearances are rare and all too brief, which is a terrible decision in terms of both variety and ejecting some sort of personality into the game. Everybody still spends most of their time quipping, especially Tony Stark, but he’s either talking to himself or his team-mates, with very little banter aimed at anyone else because they’re just mindless robots.
In gameplay terms the combat is enjoyable, there’s no denying that. Although each character has a similar set of controls the game does very well at portraying their individual moves and abilities. Plus, the combat and sound design is good enough to make every punch seem eventful, even when it’s aimed at the 1,000th synthoid of the day.
What is less enjoyable is the loot system, which seems to have been duct-taped onto the game for no good reason at all. It’s not even really for microtransactions because they’re all aimed at cosmetic outfits that don’t change the gameplay. This means you spend the entire game picking up a new chest piece or gauntlet every few minutes – which you then have to switch to a menu to swap in, before using for a few more minutes and swapping out for a new one.
Gear can be upgraded, and some of them have perks, but the whole thing not only makes no sense in context (what does changing what bracelet Kamala wears have to do with increasing her stats?) but is fundamentally uninteresting because, unlike Destiny, it makes no physical difference to your costume and causes only an imperceptible change to your abilities.
When many people first saw the game they immediately starting pointing out comparisons to Marvel Ultimate Alliance and the Lego games and while Marvel’s Avengers has a much bigger budget, and much more involved combat, it’s not necessarily any more entertaining. Fights, especially co-op fights, quickly devolve into a mindless display of button-mashing and over-the-top visuals, that make it very difficult to follow what you’re doing, let alone anyone else.
If this was Marvel’s Ms. Marvel then we can imagine it would’ve turned out to be a great game, but clearly that doesn’t have the same sales potential as something called Marvel’s Avengers. And considering the beta is the most successful in PlayStation history, with six million people opting to download it, you’d have to assume Square Enix made the right choice.
Whether players will be quite as enthusiastic after repeating the same mission objectives for the hundredth time, just in a slightly different location (that still lacks any personality or sense of place) we’ll have to see. But at the moment we can’t help wishing this was a considerably smaller game with fewer heroes and a lot more villains.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewing), Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, PC, and Stadia
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics and Eidos-Montréal
Release Date: 4th September 2020
Age Rating: 16
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