A loot-focused live service game? Don’t make the fans angry. You won’t like them when they’re angry.
Ever since Marvel brought Earth’s mightiest heroes to the big screen (and proceeded to monopolise the blockbuster calendar in their wake) it seemed almost inevitable that The Avengers would get their own video game. It was almost more surprising that their various billion-dollar grossing adventures never resulted in a big-budget console tie-in, especially with DC finding huge acclaim with the Batman Arkham series and Marvel’s Spider-Man getting a solid run-out on PS4.
Enter Marvel’s Avengers, the first triple-A take on modern cinema’s most lucrative property from the team over at Square Enix. It’s a game that has a lot to live up to. While Square’s newest release isn’t officially ready to slot into disc trays until September 4, some have been lucky enough to access an early version of the game through its recent beta. I was one of those lucky people.
I must admit, however, I definitely didn’t feel lucky after slogging through around five hours of what my early look at Marvel’s Avengers had to offer. Of all the paths a big-budget video game surrounding Hollywood’s most popular superheroes could’ve taken, Square appears to have rigidly stuck to the most tedious, corporate and frankly boring one possible.
It’s not that what Marvel’s Avengers is offering is particularly bad, per se. Its story focused moments revel in the high-octane comradery that made the films such box office slam dunks, while its stunning visuals and cinematic cutscenes make it a thrillingly watchable spectacle. Yet, it’s away from the game’s flashier, E3-demo-esque moments where it becomes increasingly apparent that it has no idea what the spirit or target audience of the Avengers truly is.
Of course, for many, that’s not what’s first apparent when leaping into Marvel’s Avengers. The beta actually begins fairly promisingly, with an almost Uncharted inspired set piece set on the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ve probably seen the exact moment I’m referencing before, shown at every single event since the game’s E3 2019 unveiling. As a prologue, it’s a fairly solid slice of action, allowing you to get a taste for all of Earth’s mightiest heroes while plodding through a very on-rails sequence.
It also stands as a fun showcase of the abilities and powers wielded by each of its five iconic protagonists. Thor can throw and recall Mjolnir in a suspiciously familiar way to God of War’s Kratos, while Iron Man soars through the sky at speed while using his blasters and Captain America reverberate his shield off his enemies. Each hero has such a limited move set that it’s clear playing as one would grow repetitive quickly, but when switching between all five, it continues to make things interesting.
Following the action-packed prologue, we’re treated to a heavy-handed overview of the game’s plot before being dropped into a second, much longer level. Here Hulk and Kamala Khan (AKA Ms Marvel) are looking for the remnants of Iron Man’s old AI, Jarvis, and break into an advanced research facility filled with soldiers acting on behalf of evil corporate baddies AIM. Playing as only two characters definitely begins to make things feel more repetitive, but the strong dialogue and jokes between the infinitely likeable Kamala and her big, green brute of a partner make it the beta’s best section. It’s even capped off with a boss fight between Hulk and Abomination, which is more than I expected from a teaser for the game’s main campaign.
Don’t get me wrong, none of this is exactly extraordinary. The combat is a bit too clunky and its levels lack the depth needed to maintain an engaging, story-focused campaign. But it’s what a big Avengers game should be, focusing on fun character interactions, beautiful locations and explosive, action-packed encounters.
However, it’s here Marvel’s Avengers shows its true colours. In truth, this is just another attempt at cultivating the frequently blundering live-service genre which has seen so many games falter. Finishing Hulk and Kamala’s quest unlocks an all too familiar holo-map, offering players “strike missions” in return for tiered loot. You’re also encouraged to scroll through endless tabs of numbers, stats and “power levels,” which, of course, makes for an utterly riveting superhero experience.
The idea of making a co-op Avengers game definitely makes sense and there are moments where that central concept does shine, as you fly through the air as Iron Man while your friend below is eviscerating foes as Ms Marvel. But it’s so bogged down in loot incentives, golden chests and switching around Iron Man’s shoulder pads that it’s really hard to make that concept feel as effortlessly cool as it should.
It also means the missions go from high-octane, focused affairs to generic, button-mashing slogs, offering a handful of dull objectives that amount to defeating X amounts of enemies or defending four bases. They’re filled with spongey foes that take unnecessarily long to defeat considering you’re a literal superhero and provide next to no excitement when compared to the kinds of adventures The Avengers are notorious for.
Speaking as somebody who grew up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe; who went to the cinema at 11 years old with my reluctant father to watch the first Iron Man film, this isn’t the game I would’ve wanted to play when I got back from that theatre. This is not a game kids are going to be playing, jaw on the floor, on Christmas morning. They’re not going to be scrolling through how strong Captain America’s boots are with glee or chatting with their mates on the playground about what defence rating they’ve attached to Hulk’s fist.
And if that’s not the goal for an Avengers game, what’s the point? After Insomniac spent so much care capturing the spirit and energy of Spider-Man back in 2018, it’s so disappointing to see Avengers feel like yet another attempt to cash in on the live-service market.
Of course, it’s always worth seeing what the full game offers. Marvel’s Avengers launches in less than a month so it won’t be a long wait to find out, but for now, it seems Square’s completely missed the point with its take on the Earth’s mightiest heroes.