I’ve spent the last week smashing AIM murder-bots to powers with nothing more than tattered jeans and gamma-powered rage, I’ve knocked homicidal scientists out of the air with a magic hammer, and I’ve shrugged off laser beam blasts with patriotic skill honed on the tough streets of Brooklyn. Marvel’s Avengers has been an exhilarating experience when all the pieces come together, but it has also been a frustrating exercise in AAA gaming in its most unfocused state possible.
Make no mistake, there’s a genuinely great game at the core of Marvel’s Avengers, one that should further pave the way for the video game multiverse that 2018’s Spider-Man started. At the same time, for every good idea that Marvel’s Avengers introduces to the genre of a superhero power fantasy, it’s also held back by parasitic live service elements.
The recent open beta for the game didn’t do any favours, serving to only highlight these flaws that threaten to overshadow the game when it manages to be bloody brilliant. Marvel’s Avengers isn’t just a story about Earth’s mightiest mortals dealing with the consequences of their hubris when it leads to the calamity known as A-Day.
It’s the origin story of one of the most beloved new characters in Marvel Comics, Kamala Khan AKA Miss Marvel. Crystal Dynamics knew that they’d have a main event player on their hands with the fan favourite character, and her story is what drives the narrative of Marvel’s Avengers. In her, players have the perfect point of view character, a hero whose idealism doesn’t veer into the realm of naivety as she learns that even the greatest of heroes, aren’t infallible.
She’s adorably dorky, honest in her fandom and she’s an absolute blast to play as, using her Inhuman polymorphing powers to stretch out of danger and deliver a P-Klap that borders on legendary. And she’s not the only character you can play as! Thor is a heavyweight brawler with ranged options thanks to Mjolnir, Black Widow is Tomb Raider with unlimited ammo and insane aerial techniques, Iron Man is a glass cannon who strikes best when it’s from a distance, and the Hulk is a tank with power to spare provided that you get to grips with his more subtle skills.
There’s also that one guy whose name rhymes with Acting Retina, who’s basically a hard-hitting pugilist with agile defensive options who would be right at home if he hopped into a Devil May Cry game. I can’t stress enough just how much fun the Avengers are to play as, especially when you spend time learning their tricks, finding the right combination for how to use their powers and growing them throughout the course of the game.
I may have started with Iron Man, but I’m currently loving the heck out of the Hulk, as Bruce Banner’s alter-ego is more than just some dull pathetic ape in the eyes of the world. Being able to crack the very mantle of the planet, grab enemies and use them as a makeshift club as you ragdoll them into submission, never gets old.
You can even play around with skill loadouts, pumping experience into skills that range from basic melee combos through to upgrades for your Intrinsic powers, further hone them in the specialisation sub-branch and go beyond that with the Masteries that each hero can take advantage of. With each hero having 50 levels of character to earn and skills to pump the fruits of your grinding labours into, there’s a lot to do in terms of focused busywork.
And that right there, is where Avengers drops the hammer.
When Marvel’s Avengers works, it absolutely slaps the bonnet of a SHIELD tank and tells you just how much fun you’ll fit into that baby. Skills you unlock don’t just return your hero to fighting fit form, they complement the rest of your team. When used correctly, they make for cinematic action sequences that feels like it was ripped straight out of the comic books and Marvel Cinematic Universe. You’re ripping AIM synthoids apart, protecting your team and adding to a flow of combat that is an absolute joy to take part in, in the rare instances when everything fits together.
But those live service elements, those horrible and pervasive distractions that turn a fun romp into an unappealing jaunt across a mere handful of levels, just can’t be ignored. I can’t shake this feeling that developer Crystal Dynamics had a plan for a brilliant single-player campaign, that publisher Square Enix decided to toss out the window and shoehorn grinding elements in for the sake of longevity.
On the one hand, you’ve got a story that hits the right notes for an Avengers tale, nailing the characters and their personality with a confident swagger and a humble appreciation for who these heroes are. There are moments of fist-pumping jubilance, especially at the end of the short ten hour campaign, that rivals the portals scene from Avengers: Endgame. Those moments in Marvel’s Avengers, when I’m controlling living gods, fighting iconic foes and watching all hell break loose around me, are some of the finest gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
But getting to those moments is an absolute slog. If you’re not traipsing around an AIM base that is slightly different from the last one you explored, you’re being distracted by constant messages from JARVIS about some barely better loot being in another corner of the map. Heck, the loot in Marvel’s Avengers, the one element that should keep players invested, doesn’t even feel that interesting to pursue at all.
Granted some of them do have great perks, but they’re rarer than an alternate universe that contains a Deadpool who isn’t annoying. The numbers on this gear feels superfluous at best, items for random body parts that exist purely because some sort of loot ‘n boot mechanic had to be shoved in, creating a hard barrier to several activities instead of organically allowing players to experience campaign missions and sidequests.
Every mission eventually devolves into a button-mashing slog as well, because for all the great character design and abilities on offer, Marvel’s Avengers is a crapshow of awful encounters as well. Characters are easily staggered by trash mobs who’ll appear from nowhere to interrupt you in the middle of a combo, I can barely focus on one enemy at a time without some random AIM beekeeper shooting me with magic seeking rockets, and the game does a terrible job of communicating to you when you’re in trouble.
I’m not against being swarmed by enemy forces so that there’s a challenge to enjoy, but all the hard work to invest time and effort into a character so that they’re ready for Inhuman-hunting murder machines is thrown out of the window when the screen devolves into a mess of particles, explosions and blurry action. Often, I genuinely have no idea what’s going on at any given time due to all the chaos.
What should be a superhero wish fulfillment power fantasy is further undone by general sloppiness, at least on the base PS4 version that I’ve played. Certain elements take too long to load, the character menu screen is a godawful collection of submenus that could stand for Thanos to come in and snap his Infinity Gauntlet fingers to reduce it by 50% and leave it perfectly balanced.
The cribbing of Destiny 2’s homework is just obscene, you’re besieged by unhelpful tips and told to go do a character tutorial after you’ve spent two hours with them. I’ve attempted to lift Thor’s hammer in his room with the other characters and watched them struggle to pick up air as Mjolnir activates a cloaking spell, I’ve had to restart missions because apparently the AIM synthoid I just punched must have pissed off the Molecule Man in a previous life and has now been merged with a nearby wall.
On my PS4, the game drops frames into the singles region when the action gets too hot and stutters like King George VI before he gives a speech to Britain. Above all that, Marvel’s Avengers just feels average in the moments between the main campaign, a soulless example of live service gaming that will be a testament to how chasing a bandwagon is never a good idea.
I’m not even certain what the endgame is here, or why people will care once the first-week FOMO has faded away. And yet, I’m still holding out hope that Crystal Dynamics can salvage this game. It’s far from the mess that Fallout 76, No Man’s Sky, and Anthem were at launch, and like at least two of those examples, I want to see the Tomb Raider developer build more on this platform and be left to their own devices.
Last Updated: September 9, 2020