A gem buried amidst a service like any other.
Platform(s): PS4, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Square Enix and Marvel-branded loot-based online action game
I’m not sure what the allure is with games like Destiny. Because of that 2014 online shooter filled with power levels, loot, and “live services” jargon crafted up by the Activision marketing folks, many other companies like Ubisoft and even EA try to replicate that formula in their own way. Some lived through their lifespans while others fail miserably.
In Square Enix’s case, they’ll definitely power through it with their own action game take that’s obviously tailored after Bungie’s finest. This is probably thanks to Crystal Dynamics’ knowhow with story and game-making, as well as the Marvel’s Avengers license handed to them on a silver platter. They know damn well they’ll be in for the long haul with this, and whatever chinks in the proverbial gameplay armour can be fixed over time.
Because as it stands, Marvel’s Avengers for consoles and PC still feels like a rushed product with a ton of gaps and holes that need filling. A shame too, because there’s potential underneath all this tedium-laced rubble.
Some Assembly Required
If anything, Crystal Dynamics did an adequate job crafting a comics and MCU-worthy alternate take on the Avengers storyline. Instead of some origin story of the team, it’s a “get the band back together after a catastrophic fallout” plotline focused on
woke crowd-pandering fan-favourite superheroine Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan. And the bad guys? A world-changing organization that helped make San Francisco a better place for the past 5 years when the Avengers went missing. Who happens to be Advanced Idea Mechanics, one of Marvel’s most iconic enemy factions.
Is it a masterclass in storytelling? Does it break the story mould and gambled with high stakes story-wise? Hell no, since the writers rely on the template set by the comics and films. Iron Man’s still a loveable douche, while Captain America is your straight-laced leader who gets things done.
All the writing is poured onto Kamala Khan and her greenhorn perspective, and it really shows. Just expect a good old-fashioned comic book story that features some bright sparks and heart here and there, and you’ll have fun with it.
Age Of Boredom
The gameplay itself? We’ll start with the good: the brawling and team-up aspect. Crystal Dynamics has created an instance-based action game where you and three others team up to brawl and beat up robots and all sorts of AIM baddies and robots. Basically it’s Destiny but with more punching and different hero playstyles that involves flying and some jumping puzzles.
In theory, that’s fine. A game of this magnitude and all-ages appeal should at least keep the gameplay simple and polished, and can be fun for multiple playthroughs. And also have a slick UI that makes it easy to jump into and out of games. The gameplay backbone and basis here is pretty decent, especially if you’re laser-focused on the single-player campaign where you play as different Avengers in multiple linear segments, taking down AIM and fighting a couple of famous bosses from Marvel comics.
The fighting and combat feels initially fun; you can zip around the field with Black Widow’s gear and also fly around using Iron Man and Thor. Each of them have their own defensive shtick called Intrinsic Abilities; press or hold R2 to either do a parry or activate a temporary ability that strengthens your characters. Thor can bring up Odinson power to power through attacks, while Ms. Marvel can use her stretchy polymorph powers to increase her attack range & damage by a tad. It’s not only essential, but each character’s skill trees open up more buffs and powerups for these character-specific skills.
In practice, and a few more hours later once you got your first few heroes in your quest, the game becomes messy and turns into a repetitive slog. On the PS4 version, it barely even musters 30 frames per second, with so many particles and effects (some even looking unfinished like Thor’s lightning) bogging the screen while hordes of robots attack your team.
The game relies on cheap parlour tricks to pad up its difficulty and extend replayability. Unblockable attacks that blindside you from a mile away? Enemies that don’t flinch from Thor and Hulk’s Heavy/Power attacks yet they can knock those iconic heavyweights down with regular lasers and projectiles of various LSD colours just because they’re the same level as them? Having the majority of the game be nothing but filled with repeatable grinding missions that consist of level design bits from the campaign?
Yeah, those are not meaningful challenges or fun endeavours. That’s the game being a tad cheap and asking you to grind harder for better loot instead of tweaking your mechanical skills. The Destiny style upgrades you get -the gear you get- all just make tiny incremental changes that just contributes to your ever-rising power level so that you can tackle the next challenges without relying on chance too much. Sure, if you match up a manufacterer’s armour for your character, the benefits get bigger, but that means you’ll have to go through the usual online game grind. The kind where it doesn’t get fun and your post-campaign slog becomes a checklist instead of a gameplay experience that teaches you the nuances of its combat.
You can get the grasp of each Avenger after a couple of hours in the game’s HARM training room. But really, it just feels artificial when you have to grind power levels and gear for Hulk because he gets concussed easily from small AIM soldier fire. Kinda takes the fun out of being an A-lister superhero, eh?
