I’ve been on a bit of a rollercoaster with Marvel’s Avengers. My excitement levels for Crystal Dynamics’ take on the massively popular superhero group have waxed and wamed a number of times – the initial reveal got my attention, only for the first gameplay trailer and the subsequent announcement of a games as a service model to send that attention packing. Then the beta came about and reignited my interest once again.
With a surprisingly excellent singleplayer campaign and deceptively deep combat, there’s a whole lot to love about Avengers. There are some significant drawbacks in the form of repetitive mission structure and a number of performance issues but, as it stands, Avengers lays a brilliant foundation that will hopefully be built upon in the months and years to come.
Booting up the game you’ll be given two options – Reassemble (the singleplayer campaign) and Avengers Initiative (the co-op portion of the game). You’re prompted to complete the campaign first before jumping into the multiplayer side of things and this is absolutely the way to go.
Starting the Reassemble campaign I was fully expecting a short and simple affair that serves the purpose of introducing the characters and their abilities. And while it does tick those boxes, it also manages to weave in a thoroughly enjoyable plot that feels straight out of the pages of a comic.
The Chimera has seen better days
The focus of the campaign is the origin of Kamala Khan, otherwise known as Ms. Marvel. A huge fan of the Avengers and a fanfiction writer, Kamala is the perfect avatar for the player, as she geeks out over everything that an Avengers fan would. The opening sequence of the game sees you walking through an A-Day (Avengers Day) convention as Kamala, interacting with artifacts, merch and the occasional member of the team themselves. It does an exceptional job of setting the tone, showing that the characters all have their own distinct personality – something that the marketing for this game failed to portray.
Of course it’s not long before shit hits the fan and the Avengers are forced into action. The Golden Gate Bridge sequence that we’ve all seen a million times then plays out, giving you a snippet of each Avenger’s playstyle. Following on from this, the campaign throws you back behind the wheel of Kamala, five years after the events of A-Day, that saw San Francisco destroyed and Inhumans (people like Kamala that developed superpowers) created.
The rest of the campaign tasks you with putting the band back together, while uncovering the truth behind the A-Day tragedy. This all might sound a bit run-of-the-mill, but the inclusion of lesser known villain M.O.D.O.K and the themes that the ostracised Inhumans explore give this superhero narrative some extra weight. It also helps that the voice acting is top notch, with each Avenger managing to step out of their MCU equivalents’ shadow and become memorable in their own right.
Who wouldn’t be star-struck if they met Cap, what a man
Overall it took me around 15 hours to finish off the campaign, which, to me, is spot on. It told a compelling story, introduced each of the Avengers play styles and got me invested in the gameplay loop without overstaying its welcome.
The moment-to-moment gameplay was another welcome surprise. Less of a button masher and more of a brawler, combat changes drastically depending on who you’re playing as. All of the characters have a light and heavy attack, a block and a dodge, but how you use them varies quite a bit. Iron Man, for instance, the character I played as the most, is able to fly around the battlefield, allowing him to reach flying enemies with ease. Black Widow on the other hand doesn’t have the ability to fly, but she can grapple enemies from a distance, making her great in ground combat.
Each Avenger also has an ability tied to a recharging meter, such as Iron Man’s repulsors, giving him some range, or Hulk’s rage that increases his damage output. Lastly, there are two special abilities and an ultimate that each deal a significant amount of damage or give you a sizeable buff. Thor can call down lightning, Kamala can dole out a huge high five, Hulk can use his iconic thunder clap and so on.
The ultimate abilities can turn a combat scenario around in a hurry, with Iron Man calling in the Hulkbuster, Kamala growing in size and Black Widow becoming invisible. With all of the combat options combined, fighting waves of robots and AIM soldiers becomes an absolute blast.
I’d wager that this AIM guy regretted picking a fight with me
All of the combat abilities can be altered and upgraded through a fairly extensive set of skill trees. Each time you level up you’ll be awarded with a skill point that can be put into combos, your special abilities or passive buffs. You’re able to fine-tune your combat to a surprising degree by doing this and I would wager that each player’s Iron Man would feel different to my own.
Of course, this is a games as a service title, so gear and levelling is present. As you work our way through missions you’ll obtain pieces of gear that raise stats such as melee damage, range damage, defence and so on. Different sets of gear can also add elemental damage and defence, so there is some depth to it, but not heaps. Luckily you can ignore the intricacies of gear as there is an ‘equip best gear’ option. Obviously, as you approach the end game content you’ll need to pay more attention, but for those who don’t care you’re all sorted.
My main issue with gear is that it’s purely stat-based and doesn’t change your character’s cosmetic appearance at all. Half of the appeal with loot-based games is the visual, so it did feel a little hollow when equipping new bracers, chest pieces and the like. Different outfits are present, but they’re either linked to story progression or you need to buy them with either in-game currency or with your own cash.
Each character also sports their own battle pass-like progression system that unlocks cosmetic items, resources, banner frames and what not. This I can take or leave really, as there’s no paywall to unlock the pass and there are daily and weekly challenges that you can focus on to progress. It’s not ideal, but it’s not that distracting either.
What is a little distracting though, is the repetition of missions. Most of the missions in the game, whether it be in the campaign or the multiplayer, boil down to go here, fight these X number of enemies and hold a point. The environments and enemies change around a bit, but after playing through the same scenario a dozen or so times it gets a bit old.
Just hanging out with the boys
Luckily, with six playable characters and more to come as free DLC, you’re given a good amount of gameplay variety to mitigate the lack of mission variety. The post-launch content needs to expand on mission structure though, as I can see the novelty of new characters wearing off quickly if I’m still going down the same AIM corridors, kicking the same robotic ass.
Despite its repetitive nature, the Avengers Initiative portion of the game is still great fun as you can play with up to three friends. Getting a squad together to blast through AIM cronies is a great time and you genuinely feel like the Avengers when it all comes together properly.
The downside is that it really is designed around co-op play. If you’re wanting a completely singleplayer experience, you’ll have a hard time staying invested post-campaign. It’s possible to play alone, but your AI team mates will be a mixed bag. They do an alright job at taking some of the heat away from you, but they’re closer in intelligence to Hulk than Bruce Banner. From ignoring you while you’re downed to refusing to bust down doors (something that only a few characters can do), you’ll no doubt feel more frustration than fun.
Visually, Avengers can be a bit inconsistent, but for the most part it’s beautiful. The environments are varied and gorgeous and the character models, regardless of whether you think their derivative of the MCU or not, are full of life. Unfortunately, the game isn’t free of technical issues though. The frame rate is fairly inconsistent, textures don’t always load in properly and animations will occasionally be at odds with the audio, but these problems don’t distract from the experience a great deal.
What does, however, are the load times. During certain missions it’s possible to fall off a platform, requiring you to reload. Sometimes this will be instantaneous, while other times it will take a few minutes, giving you a load screen instead. It’s wildly inconsistent and can take you out of the moment.
Wishful thinking Tony
Marvel’s Avengers has more than its fair share of issues, with repetition, performance and the gear system being the main culprits, but the positives manage to outshine the negatives with ease. The combat is deep, satisfying and encourages experimentation, each character feels unique and fresh and the campaign is one of my favourite in recent memory. The systems in place could do with some refining, but I’m fully planning on sticking with Avengers to see how it evolves. This game has a huge amount of heart, something that most games as a service titles fail to achieve and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher
- Crystal Dynamics
- Square Enix
- PS4 / Xbox One / PC
- September 4, 2020