Just as a Marvel film isn’t just a film but a chapter of a whole cinematic universe, Marvel’s Avengers isn’t just a game, but a service you’re expected to play long into the next generation.
Destiny but with all your favourite superheroes is a tantalising power fantasy, and what developer Crystal Dynamics gets right is how everyone plays in their own distinct style - Iron Man flies and shoots his repulsor beams, Thor hits hard with both Mjolnir and thunder, and Hulk, of course, smashes.
But after we already got one of the most epic (or infinite) storylines ever on the big screen, can a video game plot ever hope to live up to expectations, and is there a game here that will keep fans coming back for more?
It’s to its credit that Marvel's Avengers doesn’t attempt to one-up Thanos and instead focuses on a more personal and fresh angle with newcomer Kamala Khan (aka Ms Marvel, who’s set to get her small screen debut on Disney Plus).
We’re first in her shoes as a fan fiction finalist attending an Avengers event that later becomes known as ‘A-Day’. Her fresh-faced fangirl energy, whether it’s collecting comics and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Thor and Cap, is infectious, and she continues this nerdy reverence even when she discovers her own ‘inhuman’ stretchy powers.
Sure, the single-player campaign does unlock the rest of the Avengers roster we’re familiar with, but it always brings Kamala back to the core. She’s very much got her own distinct identity, especially as a Pakistani-American girl from Jersey, but she’s also a perfect gateway for fellow giddy fans stepping into this universe.
The rest of the cast aren’t bad either, voiced by some of the biggest names in games from Nolan North (Uncharted) to Laura Bailey (The Last of Us Part II). Yet when the Avengers’ character designs and relationships lean so heavily on what we’ve seen in the films, the end result is like watching a B-tier cast play out a B-tier plot.
“Good is not a thing you are, it’s a thing you do.”
It’s a line echoed throughout the game. But just what is it that you do in Marvel’s Avengers? Well, you smash up a lot of things. When you’re playing as Hulk, then yes, that’s good. Less so however when you realise that’s basically all you’re doing as everyone and for everything whether it’s enemies, switches or targets. Hell, even ‘saving’ people means smashing something up.
There’s clearly a lot of attention paid to each hero, who each have their own impressive skill trees for you to upgrade, such as whether you want to add more to Iron Man’s ranged arsenal or focus on his melee skills.
But it barely registers when missions and combat are so one-note where they just chuck a lot of enemies at you. The screen gets so busy that any tactical play like team coordination or parrying goes out the window when you can just mash your way to victory.
It’s as bland as the environments (falling into the same generic enemy bases in varieties of forest, desert and tundra settings) and the enemies, all of which come from technocratic organisation A.I.M. To sum up, you’re fighting a lot of robots, or goons with high-tech gear, but mostly robots.
After Thanos and the Black Order, this is the best they could come up with? That Thor - a god, lest we forget - or Hulk even needs to smack around small fry multiple times just seems comical.
In its 10-12 hours, the campaign is entertaining enough and visually spectacular, but as linear as a PS3-era Uncharted game. And it mostly serves as a glorified tutorial to prep you for the Initiatives post-game.
It has all the trappings of Destiny, from the vendors and factions on board your Helicarrier HQ to the colour-coded gear. This will be familiar to anyone who’s played Bungie’s looter shooter, but for everyone else just wanting to have a good time playing superhero with their mates, it’s just deeply confusing and unappealing. Why are there over half a dozen different types of upgrade resources?
The fact that all the stat-boosting gear is invisible makes finding new gear even less rewarding since it barely offers any visible difference, which you’ll soon discard for another piece of gear with a higher power number anyway. More enticing are all the costumes taken across decades of Marvel history. Unlocking these however either requires ponying up with extra cash (when a pack of 500 credits cost £3.99 and a legendary skin is worth 1,400, that doesn’t come cheap) or hours of grind, which then exposes just how repetitive the tasks and missions are.
This is however a long-term project for Crystal Dynamics, with more superheroes coming as free DLC, including the PlayStation-exclusive Spider-man. We can only hope that the gameplay will also evolve into something more varied and exciting over time, otherwise it would be a waste of these superpowers.
Marvel’s Avengers Verdict
Marvel’s Avengers just about delivers an entertaining campaign fronted by newcomer Kamala Khan, but combat and missions quickly becomes a tedious slog weighed down by off-putting service-game infrastructure.
There’s clearly a love for the Marvel universe and some will be content with squadding up with pals for a mindless scrap as their favourite superheroes in silly outfits. It’s just ironic that last year’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 offers even more heroes and over-the-top superhero action without the pretense of something more epic.