Crystal Dynamic's Marvel's Avengers is now out. The Tomb Raider Studio has bought the comic book heroes to live as a third-person brawling looter, similar to Bungie's Destiny games.
I played the Avengers closed beta on PlayStation 4 and the open beta on PC. I wasn't impressed. To be honest, I couldn't understand how Marvel, publisher Square Enix and Crystal Dynamic, outfits that all should know better, managed to create such a misstep.
But this isn't my first rodeo. As tempting as it was to write a scathing beta preview/review, I sat on my thoughts hoping that the full game offered me more. And, it does. Sort of. Whilst the beta just sampled some of the early gameplay, the full game offers context and narrative that I found surprisingly important.
The campaign game starts with an accident that is blamed on the Avengers, causing the death of Captain America and as a result the super-hero group disbands. As a result of the incident, many people have developed super-powers. One of those people is die-hard Avengers fan Kamala Khan AKA Ms. Marvel. And it's through Kamala's eyes that the story unfolds.
It's important to understand that whilst the game has been clearly influenced by the Marvel movies, it is not a tie-in. In a similar way to the recent Spider-Man game or the Batman: Arkham games, Marvel Avenger's is its own interpretation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
The campaign introduces us to the Avengers as they piece themselves together, inspired by Kamala's tenacity, to go after the real villain of the piece. Players get to sample each character's unique fighting abilities, some of which I found worked better than others.
Kamala zips around in a style that seems inspired by Spider-man, her elastic limbs packing quite the punch. Ms. Marvel's fighting mechanics seem to be the most refined out of the bunch. Hulk's wanton destruction feels very satisfying. The flying abilities of Thor and Iron Man didn't sit well with me, but at least Thor's God of War-style hammer throw and return is very effective. Black Window's athleticism and Captain America's shield antics made them both fun to play.
At the moment, gameplay is uneven, at best, between the characters. This needs to be addressed going forward as nobody will want to play as the dull member of the team.
The campaign gameplay is mission-based, with a main story quest-line and side missions often character-focused. Collecting materials and loot enables the heroes' abilities' to be upgraded. Successful missions grant XP and unlock new costumes. The single-player campaign missions can be played with friends or random players, as well as the default AI.
Avengers doesn't quite seem to know exactly what sort of game it is. On one hand, it's a looter/shooter in the vein of Destiny or, more unfavourably, Anthem, but on the other hand, the campaign is a decent Marvel adventure that sometimes felt like a Tomb Raider game.
The game's graphics are uneven. Some of the environments look good, Utah for example, others look rather generic. The helicarrier that serves as one of the hubs is impressively detailed.
Character models and animations also deserve a shout out, looking true to their comic-book counterparts but more realistically visualised.
The single-player campaign, whilst it's a decent enough story, does start to feel a bit repetitive. Each mission is a mix of explore, fight, explore, fight and final battle without respawns. In that order. Pretty much without fail.
The Avengers Initiative multiplayer mode has players grouped together in a four-person, team each player taking on the role of a different Avenger. Missions are a bit of a re-tread of the missions in the campaign, continuing The Avengers' battle against AIM. The multiplayer will need to be far more engaging if the game is to succeed in the long run. Additional characters may do this, but unless the new characters are free or cheap, I can't see players embracing them.
I found the PC version to be a bit hit and miss, having to deal with crashes and glitches that marred the experience, somewhat- and this was on a machine far in excess of the recommended spec. The Xbox One version, however, performed well, offering a stable gaming experience and more opportunities to join multiplayer games.
At the moment, it's difficult to see where this game is going. It would seem that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics are in it for the long haul with the Avengers, but after the end of the campaign, is there really any reason to stick with the game? I'm not so sure.
I'd imagine that the game will continue to mine the Avenger's roster with new characters being added in the future, but without them getting their own single-player intro, will we still have the feels for these newcomers? And, has this not been done already with the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games?
Whilst Marvel's Avengers is fun to play, I found it to be a game that I could only tolerate in small doses. The campaign story kept me hooked, as did the exploration/puzzle elements. The combat felt the same all the way through the game and mission task only following a few templates. The developers have taken on a huge task in bringing this game to use, and I think it still needs tweaking. At the moment it's a decent enough game, but one that I hope gets better with time.