When you look back at the last dozen years of Marvel Studios films, it’s astounding how few games have been released outside of the mobile space. The early films had some PS3/Xbox 360 games of varying degrees of quality, but despite becoming a generation-defining movie saga, we haven’t yet seen a AAA-level game with the characters until now. While Crystal Dynamics’ vision of the Avengers is different than the films, there are some definite nods to the movies in overall character design and tone. However, much like Insomniac’s Spider-Man two years ago, the lore of the Marvel’s Avengers game is its own thing.
After a delay from May until September, the dev team has had some time to fine-tune things and the end result is their finest-playing game to date on modern hardware. The game starts off with a bang by doing something a bit different from the norm — having a playable prequel to the main game’s events with a young Kamala Khan attending Avengers Day. It’s a day of celebration and fun as she learns QTEs and shooting in some of the best tutorial integration I’ve ever seen under the guise of being a finalist in a fanfic contest. However, things go awry and everyone has to escape when an attack happens and the Avengers aim to save the day. The resulting chaos turns the world against the Avengers and superheroes in general.
You’ll play as every character here and get a taste for a good chunk of the core game’s action, but not all of it. The minute to minute action is a blend of combat and world exploration that hasn’t really been seen in a superhero game to this point. While Insomniac’s Spider-Man let you explore a lot, much of it felt either aimless or collect-a-thonish in nature, and it didn’t feel like it served a greater purpose. Here, things are more focused and there are some elements of a collect-a-thon with world-building documents and fun things like comics to find, but it doesn’t become a grind. You can also find little health pickups and the like to stay strong from fight to fight. Making Kamala Khan the primary character was a bold choice and while many other heroes are featured, her story shines the brightest and the entire tale – at least as it exists now, is really seen through her eyes.
Kamala’s a young girl when the adventure begins, but gets hardened as she sees the hatred of superheroes rise. Her own father has disdain for them, leading to her having to not only hide her powers as Ms. Marvel from him, but create her own little fortress near her home to work from. Her goal is to rebuild the Avengers after they’ve disbanded, and winds up going from superfan to superhero in her own right. You get a lot of her story, and in many ways this feels like Crystal Dynamics taking their Tomb Raider reboot formula and tailoring it to fit a license that makes them think a bit differently while still keeping what made the combat in those games work and expanding upon it to fit each character. It’s a daunting task, but one that has been handled surprisingly well – especially in the game’s earliest days when its roster is at its leanest.
The story itself is compelling and that’s far more than I can say for any other “games as a service”-style title yet. Destiny wanted to have a deep lore, but hid it behind their website before both it and its sequel lost the plot a bit. From day one, Avengers aims to make you care about the characters and their world as each character has their life torn apart by the group AIM as they try to take out all superheroes. You see the fall of the Avengers and then their rise from the ashes bit-by-bit.
As it stands, you wind up with characters that all have some similarities in play style – but feel completely different. Hulk is a bruiser, but things like his throwing attacks feel surprisingly agile while Ms. Marvel winds up being both agile when it comes to platforming and hard to topple with ranged and close-quarters combat thanks to her stretchy limbs giving her a lot of versatility. Iron Man’s ability to fly makes him stand out right away, while Thor’s ability to use his hammer for both short range bashing and long-range attacks makes using him feel a bit like Kratos – only with a trigger-based shooting mechanic that works shockingly well for him, Cap, and Iron Man. Every character has an aim with the left trigger and use a long-range attack of your choice with the right trigger, but few make it feel like genuine third-person shooter combat. There’s a slight lost opportunity with the PS4 version when it comes to using gyroscopic aiming – which has been a godsend in games like Days Gone, but maybe like that game, it will be something that gets patched in at a later date.
Marvel’s Avengers is a well-crafted game – but not a perfect one. It does have a lot of anti-frustration features in place – much like the rebooted Tomb Raider series. Objective markers are clear and work incredibly well, while stealth sections are a bit easier thanks to visual markers like exclamation points that appear off to the sides to let you know to be more careful. One issue that does plague Avengers is loading times. While there isn’t a lot to worry about from cutscene to in-game action, dying in battle or just being caught during a stealth section can result in spending a few seconds actually playing the game and then a minute on loading screens. Attempts were made to at least make them somewhat interesting by showing the character models going through various bits of body deformation that does look impressive, but it doesn’t do much to break up the monotony that can creep in from this issue. Hopefully this is something fixed either with the next-gen PS5/Xbox Series X versions down the line because it’s the single-greatest anti-loading screen PSA I’ve seen in a game in ages.
From an AV perspective, Avengers is fantastic. The character models don’t just look great in loading screens, but in action as well with smooth animation and unique movements for each character. It would be easy to just slap generic running and attack animations, but that wasn’t done here and every playable character moves and attacks as they logically would. There is a bit of a lack of variety in enemy designs, but it’s not too bad, and environments look quite detailed and hold up nicely even up close – with rock-solid framerates throughout even the most intense action. The soundtrack is action-packed and the voice work is top-notch. The cast has surprisingly great chemistry together given that they haven’t worked together before in these roles – with Nolan North, Troy Baker, and Laura Bailey delivering fantastic work.
Marvel’s Avengers is in its infancy as a project, but is already a must-play game for fans of the legendary superhero team. Their characters are captured nicely and having a spotlight shined on Ms. Marvel allows her to gain exposure to a whole new audience. The core gameplay is a lot of fun and the gameplay loop is essentially a supercharged version of the modern day Tomb Raider games, only with a bit less stealth and more annoying loading times. Those remain the biggest problem with the game because the shift from character to character action keeps things quite fresh and they all feel not only different to use but fun to play and excel in certain types of combat. It’s a great-looking and sounding game, but one that definitely needs some fine-tuning with the loading and quality of life issues that hamper the experience. Still, the good far outweighs the bad, and Marvel’s Avengers ends up being one of the best superhero experiences ever put in a video game.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a digital copy of Marvel’s Avengers for the PlayStation 4 provided by Square Enix.