There’s a renaissance of Marvel games beginning, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Insomniac Games delivered a powerhouse experience with their PS4 exclusive Spider-Man release, Nintendo is feeding the fires of a new and promising entry in the Ultimate Alliance series, and now Square Enix has put together their own Avengers-style squad of high-profile game studios to develop a triple-A adaptation of the iconic Marvel Cinematic Universe team.
While it was difficult to get a clear sense of what kind of game it is that Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal have concocted for the Avenger to star in, a behind-closed-doors demo of the game provided a much clearer look at the big-budget action game. Well… sort of.
If you want to know more about the promised co-op features of Marvel’s Avengers, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, the four-player loot-grabbing action that’s been mentioned multiple times in conjunction with this game was nowhere to be seen in the gameplay demo I saw at E3. Instead, we were served a vertical slice of the game that acts as a prologue to the story, full of heavily scripted action and transitions to show off five of the different characters you’ll be playing as in the game.
Terrorists with impressive weaponry have started wreaking havoc on the Golden Gate Bridge just as the Avengers celebrate the opening of their West Coast office, and our demo begins by placing us in the shoes of Thor, the god of thunder, as the rest of the Avengers handle situations arising elsewhere in the nearby area. If you loved the combat in the recent God of War sequel, then playing as Thor will feel like you’re right at home. The Asgardian all-star can swing his hammer around in a variety of combos, as well as fling it at nearby enemies to stun them or pin them to walls before calling it back to his hand through sheer will. While his hammer is away, Thor’s fists come out to play, leading to some impressive combos where you can mix and match his hammer mode and hand mode for brutal results.
After a few minutes of Thor time, Iron Man flies by and begins chasing down some jetpack-equipped baddies. Our perspective swaps to follow the billionaire Avenger in a scripted chase sequence that left me scratching my head. For a game that promises hero-choice and co-op action, this is all very much like a very linear solo experience that could only ever be played through as Iron Man. Of course, this is designed as an Uncharted-style scripted action bonanza to get us to feel like Iron Man, but it’s just not indicative of the main gameplay loop.
As the chase winds down, Iron Man stops at a swarm of enemies on the bridge and begins laying the smackdown on them. His abilities on-foot consist of floating kicks and combos, but once he gets airborne and hovers a bit above the action, his toolset really opens up. Iron Man can dish out lasers, homing missiles and more when in the air, and can glide around swiftly to get a better view of oncoming enemies. His playstyle is very different from Thor’s, and very satisfying.
That variety continues as our perspective once again swaps to that of Bruce Banner, as he drops down onto the battlefield and emerges from the smoke as the iconic green machine Hulk. For the three of you out there who dearly miss the PS2 Hulk games, Marvel’s Avengers knows what’s up. Hulk has movement abilities and attacks that illustrate the same sort of chaotic freedom he had in those classic sandbox experiences. His jump clears multiple stories with ease, and even his most flaccid punches send cars careening off the bridge. Smacking opponents will dynamically grab them in your giant green palms, and when two are held at once you can smash them together to deal massive damage and cause a huge shockwave.
We soon cut to a helicarrier under fire in order to play as America’s favorite Hitler puncher, Captain America. Though the actual faces of the characters make it feel like the MCU stunt doubles got parachuted in for all the drama as well, the overall character designs are pretty similar to their film counterparts. The Steve Rogers of this game sports a much more militaristic outfit, consisting of knee and shoulder pads and an army-style vest. His costume looks more like an earnest, first-time cosplay than a true superhero outfit. Thankfully, his combat makes up for the fashion faux pas. Cap sports the same melee dominance and flashy kicks as his film counterpart, and has a lot of interesting ways to boomerang his shield across enemy chins for massive damage and solid crowd control.
Our final Avenger is Black Widow, who ends up facing off with the big bad guy of this mission, Taskmaster. The nature of the boss battle doesn’t give us a solid way to showcase Widows abilities, but we still get a good idea of what she can do. She sports dual pistols for solid ranged damage and a slew of acrobatic combat abilities for up-close brawling. Her quick and nimble movements contrast noticeably with the hefty and deliberate styles that Thor and Captain America fight in.
Overall, the demo I saw was an impressive piece of video game action, but it left me with a few concerns. As sharp as the graphics are, the character designs are a rough combo of unoriginal costumes and frighteningly generic faces that just remind us these aren’t the cast from the MCU. Additionally, for a game that has been talking up its co-op action and character customisation, none of that was shown by this heavily scripted sequence that would be at home in a single player game. Perhaps this mission is an outlier from the rest of the game, but I hope the devs can show us what the meat of the game looks like soon.