Experience/Opinions – Not quite a review. Not quite a preview. When you jump into a beta and experience something else.
It’s strange how regardless of COVID and lockdown we would have had a quieter year for Marvel movies. In 2019 we had Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. In 2020 there was scheduled Black Widow film and that’s it. Given it’s been 12 years since the first Iron Man film and 8 years since the first Avengers film, it’s about time we had a video game from a big AAA studio that had dealings with the MCU. Thankfully it seems Crystal Dynamics have made something entirely unique and new. Rather than 100% dipping into the comics or trying to recreate the film likenesses, Marvel’s Avengers is a hybrid of the two worlds. Jumping into the beta despite being very lack lustre on the project it still managed to surprise. Still there was plenty to unpack and it’s time to see if it’s worth assembling once more.
Let’s get the worst out the way shall we? The licencing of these big IPs is always a nightmare for studios and it does not surprise me in the slightest that Sony pulled the Spider-Man card for PS4 or that we’re seeing multiple product tie-ins for DLC colours and costumes. It’s just that kind of corporate buffet for a big IP, disappointing but entirely expected in this marketplace. For the most part I don’t think the main game will suffer for it too much. FF7 Remaster had codes with super noodles, COD has had food tie ins and Virgin Media tied skins to Destiny 2. It’s no different to the movies having promotions to match. No players are going out of their way to make their Avengers look like a Virgin Media team. The Marvel’s Avengers Beta was full of cosmetics, gear and DLC regardless. There is a news pop up loading in and for its worth this can largely be ignored. Just a shame everything above had to be there to make the most money it could from the IPs.
The UI is god awful. Its menu system is clearly designed for a mouse and the gamepad’s touchscreen and snap to D-pad controls are horribly clunky. Each Avenger has individual levels to unlock, 4 types of equipment, emotes, cosmetics, skills and various faceplates. It’s a lot. None of that carries between the characters either, you can unlock a really nice Ms. Marvel faceplate for your profile but if you’re playing as Hulk that defaults back to a Hulk one. The gear that each character uses is also crafted from junk found around the stages and it definitely feels like a game that was built and then picked apart to add this system. You can simply switch to the menu and have the game equip “the best” gear at the touch of a button but it all feels needlessly complicated. A “power” level is shown to easily cut through all the stats and see if you’re up to a mission but it feels like the studio looked at Destiny and thought that was the best way to go rather than create something new or just figuring that the game didn’t need it.
Visually the game is inconsistent. Marvel’s Avengers at the time of writing is both stunning and a bit of a mess. Everything has a great deal of polish and definition. When you stand still and soak it in, the world looks amazing. There are times where you’ll see some stunning graphics but Marvel’s Avengers dynamically scales the resolution. It does this to keep the frame rate up when things get busy and most of the time it’s very busy. Almost every encounter will have multiple explosions, particles, chunks of terrain and effects everywhere. What this means is that you can expect to run into combat and then have the visuals slowly degrade down into a blurry mess. I’d take a smoother frame rate over visuals any day but some of the effects feel like they could have been scaled back and nothing would be lost. The UI is minimal but having the health bar at the top of the screen feels odd and looking up at it takes some getting used to.
Despite all of these issues, the most surprising aspect of Marvel’s Avengers, is that it’s pretty good. The gameplay is a standard action platformer. Mixing light, heavy and special attacks to clear out enemies and jumping between platforms to get to the next objective. Occasionally the linear moments are broken up with QTE cutscenes or a boss encounter. The beta was a lot bigger than I expected and it was packed with singleplayer content. Playing out the start of the game where the events of ‘A-Day’ occur, playing as each Avenger before cutting to a mission where Bruce and Kamala track down an old version of Jarvis and try to save Tony from AIM. It’s at this point after a hefty chunk of solo gameplay that Marvel’s Avengers opened up to the Multiplayer open missions and the likely grind of the main game. Each Avenger felt different to play but the core controls are always the same, essentially they act as different classes;
Captain America – The Paladin
I could have easily spent the entire of Marvel’s Avengers playing as Cap. His shield not only acts as a throw-able weapon to be picked up and used to smack people around, it also can be used to block attacks, store up the energy and then fire that energy back. There’s something incredibly satisfying in seeing the energy charge up then to blast it back. It’s a little extravagant with glowing lights around Cap indicating the power stored up but when it lands it’s superb. Spinning in the air and throwing the shield with a satisfying ‘BONK’ as it collides with an enemy. Throwing the shield to take out shielded enemies legs and bring the hurt. He’s definitely a stand out star of the show.
Thor – The Mage
One disconnect with Marvel’s Avengers is that when you hit a human soldier with a hammer or blast of energy they don’t just drop. Despite this disconnect Thor’s hammer swings feel heavy and his punches weighty. He can use his hammer as a projectile and also as a weight to pin them to walls and floors. Floating above, bringing lighting down and blowing away enemies, everything feels very satisfying. Despite none of the movie actors taking the voice roles Travis Willingham does a great job as Thor and was the most memorable voice so far.
Iron Man – The Ranger
The ability to switch between floating and flying at a click of the button is fun and gives Iron Man his unique feel. The problem is that all of his attacks feel lacking. You can shoot like a gun, chain moves and blast out a unibeam from his chest. Every beam attack uses energy and that needs charging up by hitting enemies with light attacks. It results in rushing around to lay weak hits and then dashing away to shoot more satisfyingly. He’s probably the Avenger most built around the fiddly and disappointing gear system as it feels like there’s potentially gear to power him up later in the game.
Hulk – The Barbarian
The green giant is a strange character to focus the platforming on. His section in the opening stage is largely about dodging cannon blasts and jumping from smashed buses to chunks of broken bridge. Once you get into the combat he feels fine, nothing special. Hulk does have a few fantastic combat moves, the ability to just pick up an enemy and throw them around is satisfying. You can also unlock an ability to dig up more ground and lob that at enemies but his fights typically involve spongy enemies that really do detract from the smashing fun. Thankfully his thunderclap super move is fantastic and knocks even the spongiest robot to the ground.
Black Widow – The Rogue
It’s interesting that Spider-Man is locked to the PS4 full release as Black Widow feels like she was originally designed to be Miles Morales. The ability to zip line and swing to enemies and higher platforms feels like it could easily be swapped out for Spider-Man’s abilities. Her ultimate special is cloaking and it would fit nicely with the new Spidey’s powers. Black Widow’s moveset at first glance feels pretty generic but once you start using her combo finishers to counter and parry enemies quickly taking them down it lends itself to a speedy flow in combat. She’s the fastest fighter in a brawl and the back and forth was surprisingly satisfying.
Ms. Marvel – The Fighter
I had high hopes for playing as Ms. Marvel. She’s the most interesting character in game so far and the driving force for the narrative. Similar to Mister Fantastic (the stretchy guy in Fantastic Four) she can stretch and grow to throw massive fists or kicks at enemies with speed and elasticity. Being able to do Luffy’s Gum Gum Pistol attack from One Piece is great but but most of her moves are disappointingly simple punches and kicks. I understand that the character is a huge Avengers fan and this leads to some great one liners but after a while her excitement over Avengers items and past relics gets a little tiresome. There’s definitely some character growth potential hinted at in the Beta and I’m looking forward to seeing if the full story does anything with that.
Where does this leave Marvel’s Avengers? The solo campaign will be the large reason most purchases will be made and for the most part, it’s spot on. It captures the feel of each Avenger nicely. The multiplayer felt fun and I can see this being popular for groups of friends. When smashing robots as a team I was having a blast and it was simple enough to sync attacks. The constant connection lost error during solo missions will hopefully just be a result of the beta and not a problem at launch with the full title. Marvel’s Avengers feels like if it had a smaller focus such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine it would have been able to have multiple sequels as different Avengers easily. Has the beta improved my opinion of the game so far? Definitely. I can think of few friends who aren’t hardcore gamers who will love playing as Avengers and smashing their way through AIM. It’s just a shame that it has been needlessly complicated to keep it a live service. I’m just hopeful the final release is more of an End Game than an Infinity War.
Marvel’s Avengers on PS4 is due to release on the 4th September 2020. Beta code was provided by Virgin Media.