In a year filled with compromises and disappointments, Marvel’s The Avengers stands apart. It’s not the worst game of 2020, but it wears a different crown altogether.
Since this was announced in 2017, my curiosity has grown. Once we got details (including the choice of a games-as-a-service model), my stomach started to turn. We’ve seen this choice before, and we’ve seen all the pitfalls that come with it. The early days of both Destiny titles. The evil that is Fallout 76. The infamous abomination named Anthem. Games with big designs that launched with so little and with SO many issues.
As I’m sure you’re aware, Marvel’s The Avengers fell into that trap. It almost feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point. They launched in September to the heaviest of sighs. The reviews all painted the same narrative, which was exactly the narrative we expected. The game was buggy. The game was dull. After you completed the story mode, you were left with little to do and no real reason to come back. Crystal Dynamics has been mum on what the next couple of months look like, leaving fans a little uncertain of this game. Why continue if there is no reason to go on?
But the issue (for me) is a bit complicated. The ugly truth of this superhero-poo sandwich is that I want this game to be good. I want to spend countless hours in this world. The idea of a fully-fledged Avengers game is so tantalizing. I love the MCU and the endless runs of stories that the comics have given us. I like Crystal Dynamics (the Tomb Raider games are very underrated) and their clear vision behind every hero. But after beating the campaign and dipping into the post-game content, I think I’ve discovered the problem.
Before we get there, let’s talk specifics.
Everything special about Marvel’s The Avengers comes from the attached IP. It’s a harsh truth, but there it is. The ‘special’ in this case refers to the main campaign. It was the reason I picked this game up. I heard the campaign was a series of fun story bits broken up by unexceptional game play. That turned out to be spot on.
Kamala Khan serves as our entry point into Crystal Dynamics’ familiar version of Marvel’s famous world. After a brief tutorial where we get to play as each Avenger (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, and The Incredible Hulk), a sinister accident takes place. This accident pushes The Avengers out of the public’s good graces and they are cast aside. Each Avengers goes into hiding and a corporation known as AIM steps up in their absence.
Kamala, who was there on the day of the accident, is affected by the explosion. She develops stretchy powers, but she’s not the only one. The other people that were there that day (they are soon labeled as Inhumans) develop dangerous powers too. AIM capitalizes on the public’s fear and begins rounding the Inhumans up. AIM has an evil plan, and Kamala sets off to bring The Avengers back…
While I enjoyed the story, it has its faults. It’s a bit rote. This is familiar ground, a simple story through and through. It has some emotional beats and some big action pieces. The game looks good during cut-scenes and most of the characters are well voiced. If you want something wholly original and interesting, this isn’t it. If you want an interactive version of a C-grade comic book story, this is your game.
Light and Heavy
The combat starts basic, but it does expand over time. There are light and heavy attacks, as well as three mapped special attacks that do everything from heal your party to serve as ad control.
Each of the heroes’ play a bit different, but all exist in the same framework. The more agile characters (Iron Man, Black Widow) don’t pack as much of a punch, while the slower characters (mostly Hulk) hit hard. Flying feels pretty good, which brings me to my favorite character: Thor. If I ever come back to this game, it will be to play as Thor. That hammer is an absolute blast to use, and his specials feel overpowered from the start. These moves pack a real punch, allowing me to smash through all the weak robots that come crawling around.
Marvel’s The Avengers is a component brawler. The main issue with the combat system is with the enemies themselves. Endless waves of AIM bots and scientists, each nearly identical. Tactics rarely need to change, even once the enemies sport shields or different types of guns. A new subset of enemies (War Dogs? Watch Dogs? I don’t even remember their dumb name) did absolutely nothing to look different than the AIM forces they’d allied themselves with. Sadly, even the super-villains grow boring immediately. Filling out this game with some more interesting baddies would be a sure way to bring the dwindling player base back. I hate to keep referencing Destiny, but that franchise’s different alien races allowed them to find lots of variety in encounters.
Give me some Frost Giants or cosmic monsters to bludgeon with Cap’s shield. Just no more robots. No more Taskmaster. Please. I beg of you.
The Problem (Defined)
I love so much of this game. I want so desperately to keep playing it. But everything I’ve laid out above (and probably more) makes me want to lay down the shield/suit/mythical hammer/pistols/torn shorts and never look back.
It’s the same problem I’ve had with Destiny 2 after all of these years. I can’t respect and enjoy a game that doesn’t respect my time. It’s not worth it to grind through these copy and paste levels and three super-villains. I didn’t even talk about the lackluster loot system and bizarre cosmetic system, which I think lends to the general malaise. As much fun as some of it is and how much I love these characters, I can’t press on. I have too much to play, and this game is just not fun.
That is the tragedy. A team-based superhero game centered around the most popular characters in cinematic history is boring. On another Earth in some other dimension, there is a great Crystal Dynamics Avengers game. Whoever made the decision to use this service model weakened the final product and (in my mind) crippled it forever.