I Could Do This All Day…
At its best, the crowd control is manageable though it’ll be hard to see what’s going on at times. At its worst, it becomes a clusterf*** of low frames-per-second & motion blur beatdown where your random attacking and dodging might save your hide without rhyme and reason. Graphical glitches are all over the place from Thor’s cheap-looking lightning to some cutscenes bugging out animation and skybox-wise. I’ve also experienced a couple of crashes mid-game, but thankfully the checkpoints are pretty generous.
The beta I tried previously showed promise, but this US$60 product is the end result. And it feels pretty rushed, if I’m being honest.
After a couple of hours of getting the resources you need and the gear you kinda want, as well as fully powering up your favourite hero -Kamala Khan in this case – you’ll get sick of it. As I said, it’s fine for games to be inspired by the Destiny gameplay loop, but somehow nothing’s improved or of added value here. It’s cut-copy-paste work here, done blindly just to cater to the bare minimum of a US$60 product.
Heck, even the game’s UI and “moving cursor” bit is identical to the Bungie game. Being inspired is fine and all, but if you’re not doing anything new to make the core loop gameplay and navigation better or superior, what’s the point?
And those couple of bosses? I literally came across just three from the Marvel comics. Every other enemy is either a horde of guys driving AIM mechs, an AIM warbot, an AIM warship, and a giant alien statue. You would think with Marvel’s colourful cast of enemies, the main game you’re paying US$60 would at least feature a lot more than just The Abomination and MODOK. Whatever happened to the hired help like the Wrecking Crew or the science-based baddies like Graviton or Mentallo? For every few steps Crystal Dynamics they took forward with Ms. Marvel & the Avengers dynamic, they took another few everywhere else.
However, with a pal or three online, the overall game is not so bad. Though in this case, misery loves company. You’re teaming up just to kill time and getting better rate drops doing the same kind of missions done in better online fares. We did try a few games and while they’re competently handled here (no frequent dropouts, seamless fighting), it just approaches the bare minimum.
The Fin Fang Foom In The Room
That bit about Square Enix and its meddling? Well, it’s clear as day that they wanted a loot-and-shoot online “games as a service” title under their belt, and what better way than to do that with one of Marvel’s hot properties, right?
Marvel’s Avengers has less-than-ideal money-grubbing and company-filled meddling that’s sure to turn people off if they’re pessimistic about how triple-A games have fared. For instance, Legendary Skins are US$14 while special emotes are US$10.
For 21 cans of Wonda Kopi Tarik, you can get yourself a special Ms. Marvel emote. What a bargain!
Yes, Square Enix and others have said this is optional and cosmetics, but rare digital objects like these will entice fans to shell money out further because of its exclusivity. That, along with the peer pressure factor and other psychological baiting tactics, will affect gameplay and what’s in the game experience as a result.
This “unfinished” game has the gall to charge people US$60 AND also gouge people’s wallets and gullibility with its US$14 or so microtransactions, at launch to boot. While it’s cosmetic, why aren’t they even unlockables in the first place if they’re available in the base game? Let’s not kid ourselves; a property like Avengers knows damn well it’s worth a lot of revenue and money coming in. So a front-page microtransaction store is perfect for weak-willed fans to throw more money at it, as if the US$60 price point isn’t enough to sting people.
Our previously-reviewed Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, for all of its foibles, at least was easy to distinguish and was varied with its enemy mobs. And only charged for new DLC months after it came out. Here in Marvel’s Avengers, you’ll easily get sick of fighting AIM bots after the many hours of play here. And you also have the privilege to pay extra for that Legendary “real world money only” skin for Iron Man and Kamala Khan, obviously made ready for the game but made chargeable at the last possible second.
It’s a darn shame too, because having a semi-serious Avengers game with co-op mechanics, and a nice-if-simple brawler gameplay featuring an assortment of playstyles can be rewarding if it’s polished and done right. There are shades and traces of a simple yet heartfelt action game buried underneath the corporate-driven money-grubbing muck that clearly needed a few more months of QA and technical fixing.
Hopefully the game’s extra content post-launch will beef it up, including the iconic Avenger member Spider-Man. Unless you are on the PC and Xbox One version, in which case you have the worst version of an already ho-hum brawler experience. Until its updates and content elevates the base experience and assuming the Day One/Week One patch fixes a LOT of these game’s grievances, you’ll have to settle for Earth’s Mediocre Heroes.
- Action and gameplay is adequate.
- Good story that keeps you invested, especially if you love Marvel.
- Each hero plays differently and has some variety to their playstyles.
- Lots of collectibles & stuff to unlock in-game.
- Didn’t need the “games as a service” Destiny model tacked onto it.
- Doesn’t solve genre’s repetition & cheap difficulty.
- Bugs & game-crashing glitches aplenty.
- The microtransaction prices for a US$60 game, good god….