Summer used to have a flow in the video game industry. E3 and other conventions started the hype train rolling. Follow-up events built up more momentum, and by the time fall arrived, the anticipation in the air would be palpable.
Gamers would have a clear idea of the projects they would play the rest of the year. They had certain expectations, but the coronavirus pandemic has clouded that. Carefully choreographed announcements have given way to prepackaged YouTube videos. Briefings that normally excite fans have ended up as dry news releases. A deluge of messages has created a cacophony around the release calendar.
"Marvel's Avengers" is one of those titles that has had more difficulty under these circumstances, and it's biggest problem has been explaining what it is. Players had glimpses of it during the beta and accompanying videos, but players can't appreciate it until they experienced the effort as a whole.
Crystal Dynamics and its partner studios created a title that, at its heart, takes the loot and team mechanics of franchises such "Destiny" and "Tom Clancy's Division" and mashes them to the beat'-em up genre. It's an effort that works once players get a handle on the control scheme and the roles of each of the six heroes.
Ms. Marvel, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Captain America each have the same control scheme with support heroics, assault heroics and ultimate heroics. They also have ranged strikes, a dodge and light and heavy attacks, but while the uniformity of the controls means that players will know how to move around and attack no matter who they use, the differences lies in the details of their abilities.
The Hulk is the quintessential tank who absorbs damage and draws adversaries' attention. His Rage ability raises his attack while also healing him at the same time. It's a character that's built for aggression. Meanwhile, Iron Man specializes in ranged combat. Although every hero can attack from afar, Tony Stark is by far the most efficient and capable at taking down drones and turrets from a distance. His ability to fly also makes him great at scouting and moving around the battlefield.
The developers did a remarkable job at making each hero unique with powers that are useful in a team setting. Ms. Marvel is a healer who jumps into the fray with her Polymorph abilities to smash enemies around her. On the other hand, Captain America with his Rally Cry boosts his team's attack power against enemies he marked. Thor is an interesting mix of tank and damage dealing with his ability to hold quick enemies down with his hammer. Lastly, Black Widow acts as a rogue with her quick attacks and the Veil of Shadows support ability lets the team escape hairy situations or open up foes to strong attacks.
Players may not notice the intricacy at lower difficulties, but as the game grows harder, they'll appreciate how the powers interconnect and a team of four can benefit from one another.
The other notable part of "Marvel's Avengers" is the story, which casts Kamala Khan - aka Ms. Marvel - in the lead role. She's a trailblazer as the first Muslim character to lead a Marvel comic, and her introduction as the game's protagonist opens her character to a new audience. She's the surrogate for the player in an adventure that has characters that are more established and her enthusiasm for the Avenger is infectious.
Her belief in the heroes and the growth of her character gives "Marvel's Avengers" its soul. She's the one who brings the team back together after the disaster called A-Day. That's when the Avengers' flying aircraft carrier, the Chimera, malfunctions during an attack in San Francisco. It causes the death of millions and activates the powers of people called the Inhumans. Fans can tell this was made during the time before Disney bought Fox and the rights to use "mutants" in movies.
She brings the team together and helps find the truth behind the events of A-Day. The campaign itself tends to wander in places, and the game recycles maps. The mission design is rather simplistic and repetitive, but are more of a showcase for each character. That all comes to a head as the Avengers assemble to take on Advanced Idea Mechanics, the company that takes over Stark's assets, and its leader MODOK, a supervillain who has the power to control machines.
Although the conclusion of the single-player campaign is satisfying, that's just the beginning for "Marvel's Avengers." Because it's built in the mold of "Destiny," Crystal Dynamics and company have to worry about the end game. That's not the "Avengers" film, it's the state of the project after players complete the initial campaign.
Developers usually have a plan to unfurl new content over the next few months to keep players interested in the game. This is where fans will find additional adventures and where players can learn to appreciate the depth of the gameplay.
With "Marvel's Avengers," the team built a deep customization and progression system to keep players busy for now. They can upgrade heroes a huge amount as they progress the skill trees. On the other end, they can fine tune their hero by hunting for better equipment by playing through the same missions over and over again. It's redundant but the fact that players have six characters to master will keep them busy until at least the next content drop.
"Marvel's Avengers" will continue to evolve over time, and, as the developers add new content, they'll also fix the game's many bugs. This means it will eventually get better over time, but as it stands now, it's a title that will satisfy fans and sate their appetite for more Marvel content while they wait for the film and shows to get back on track. With the project defined, it's an adventure worth getting into if you're a Marvel fan.
3 stars out of 4
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia. (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series in the future)
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