Marvel’s Avengers Review
The panic did not set in immediately. Iron Man crashed to the ground in a heap of expensive metal. I continued to do my job. Captain America was the next to fall. His anguish lingered in the air for an uncomfortable second. It was just down to me and Hulk. Next thing you know I raise my hammer above my head and send it crashing down on the ground. The screen is filled with metal and shock. It was akin to a mic drop. I had a smug grin across my face as Iron Man and Cap both got back into the fight. For a brief moment in time we all stood there, diligently, like schoolchildren waiting for roll call. The Avengers was back in business baby! Crystal Dynamics deserves praise for pulling off many great moments in the game’s roughly 10 hour campaign. Unfortunately they let themselves down with a very Jekyll and Hyde performance throughout the rest of the game.
Comic Book Origins
Ever since the teaser trailer for this game dropped back in 2017, Marvel’s Avengers has unsurprisingly received a lot of attention. I guess that is what happens when you release a game based on one of the most popular films of the last decade. As the old adage goes, ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ Crystal Dynamics have been quite cavalier in their handling of the PR for this game. From some perplexing marketing to Spiderman being exclusively available on the Playstation consoles, Marvel’s Avengers has been getting attention for all the wrong reasons. A lot of comparisons were being drawn to EA’s failed looter shooter, Anthem. Both games had received large amounts of hype and both were heralded under the “GAAS” (games as a service) banner.
Crystal Dynamics also failed to allay any fears with a subpar beta that rolled out in stages throughout the month of August. The game was deeply rooted in malaise over concerns that the story mode would be a disjointed affair. In hindsight, I could definitely see why. The beta felt like a disjointed and poor interpretation of the final product. To almost everyone’s surprise, the actual campaign was great. The game currently sits at 76% positive on Steam. Sure, Square Enix can tell you that the Avengers beta was the most successful in Playstation history. But don’t let that distract you from the poor mission choice and unbearable camera shake that was rampant in the beta. Square Enix may have been better served putting out a proper slice of the campaign, focusing on the narrative arc, rather than the weaker online looter segments. Trust me, the game fires on all cylinders when it does put that focus on the campaign.
The Avengers Initiative
The one area where Crystal Dynamics absolutely nails the feel of the Avengers is the campaign. It wasn’t just about smashing robots. It was about smashing robots in a way that made sense. The tone is almost immediately set in a low-key opening sequence that lets you control the central protagonist, Kamala Khan, as you wander around the A-Day event. This sequence is filled with fanfare and excitement. Kamala awkwardly gawks as she meets her heroes in person. Marvel fans would no doubt love the attention to detail placed in here to faithfully remake the characters. The introduction quickly gives you control of the different Avengers in a linear sequence that sets the stage for the remainder of the story. This bridge sequence was available in the beta, but lacked the context of the event or story. The game then skips ahead five years after the tragedy that infected San Francisco. The Avengers have all but disbanded, and robots now menacingly prowl in every street corner.
Admittedly, the story itself is quite generic and cliched. But there’s a distinct sense of satisfaction from playing through the roughly 10 hour campaign. Its almost like the gaming equivalent of comfort food. You know what to expect, but you enjoy it anyway. The missions themselves take you from locale to locale as you fight an increasingly hostile army of robots controlled by AIM. The objectives themselves rarely vary. These often include securing an area or protecting an ally. The game also features several high action set pieces, but would it really be an Avengers game without a few sequences that would make Michael Bay blush?
What really ties in the entire campaign is the brilliant characterization of Kamala Khan. She manages to serve as the perfect foil to ground the other characters. Her optimism is what ties in the entire group. You embark on a journey as Kamala Khan (who turns into Ms. Marvel), as she tries to reassemble the Avengers. You steadily recruit different Avengers and grow your base. This leads to a satisfying sense of progression as you can see tangibly notice the difference that you make. Speaking of characters, every Avenger has their own distinct style of fighting. Which leads me to the gameplay…
Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge
The 5 D’s of Dodgeball is often not something I keep in mind while playing a game. Marvel’s Avengers made me reassess my most pressing thoughts. Imagine this, you’re surrounded by about 30 enemies, and 10 of them are shooting at you with projectiles. Most games would make these projectiles slow and soft hitting. Marvel’s Avengers is not most games. When you’re not encased in a screeching metal cacophony of robots. You’re being shot at by robot snipers or turrets. Fortunately, every hero has a dodge button that is easy to perform. Unfortunately, the timing for this dodge would not be out of place in a Dark Souls game. With a relatively small dodge window and lack of iFrames, it felt extra punishing to lose a quarter of my health because I mistimed one small dodge. More annoyingly, these missiles also served to stagger your characters, interrupting combo chains. I definitely felt a bit of ludo-narrative dissonance when I got staggered as the Hulk due to a tiny missile bouncing off my chest.
When you’re not dodging a missile, you’re free to enjoy the rest of the game. Which surprisingly, has a pretty fluid combat flow. As touched on previously, each character feels wildly different. The Hulk bulldozes his way through enemies, destroying cars and leaving metal puddles in his wake. Iron Man can float in the air, focusing on enemies with his repulsor shots. I really enjoyed playing someone like Black Widow, sneaking around the battlefield while invisible, shooting at enemies with my pistols. This variety in game play really helps drive the game forward. The repetitive mission structure throughout the campaign never became tiring as it was always freshened up by the usage of a different hero.
