Marvel’s Avengers is a fun game, but it’s not a good game. In what’s perhaps one of the most fitting examples of a great concept ruined by execution, this action-focused game tries to be a superhero combat game, a looter, and an adventure title – and it amazingly fails at all three.
The first proper Marvel superhero game in a long time had everything to succeed – a super popular franchise naturally inclined towards a power fantasy and online/local coop, which is basically the embodiment of video games as a concept and today’s business practices of games as a service. Instead, we get an action-game with very little super in it, preceded by an extremely annoying campaign that is constantly at odds with each other.
The game begins with Kamala Khan, the future elastigirl Ms. Marvel. Instead of starting this superhero game with a superhero sequence, you are put in control of an 8-year-old child as she unbearably fangirls over meeting her heroes at their new Chimera helicarrier during a celebratory event called the Avengers’ Day, or A-Day for short. What follows are 45 minutes of expository dialogue, cheap nods towards the fanbase of excitable Marvel movie fans, and a lot of cringeworthy sequences like an 8-year-old teaching Thor – aka the God of Thunder and galactic hero – what is the real meaning of being “good”.
Fast forward almost an hour into the game, and the celebration is cut short by a terrorist attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. After a 10-minute crash course on all superheroes save Captain America, the mission fails as the Chimera helicarrier falls into the bay and explodes, killing Cap (yeah, right). The game then jumps 5 years into the future, with the Avengers disbanded and the player forced to endure another hour of no combat as you platform around levels like a cheap Tomb Raider game. You’re briefly interrupted by a 5-minute fight sequence, but then it is back to another hour of knock-off Tomb Raider’ing until, about 3 hours into the game controlling a teenager instead of the titular Avengers, the actual combat missions start and you slowly start rebuilding the team and playing as the people you actually give a damn about.
That rough start would have caused me to refund the game, had I not been reviewing it. It is an extremely tonedeaf way of starting a superhero game, utterly disrespectful of people’s time as it forces you to undergo a 3-hour tutorial before you ever get to properly control Hulk or Iron Man. While you can jump straight into the Avengers Initiative – aka the multiplayer mode – straightaway and play as any hero, they will all be level 1 without their actual superhero outfits and with no clue as to how to play them, as the game forces you to unlock outfits and learn the characters in the campaign and through lengthy training simulations.
The sad thing is that once the combat starts, it actually is pretty good. The animators clearly knew their source material and spent a lot of effort making each character distinct. Iron Man can quickfire his repulsors and lasers with a little spinning flourish just like he does in the movies, the Hulk can grab enemies and slam them into the floor repeatedly, and Black Widow can do some pretty lethal spinning kicks that could break a concrete column in half. One of my favourite bits is that Thor can throw Mjolnir towards enemies and leave it stuck in terrain, requiring you to either press a button to recall it or do a heavy attack which automatically pulls the hammer back to his hand.
Each hero also has different movement capabilities – Iron Man and Thor fly, Cap double jumps, the Hulk leaps, and Black Widow and Ms. Marvel can swing from spots – and different special abilities, divided between support, offense, and ultimate. Support abilities range from Thor’s thunder shield that surrounds him and allies to Black Widow’s invisibility grenade, while offensive abilities are Iron Man’s unibeam or Cap’s super-powerful, bouncing shield-throw. The ultimate abilities are where it gets interesting – Ms. Marvel can grow in size, Thor teleports away via the Bifrost Bridge and comes crashing back down in a beam of cosmic power, and Stark straight-up summons the Hulkbuster armour from thin air – and other teammates can use it, too.
As you fight enemies and find chests, you encounter multiple currencies/resources and a myriad of upgradeable gear. Each hero has 4 pieces of gear each with a Power Level, and you slowly increase your Power as you level up the characters by playing as them. To be honest, the loot might as well not exist – I constantly hit the “Equip Max Power Items” button and managed to get through missions just fine.
