The first Avengers movie premiered back in 2012. It took Marvel another eight years to eventually work with Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal to release Marvel’s Avengers on 4 September 2020. For a company that prided themselves for planning years ahead, why did it take them so long to make an Avengers game?
The answer to that is complicated, but there was actually an Avengers game in the works even before 2012’s The Avengers came out; by none other than THQ, a developer known for developing games based on licensed properties. The studio is now defunct and has been merged into what is now THQ Nordic, but back then they were still alive.
For years, the story was never discovered, until now. According to a detailed report by CNET’s Mark Serrels, the truth has now been revealed, and it’s extremely juicy. Let me sum up the story below:
In 2009, THQ Studio Australia was tasked with making an Avengers game to release alongside the then-upcoming 2012’s The Avengers movie. However, the Avengers was not yet a household name back then, which put the developers at wit’s end.
Without knowing anything about The Avengers movie, the developers decided to make a game based on The Ultimates comic books; which is essentially an alternate version of the Avengers (which the Marvel Cinematic Universe also adapted elements from).
THQ Studio Australia began development on the Avengers game with the goal of emulating 2009’s Batman Arkham Asylum, and that meant single-player, third-person action featuring weighty, close-quarters combat.
They worked on this for six months (according to former THQ Studio Australia developer Charles Henden), with the core design mostly figured out and the game’s levels already beginning to take form. However, everything changed from then on.
Due to corporate intervention, the THQ Studio Australia team were told that a new team of developers, including a new lead designer and some production leads, were being recruited to help with the Avengers game.
During the same meeting, they were also informed that their general manager Steve Middleton would be laid off, as well as a core group of the art team, some of which were instrumental for the development of the Avengers game.
It was then that Christian Dailey was hired to be the new game director of the Avengers game. He was the one who suggested that the Avengers game be made first-person instead of the usual third-person perspective like all the other superhero games out there.
Dailey was inspired by 2008’s Left 4 Dead, and wanted to make the Avengers game in the same vein; by allowing players to choose between four characters (Captain America, The Hulk, Thor and Iron Man) and fight through hordes of villains in a four-player online co-op game.
It was too ambitious, considering that online games were brand new territory for gamers on the PS3 and Xbox 360 back then. According to Dailey, the hardest part was trying to convince Marvel that all this was a good idea, though they did approve after the Avengers game was presented to them.
After that, things were seemingly perfect, as the development team went full speed ahead, dividing into separate smaller teams to each work on specific individual Avengers. They had the most difficult time trying to make Captain America work, considering that this was a time before Chris Evans was even cast in the role, and thus before the character became super popular.
One of the executives at THQ wanted Captain America to wield a gun, but Marvel rejected it. The developers eventually got the combat right (thanks to a designer named Chris Palu) and even got Marvel Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis (the creator of the Marvel’s Ultimate universe, so to speak) to write the story.
Things changed again for the development of the Avengers game when Rex Dickson and art director Lance Powell joined the team. They were American, and tension escalated between them and the rest of the Australian team members when they ordered the entire team to commit to crunch and overtime in order to finish the game on time.
Stress levels increased, and it ramped up to a point where a designer burst and resulted in him beating up a filing cabinet with an umbrella. That designer was later fired.
In addition, former THQ executive vice president Danny Bilson (who wrote 1991’s The Rocketeer and is the father of actress Rachel Bilson) revealed the Avengers game was too expensive, and that THQ needed to sell six million units to break even. However, he believed that the best they could do was three million at most.
In the end, the extravagant cost of the Avengers license from Marvel was too much for THQ, especially as it was facing financial difficulties due to wrong decisions and global financial crisis back then. The rest, as they say, is history.
In August 2011, the Avengers project was cancelled and THQ Studio Australia was shut down.
Dailey added that if the development had been given the time and the resources to finish the Avengers game according to the team’s vision, THQ Studio Australia’s Avengers would have been a massive success.
Alas, it was never meant to be. You can check out some of the gameplay footage from the cancelled Avengers game below: