Played on a base PS4.
Marvel’s Avengers has certainly been through the wringer since it was revealed at E3 in its current form at E3 2019. Revealed during a largely lambasted Square Enix press conference, with a noticeable lack of gameplay and some extreme concerns about the look of the game (many saw it as being an MCU knock-off, which given the look of some of the characters is a fair assumption to make.) Later presentations of the game really didn’t help matters, with people noting how stilted some of the action was and raising questions about the “live-service” nature of the game. Many, this writer included, didn’t believe that they could deliver on the promise of supporting the game for years post-launch with free content. Crystal Dynamics, known for a long list of Tomb Raider games, made a vow that every character released post-launch would be free and would come with their own set of unique missions. However, after seeing the way Anthem failed spectacularly at the same promise, people were wary of this approach to continuous gaming. Now, after multiple delays, players finally have a chance to find out what the game is going to play like for themselves, less than a month before the official release of the game.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that some of the graphical concerns were well-founded. While the game itself looks quite good, the models do not. Some have the unfortunate misfortune to look too close to their MCU counterparts, while others just look totally dead-eyed. Hair especially is a massive issue with all characters, with Thor and Black Widow looking as if they’ve had dead hair stapled to their head. The game opens with a prologue set on “A-Day”, with the five founding Avengers (Black Widow, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain America) unveiling a second headquarters in San Francisco. Everything rapidly goes wrong however, as a terrorist attack led by Taskmaster occurs, forcing the Avengers to take action as the Golden Gate bridge crumbles around them. This is where the player gets to first take control of the game, starting the game as Thor (for what will be their only chance to play as Thor in the entirety of the beta). I’m happy to report that Thor actually feels quite good to play as. While the combat can turn into simple button mashing if you’re not careful, there’s enough variety in moves to keep the player invested. Thor’s throw attack especially is incredible fun, with Thor throwing Mjolnir at a target and pinning them to wherever they land until the player chooses to summon the hammer back. It feels and looks similar to how Kratos’s axe felt in the 2018 God Of War, which is an extremely good thing. However, the game then changes perspective to Iron Man, and here’s where the problems begin.
Iron Man just doesn’t feel good to control in the slightest. The on-rails flight his section begins with feels like you’re controlling water, not a man in a highly technological suit. His combat also has no impact. I really didn’t enjoy controlling him in the slightest, and given the potential he has, it’s such a letdown. The same can be said about playing as Hulk, sadly. This one stings even more, given that Hulk is a main focus of the first main mission of the beta. Whenever you punch somebody, it doesn’t feel like you’re hitting them with the Hulk, more that you’re hitting them with a baseball bat. Hulk just doesn’t feel strong enough, he doesn’t feel like the big unstoppable force that he is and he just feels like another guy. I found myself getting bored quickly whenever I was playing as Hulk, which is a massive issue given you play as him for at least an hour of the beta. You then shift focus to Captain America extremely briefly, and from what I played of him he plays decently, but not without flaws. Throwing his shield feels extremely cool, but it’s the final section of the prologue with Black Widow that I loved the most.
Widow is faced with taking out Taskmaster, with a boss battle between the two. And this is where the potential for Marvel’s Avengers shines through. The boss battle feels fluid, with Taskmaster adapting to your tactics and the player needing to be constantly on their toes in order to catch and take down Taskmaster. Both the melee combat and the gunplay feels great, with both being extremely responsive. Widow’s playstyle can be most directly compared to the Uncharted series of games, with her traversal system being similar to that of Nathan Drake. The boss battle against Taskmaster concludes with the destruction of the Terrigen crystal and the apparent death of Captain America. The Avengers are blamed for the tragedy and the destruction of a great deal of San Francisco and are forced to disband, and this is the point at which the prologue ends.
Once A-Day is over you’re thrown into a main mission, with Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) and Hulk searching for the location of the AI JARVIS. It’s here that it becomes apparent this is in fact a story about the Inhumans, or rather an alternate take on their origin. When the reactor exploded, it released Terrigen, creating hundreds of super-powered people with no control over their abilities and Kamala Khan was one of these. As far as stories go, it’s certainly grabbed my attention, even with my minimum exposure to the Inhumans. As far as they go, I’ve only read Ms. Marvel and that’s it. I’m interested to see how the story incorporates the rest of the Marvel Universe, and if the various interpersonal relationships that each character has will be treated with the respect and the skill they deserve.
As mentioned earlier, the main concentration of this mission is Hulk, Your goal is to storm through the AIM base, taking on everything in your path in order to find out what they’re doing in the base and where they’re keeping JARVIS. You play as Hulk for the majority of this mission, smashing and breaking everything in your path. It’s here that the problems with Hulk’s playstyle become extremely apparent, with me wanting to play as anybody else. Luckily, the mission switches to Ms. Marvel later in the mission, and I’m happy to report that she controls like a dream. Her traversal involves using her elongated limbs to swing across gaps, and it feels amazing. Her combat too is fluid and allows for variety. I can’t gush enough about how she plays, and she’ll likely be my main in the game proper too. She’s also got some amazing moments in this small section, with her geeking out over the various Avengers artifacts stored in the facility, and being starstruck to even be working with the Hulk.
The duo finds JARVIS and the mission ends with a boss battle between Hulk and Abomination and honestly? It’s here that Hulk feels the best to play as. It’s a great boss battle, with more strategy needed than against the base enemies. Abomination is enormous, towering over even the Hulk, and the boss battle between him consists of trying to beat him down enough to finish him while he uses various moves to attempt to stop you. All in all, certainly one of the highlights of what I’ve played of the beta so far.
In terms of overall difficulty, it seems relatively easy, even on normal difficulty (which is what I played on). I’m curious to see if the difficulty scales depending on how many people you’re playing within any given mission, or if the difficulty remains at a constant level throughout. If the latter, the game is likely to become quite easy quickly which could be a concern for a number of players. If the former, the question remains as to how the game will balance.
The beta is certainly a mixed bag, but potential shines through. Next week I plan to play through the later sections of the beta in order to see the final pieces I didn’t get chance to see this week, and I’m insanely curious to find out if Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix can pull off what Anthem couldn’t, and make the live service model work. If they can, it’ll be a wonder to behold, but the risks that come alongside such a huge gamble are enormous.