What I couldn’t quite tolerate is how non-super-powered all heroes felt. The idea of making an action game into a looter RPG means that you are plagued by bulletsponge enemies and stupid little damage numbers ticking above a health bar, which is a very non-super thing to have. Even worse, the balance seems to be always slightly off – enemies hitting you either break your combo or straight-up knock you down, while you hitting enemies often results in they being 100% unfazed half the time and punching you with impunity. Even worse, enemies take MANY more hits than you to die, which is a very puzzling proposition.
You see, the whole point of playing as a superhero is the intrinsic power fantasy – these supersoldiers, giant green beasts, and sometimes literal gods are vastly more powerful than standard people, and can therefore face impossible odds. In trying to balance the superhero game, the developers managed to remove all the “super” out of it. Worst yet, I don’t see why they couldn’t have fully catered to the actual role of each hero – the Hulk should be a giant tank capable of taking a lot of punishment so the more frail heroes don’t have too, but instead he is a weakling that can get downed remarkably fast for someone his size (and with a giant hitbox, to boot). Similarly, Thor – a literal god who fights thousands at once in cosmic battlefields – dies to a couple of heavy punches, and Iron Man is unable to fly faster than 5 miles per hour and literally gets shot out of the sky by half of the game’s enemies.
In fact, that reflects a bigger issue: the biggest problem with Marvel’s Avengers is how it exists in a constant dichotomy – it’s a superhero game, yet normal human soldiers can soak up a dozen rockets to the face while the Hulk dies with 3 punches. It’s a combat game, yet half the campaign is cutscenes and platforming. And it’s an Avengers game, yet you don’t actually play as the Avengers for a good while. It honestly feels like a game designed by committee, and you can see the seams where the pieces were put together and glossed over.
That may be while the performance is so shoddy – the game crashed a dozen times throughout my 30 hours’ review, and several cutscene bugs and performance issues surfaced in every play session. Models stuttered, audio narration cut off, and the performance often slumped below 30fps in 1080p on a gaming rig I used to run every game this year in 4K. The actual character models and voice actors – and especially the animations – are high-caliber, but the technical side of the game is atrocious and feels extremely rushed.
Unfortunately, the game is also a bit of a failure of game design. It squanders several opportunities – it opts to focus on a teenager having an internal emotional conflict instead of showing the literal Iron Man vs. Hulk fight that’s going on during a campaign cutscene, for example – and it never lets you walk/fly around the outside of the helicarrier in free mode, which I find unforgivable. Worse yet, the actual hubs senselessly forbid you from jumping and sprinting for absolutely no reason whatsoever, which means the multiple terminals and stores you have to visit – there are THREE inventory screens – quickly become a chore. I’m half convinced no one actually played the endgame before release, because I can’t understand how visiting 4 vendors to click on 12 different buttons or having to manually dismantle each of your 36 pieces of gear and move them between the locker and the main inventory every two missions ever made past QA. A “dismantle all junk” button is basic design from any 1992 RPG, and the fact Avengers doesn’t have it is frankly mindbogglingly.
Coming from something amazing as the Arkham games, with their ultimate power fantasy unhindered by health bars and damage numbers, this Avengers game can be jarring. It’s a very well produced title that tries to do something original while not actually creating much, and several game design decisions leave you wondering “why?” quite passionately. While the actual combat is fun yet occasionally frustrating as all hell (and the campaign has some insane difficulty spikes), the end result is a bit of a disjointed game that does a lot of things very wrong, but none of them really well.
MARVEL'S AVENGERS VERDICT
A superhero game where heroes are quite fragile, Marvel’s Avengers is constantly in doubt of where it wants to go and ends up arriving nowhere.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Blasting people with Iron Man is actually a blast.
Great combat, when it clicks
Character design and portrayals are interesting for the most part
Some nice setpieces
Bad combat, when it doesn't click
Heroes are too fragile and too weak to actually feel like superheroes
Some characters and voice acting don't fit, like Captain America's voice and Natasha annoyingly and constantly telling Tony to shut up every single time he says anything at all
Music might as well be non-existent
Performance is really bad
The campaign feels more like an attempt to make teens feel special than an actual tale about heroism
About Marcello Perricone
Passionate, handsome, and just a tiny bit cocky, our resident Time Lord loves history, science, and all things that fall from the sky.