Marvel’s Avengers and associated Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of the biggest media properties in human history. From films, tv shows and of course comic books, you can find excellent Avengers content almost anywhere.
But it has been surprising how little the Avengers have featured in video games, with few big-budget titles to point to. But that all changes with Marvel’s Avengers, a new AAA release from Crystal Dynamics, who made two of the three excellent Tomb Raider reboot trilogy games.
And this is no mere movie tie-in. This is the whole hog – a substantial and well-written story campaign, and a whole games-as-a-service, Destiny-style looter. Crystal Dynamics hope that you’ll come for the first and stay for the latter, but after spending some time with the game I will need some convincing to hang around for those after-dinner mints.
Let’s start with the main campaign. Our story focuses on Kamala Khan – Ms Marvel – as she witnesses the spectacular fall of the Avengers after San Francisco suffers a horrendous attack. With the main Avengers ensemble disbanded, bitter and lonely, the story is a classic coming together narrative focussing not just on bringing the band back together but on Kamala Khan’s transformation from unabashed (annoying) fangirl to mature, respected and valued member of the Avengers herself.
Overall, the story is short but satisfying, and really does feel like a true Avenger’s narrative, with a classic three-act structure and enough character development for the campaign to hang on its own merits.
There are some downsides however, and despite the relatively short campaign length it feels a little padded out with missions that were clearly originally designed for multiplayer – or at least multiple players. There are classic stand-here-and-kill-waves-of-enemies-as-a-progress-bar-fills-up sections where you must try and defend three control points at once – a tough ask for just one player, and your AI teammates don’t seem to take the hint very well to stand in the other areas. But luckily each mission isn’t too long nor difficult so you won’t be tied up for too long in that monotony. And your AI enemies can make a difference rather than just stand there not acting.
Speaking of teammates, over the course of the campaign (and leading into post-game missions and the multiplayer), you can play as six of the most iconic Avengers (Thor, Hulk, Ms Marvel, Black Widow, Iron Man and Captain America). Now there were some concerns about the character designs when this game was first teased, but I can say that apart from Captain America, I got used to the new faces and voices without much effort. This is helped by some exceptional and well-known voice acting talent from industry veterans such as Troy Baker.
Other superheroes are coming too, such as Hawkeye and Spiderman. Speaking of, Spiderman is locked to the PS4 of the Avengers, which is a disappointing exclusion from other platforms. This is especially true as performance on the now-aging PS4 can be a bit wobbly, so for a good, locked 60FPS you’ll need to play on PC.
Luckily, each of these characters feels vastly different to one another while sharing much of the same inputs – think Super Smash Brothers. Black Widow, for example, is an agile boxer, with a focus on movement and dodging. Hulk meanwhile, feels unsurprisingly weightier, with slower (though not snail-like) movement and a greater focus on area of effect attacks. The only character I didn’t connect with as much was Iron Man, who seemed lacking in firepower considering the vast arsenal he supposedly has at his disposal.
Each Avenger has a range of combos and special moves to unlock over time, and by the end of the campaign I still had many greyed out. Each also has three main abilities, with one a super that lets you really go to town on whoever is in your way. They do take a while to recharge though, so it ends up quite a strategic decision when to use them and when to leave them be.
This is made harder as each encounter can be a little difficult to decipher. There are only so many enemy types in the game (most of them robots), so you might be trying to expertly dodge to get a damage combo off, but in sea of similar-looking limbs it can be hard to know when or where an attack is coming from.
Playing at 60FPS or higher felt like the right way to play, with 30FPS (the target on current-generation consoles) lacking the smoothness, fluidity and input response that makes melee fighters such as this better to play. With all the settings turned right up the game looked incredible, though it will tax your GPU to get there (though perhaps my backordered RTX 3080 may fix those particular concerns). There has clearly been an incredible amount of time working on the character models and animations, and it shows with the grunt of a modern PC graphics card. I did have some issues with sound levels being off no matter my settings, but this may be local to my machine.
And while the game can be a little too liberal with the particle effects, the satisfying way that your attacks hit feels grounded and realistic, though it can get crowded when the game throws lots of enemies on screen at once.
If Destiny is a looter shooter, then Marvel’s Avengers is a looter basher and at the core is a game about getting new shiny gear to watch the numbers go up. But upgrades don’t do anything cosmetic to your character (outfits are unlocked separately, and look legitimately good) but more egregiously didn’t make me feel particularly different apart from a general sense of being at or above my enemies level.
These issues, and my general satisfaction with the campaign meant I wasn’t highly motivated to go back and work through the multiplayer. Some will want to spend more time with these characters repeating missions and maybe I’m just burnt out on these games but I am happy to enjoy the story, post-game missions and move on to a new experience.
When new content and heroes drop I’m excited to return but until then Marvel’s Avengers has been a satisfying, short experience without the staying power that I think Crystal Dynamics hopes it should have.
Released: September 2020
Platforms: PC (Windows 10)
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix