Marvel’s Avengers is a big, ambitious, and meticulously-detailed game which finally does Earth’s Mightiest Heroes justice; and while it really is the game we’ve all been waiting for, it does stumble in some places.
The game follows Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Thor in an all-new story, which picks up during a devastating attack which results in the Avengers disbanding. Five years later, with all superheroes outlawed and the world in peril, the only hope is for Kamala Kahn to reassemble the superpowered gang. Kamala Kahn is us – infatuated with the Avengers and wanting to be something greater, and there’s probably no one who can’t related to that, making the story a relevant and endearing tale. Having Kalama as the driving-force behind the game’s plot allows us as gamers to have a third-perspective and evaluate who exactly the Avengers are, and it’s a refreshing look at these characters that we’ve come to know extremely well thanks to their recent big-screen adaptations.
Assembling the right pieces
While you do control Kamala a fair bit, you’ll obviously be jumping into the boots (or purple shorts) of the other heroes throughout each story mission. Each character really does feel different, and you notice it when switching between them. While other games tout characters to have their own fighting style, which admittedly often ends up just feeling like a gimmicky tagline, the respective Avengers couldn’t feel more different from one another. Switching from Black Widow, who is speedy and agile, to Hulk, whose big and weighty presence sends cars flying and enemies back-peddling, is an incredibly dynamic experience.
True to the source material, each character features their own hooks, movement speed, and special attacks, and in that regard, have relatively the same control layout, but different outcomes. For example, Hulk’s special move is a powerful ground-pound, but Iron Man’s is his uni-beam cannon on his chest. While this seems obvious, having such vastly different special abilities (not to mention the various gameplay differences between them) is incredibly enjoyable. If there’s anything Crystal Dynamics has got right, it’s the feeling of each hero.
And this feeling is emphasised thanks to the great presentation. As Hulk, the camera shakes and pivots with every Hulk-smash and leaping attack, while objects in the environment crumble and explode as you slam enemies through them. This environmental destruction is crucial in a superhero game and thankfully widely present in the game’s various levels. This extends to the sound design, with every strike and explosion sounding powerful and punchy.
As for the fighting and gameplay sequences themselves, you move from small combat area to a traversal section, to a bigger sandbox-like combat area, back to a traversal section. Due to this, the game doesn’t feel as ‘big’ or grand as an open world superhero affair like Insomniac’s Spider-Man, but its more focused approach does well to cater levels and scenarios to each hero, rather than spreading itself too thin and biting off more than it can chew, which would’ve been an injustice to certain heroes.
Each combat section has a nostalgic old-school gaming feel to it: beat up a few bad guys, a metal door rolls up and more pop out, beat up a few more, and a new bunch of henchmen with a heavy-enemy emerges. It’s not a bad thing at all, though, as like the game itself, shows its inspiration from old-school brawlers like Fighting Force and Gekido.
However, it is 2020, so obviously there’s a new age spin on everything. XP and gear is earned when fighting and exploring, which will allow you to improve a variety of abilities of different skill trees, as well as equipping the various gear to boost certain attacks or defences. While looter-fans will love the Marvel-esque gear you find (Pym particles, and what-not), thankfully for more casual fans, the gear system isn’t too overwhelming, and theres s handy ‘equip the best gear’ button for those who don’t want to tinker around too much and would rather be plasma-blasting baddies.
Secret Identity… Crisis
Where 2018’s Spider-Man raised the bar in terms of superhero games, delivering a heartfelt story and excellent gameplay that truly captured the nuance of the wall-crawling hero, Avengers tries to do a little too much, and due to all the playable heroes and grand ideas, it loses a little of what makes these stories so great to experience. This is because Avengers wants to be two things in one: a very cinematic, story-driven game, while also attempting to be the next big multiplayer must-play. And it lands somewhere in the middle.
This juxtaposition causes the game to straddle the line of brilliance on either side of the fence, but never manages to truly embrace being one or the other. You’ll go from one of the most heart-pounding, excellently-crafted set-pieces in one mission (that something like Uncharted or Call of Duty would be proud of), to a multiplayer-type lobby in the next, full of text to read and awkward silences while the game loads. These latter moments are not ‘bad’ per se, but just feel out of place in a game which leans so heavily on a narrative drive.
These pre-mission segments, even when playing single-player, do end up feeling like you’re supposed to be playing with other people, which is great fun when you do manage to team-up with some friends in co-op; but the way they’re implemented feels unnatural. This also extends to the mission selection screen, which is unnecessarily convoluted in order to cater for the multiplayer opportunities, while the loot and gear system also feels a little aimless, especially when you go from interacting with well-crafted easter sggs and Marvel goodies around the environments to kicking open chest after chest of loot. It doesn’t deter from the game, but it’s hard to ignore when JARVIS is constantly telling you about a loot-chest nearby.
This of course are gripes for people who don’t want some multiplayer mixed in with their immersive superhero story, but for those who love the online component will enjoy how interconnected the two elements of the game are.
Even with the unavoidable overlap of single-player and live-service ideas, Marvel’s Avengers is a fantastic experience that finally delivers what you’ve been wanting from a game about the beloved superheroes: being able to fly like Iron Man, smash like Hulk, and wield Mjölnir like Thor; while immersing yourself in a new story full of lore and and emotional beats.
Marvel’s Avengers is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.