Crystal Dynamic’s Avengers has a tough challenge to overcome. How do you gather some of Marvel’s most iconic modern heroes into one game and balance their unique abilities with a cohesive and realistic combat system? How do you have characters like Thor and Black Widow fighting the same enemies without one feeling out of place? Sitting down to watch a 30-minute gameplay demo, these questions raced through my head. And I left with an answer that wasn’t exactly satisfying.
The demo in question took place during the same event the reveal trailer used to introduce you to Avenger’s story. A-Day, or the day the Avengers failed to stop a threat that decimated San Francisco, played host to a litany of action sequences that hopped between the five starring characters, namely Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Captain America. The action seamlessly transitioned from one skirmish to the other, giving the entire encounter a strong sense of scale that has some battles ranging on different fronst. Iron Man and Thor, first to the scene, both dispatched groups of enemies leading up to the Golden Gate Bridge, while later on Hulk was dropped into the action from above and had to make his way across a crumbling highway to join in on the action.
These set-pieces looked and sounded great, but there’s no shaking the feeling that that’s what they were: set-pieces not indicative of the core loop Avengers is likely going to settle into in most of its stages. This demo played out like an extended final battle you’d expect to see in an Avenger’s film. Every character plays their part, has their quip, and isn’t around long enough to truly appreciate. And although everything was being played live, a large portion of the demo was taken up by extravagant transition sequences between characters, involving interactive cutscenes with quick time events or putting you into a brief and mindless looking on-rails shooter as Iron Man.
This isn’t as much of a problem as it might seem if the rest of Avenger’s breaks from this mould, but the demo wasn’t enough to fully settle on that either. Perhaps what was more alarming was just how similar each character looked in action. Melee combat appears to follow the same rhythm as Rocksteady’s Arkham series, which is unsurprising given its use across most systems of this ilk. Enemies have indicators above their heads that are colour-coded to their attacks, which give you time to react with parries or dodges in turn. Crystal Dynamics refused to go into detail about what was happening in the combat on show, but it was evident enough that if you’ve played the Arkham titles or, more recently, Marvel’s Spider-Man, you should be comfortable here.
The problem arose when it was clear that each of the five characters all fought in the same ways. Small differences changed animations to actions to fit the characters in question, but there was no clear difference on both their individual attack impacts or specific enemies being matched up to particularly powerful foes. You fight the same enemies as Thor and Black Widow, who should have a massive difference in abilities being an Asgardian God and international super spy respectively. But each character just seems to swap out specific attacks that take up the same spaces. Some offensive melee abilities, some ranged ones and, if you’re lucky, the ability to hover above the action and slightly shift the rules of engagement.
Without a deep dive into how combat ticks, it’s again difficult to know if this was just a symptom of a short showing for each character or if this is Avenger’s Achilles heel. With so many variables between each of these characters, it’s understandably difficult to build one cohesive combat system to govern them all, so this approach seems logical. But it also feels disappointing if that’s the case, even if you’re given the chance to whip characters into tanks with Thor’s hammer or ping pong your shield around a room as Cap. Because they’re essentially achieving the same things just different flashy actions, the feeling of playing as a different character might be lost entirely.
It’s still early for Avengers, especially when you consider it being still a year at least before it launches. But these are the sorts of questions I had when the project was first announced back in 2017. And now, more than two years later, they’re still lingering.
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Last Updated: June 13, 2019