All of the game’s six playable heroes also have deep skill trees that allow you to customize abilities and increase power. Want to throw your hammer as Thor? Cool, you can do that. Want to add lightning to that hammer so it sparks off and hits multiple enemies? Also possible. I felt a great sense of pride and accomplishment as I leveled up each hero to unlock new skills. In my eyes, it is a cardinal sin that this progression was omitted from the beta.
Each hero also has access to two heroic abilities and one ultimate ability. These are extremely strong abilities that can often change the tide in combat. Just when I was feeling overwhelmed by a surge of enemies, I was able to pop my ultimate ability as Thor, the aptly named ‘Bifrost,’ and teleport 10 metres away, laying waste to several enemies in my path. The cooldowns on some of these abilities definitely felt too long, but there is gear you can find that significantly reduces these times. The gameplay in Marvel’s Avengers is why I’ll never agree to the Anthem comparisons. Anthem was so devoid of any fun it was a crime. Avengers unscrews those shackles and lets you run wild for the most part.
Its not just the heroes that look good fighting. The game also contains some stunning visuals. Without spoiling too much, the locales featured all look distinct and great. The characters have stunning detail to them. The animations all feel smooth, with the exception of the walking animations for a few of the characters. Why does Black Widow look so hilarious running around? Hulk in particular feels vicious to play. Crystal Dynamics have also scaled down the rampant camera shake that plagued the beta. The camera no longer shakes like a violent explosion has gone off every second in the game. This is a good change for those players that were feeling nauseous after playing the beta.
Unfortunately not everything is hunky-dory. Marvel’s Avengers is plagued by some absolutely terrible frame drops on console. I played on a base PS4 and there were definitely times where the fps dropped so low I thought I was looking at a comic book slideshow instead of a game. These frame drops were occurring a bit too often for my liking. There has also been multiple reports of terrible performance or bugs on other platforms. Some unfortunate players even had bosses disappear. Others have had more serious problems like Challenge Card progress not tracking or skins being deleted. Thankfully it seems like Crystal Dynamics has been taking these issues very seriously and have advised that they are working on fixes for most of these bugs. I do however, fear that some of the performance-related issues may only be fixed when the next-generation consoles release.
Friends With The Benedicts
Just like the lovable characters of Trailer Park Boys (Editor’s Note: We apologize for this reference as Arvind has been binge watching TPB in his spare time), Avengers proves that fighting is more fun with friends. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have taken this concept and sloppily put it at the forefront of the game. This results in a confusing and downright jarring experience once the credits roll in the campaign. What this results in is a Destiny-style looter, with all the problems of Destiny. It was always going to be hard to put meaningful loot in an Avengers game, Crystal Dynamics has dealt with this problem by not trying at all. None of the loot I picked up ever felt like “waohhhhhhhhh I need this item”. Instead I was just thinking, “cool, a higher number, I’ll put that on.” This led to an almost arbitrary process where I was chopping and changing loot throughout the campaign to get my
Light Power Level up. I have some optimism that things may change once I reach the absolute highest Power Level, but for now I’m not holding my breath on that occurring.
Worse than the loot is the multiplayer mission design. You pick a mission that you want to do, and the heroes you want to do it with, and set off on your merry way. In theory, there is no issue with this. However, the execution here is so off the mark it made me wonder if the Campaign was developed by the same team. The missions are quite bland and contain the same level designs. That is right. The same level design. I could not in good faith tell you the differences between the missions, apart from the objective. After doing so many of them, they all just started to blur into one nightmarish mission type. There were also assignments to pick up from different vendors a la Destiny. These smaller assignments can be completed alongside other missions. Completing set objectives would also give you points towards the hero’s Challenge Card (Battle Pass).
The monotony here is alleviated by the different ‘iconic’ missions you can do for each character. These often include some sense of narrative purpose. There are also “HARM Rooms”, which serve as a wave-based elimination mission. You have to complete 10 waves inside a small room. I’ve yet to complete any of the endgame ‘HIVE’ missions but these feel a lot like HARM Rooms with extra steps. Luckily for Crystal Dynamics, the game play felt satisfying enough that I never felt inclined to stop. But this does go with the caveat, that if you don’t enjoy grinding the same select few mission types over and over again, Marvel’s Avengers definitely won’t be for you. These missions also highlight some awful design choices. For example, Captain America cannot break down doors. Yes, you did read that correctly. The ramifications of this choice are that you may miss certain chests because they were behind the world’s strongest door.
We’re In The Endgame Now
Overall, I felt conflicted by the end of my roughly 25 hours with this game. There were aspects of this game I truly enjoyed, and the moment-to-moment action is very appealing. But having played through the excellent campaign, the multiplayer aspect of the game does leave a sour taste in my mouth of what could have been. It will be interesting to see in which direction Crystal Dynamics takes this game. They’ve already announced that future characters will be free and two seems to be coming quite quickly. But there are also so many core design choices that need to be overhauled. I think if you’re a hardcore Marvel fan that this is an easy game to pick up and enjoy. There’s enough content in here to satisfy most fans. If you’re on the fence about this game it is probably worth waiting a few months for some of the more pressing issues to be fixed. Live by the GAAS sword, die by the GAAS sword.
You can buy Marvel’s Avengers on Steam here.