Firaxis, master of the turn-based strategy game, refocuses its efforts away from civilisations and alien invasions and instead towards the Marvel Universe with Marvel’s Midnight Suns.
Adapting Marvel Comics to other media is fraught with risk. Decades of complex, and often contradictory, continuity makes for quite the creative minefield. Whilst everything Marvel Studios touches in the cinema turns to gold; others have not fared so well when it comes to video games.
Sony may have struggled a little in the box office of late with their Marvel movie offerings, but it’s their recent Spider-Man games that have had the most success in transitioning from the Marvel comic book universe into video games. Even Square Enix bit off more than they could chew with Marvel’s Avengers, only redeeming themselves with their Guardians of the Galaxy game.
With Marvel’s Midnight Suns, 2K Games enters the ring with a mix of card game, role-playing game, and Firaxis’ signature strategy gameplay. It's an interesting idea and certainly sets the game apart from the likes of 2K’s X-COM franchise.
The game is loosely based on the 1992 Midnight Sons comic book series, featuring Ghost Rider, Blade and Doctor Strange, and other more supernatural characters, rather than Marvel’s usual and more well-known costumed heroes. At first glance, it seems a somewhat peculiar source of inspiration for a game, featuring Marvel’s more obscure characters, considering the comic-book company’s rich history. But it's actually quite a smart move, a clean slate as it were but potentially with a built-in fanbase.
When the newly freed mother of demons, Lilith is freed, her son “The Hunter” is resurrected to aid the Midnight Suns' war against her. Players take on the role of The Hunter and can customise the character’s appearance and gender.
Whilst the game features some of Marvel’s heavy-hitters like Doctor Strange, Iron Man, and Spider-man, Midnight Suns concerns itself with the darker corner of the Marvel Universe. The Hunter is initially joined by Nico Minoru (voiced by Lyrica Okano from The Runaways TV show), Robbie Reyes (AKA Ghost Rider, as seen in Agents of SHIELD), Illyana Rasputin (Magik from The New Mutants movie) Blade and Captain Marvel.
Whilst some may arguably be Marvel’s B-list heroes, most of the starting line-up characters have appeared fairly recently in Marvel TV shows and movies, and thus will likely be familiar to players that do not follow the comics. As the game progresses, the team is joined by some more familiar characters each with their own Midnight Suns stylings.
The gameplay is a bit of a peculiar mash-up of Firaxis’ turn-based strategy and a lightweight role-playing element that provides the game’s story. They are two very different mechanics which do not always feel very well integrated.
The main part of the game is the combat, which is arena-based and triggered by taking on missions. The player can usually choose which characters can accompany The Hunter on a mission.
Using randomly drawn cards from each character’s deck, the player can instigate moves and actions against the opponents in the arena. Some “free” moves utilise the environment making the battles feel a little more like those in the comics. Special moves are accompanied by dramatic animations.
The battles are a lot of fun. As simple as they initially feel, they require a fair amount of strategy for success, especially as the mechanics get more complex as the game progresses. My first thoughts on playing these fights were that the game seemed to be more of a mobile game than a AAA console/PC game. Certainly, this part of the game feels very much separate from the more superficial third-person role-playing game aspect.
The role-playing part of the game is set in a hub area called The Abbey. Here players can find Doctor Strange, Tony Stark, Carol Danvers, and the enigmatic Caretaker “working on things”. Other heroes can also be talked to as the roster increases. The spectral form of the deceased Agatha Harkness can also be found in the abbey halls.
Surrounding The Abbey are grounds that are full of secrets of their own. Players can socialise and spar with other characters to improve their relationships for stat and item rewards. As the game progresses more and more of these seemingly superfluous gameplay elements are unlocked.
I soon found navel-gazing and discussing feelings with Ghost Rider, or furnishing my bedroom rather dull. I’m not one for usually skipping dialogue, but I felt like a speed-runner racing between busy work tasks to get back out in the field to play the actual strategy game.
It’s a great game, don’t get me wrong and any faults are skippable/easily overlooked, but it's like someone had a great idea for a Marvel strategy game, and then someone else came along and told them to bolt on an RPG element. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it does. But I felt that these are two very distinct types of gameplay that seem to cater to entirely different audiences. And I’m still not sure about that.
The game looks pretty good. Some of the character models look a bit off, especially my customised Hunter character, but on the whole, they are great interpretations of Marvel’s heroes. The battles look amazing with some impressive set pieces and very visceral combat movies that’ll have you wincing. The Abbey and its surroundings are full of details and invite exploration.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns offers players deep turn-based strategy gameplay featuring many great Marvel characters. The role-playing side of the game is a bit jarring but serves to give the story depth and a place to chill out between battles. I’d not say it’s a match made in heaven, but it works a lot better than it should. Overall, it’s a good game offering players lots to do, even if it does feel like the developers are throwing the kitchen sink at you, at times.