The Avengers, sans Hawkeye.
The upcoming Marvel's Avengers game finally made its debut at the Square Enix E3 2019 press conference, and it's left a rather noticeable impression on fans who are looking forward to the superhero game. Coming from Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal, the new superhero team-up game focuses heavily on cinematic action that's playable either solo or co-op. Featuring Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and the Hulk, it lets you play as some of Marvel's most iconic heroes in a variety of missions. Completing missions allows you to power up your chosen character and customize them with new gear as you see fit. And following its May 15, 2020 release, new missions and heroes will be added as free updates.
It's a really fascinating concept, but after the game's presentation at the press conference, the details about the title's larger structure and moment-to-moment gameplay are still a bit vague. During E3 2019, we saw Marvel's Avengers behind closed doors, which focused on one of the game's early missions. As seen in the E3 2019 trailer, San Francisco is under attack on the opening day of the West Coast Avengers' headquarters, and the heroes spring into action to fight off Taskmaster and his minions, all of whom are wielding weapons stolen from Tony Stark.
This level is set shortly after the opening of the game, serving as something of an extended tutorial, allowing you to get a feel of how each hero plays and what their role can be in a squad of other players. From this demo, Marvel's Avengers' style, presentation, and emphasis on punctuating each encounter with a set piece makes it clear the game is cut from the same cloth as other AAA action-adventure games like the Uncharted series or the recent Tomb Raider reboot trilogy--the latter also helmed by Crystal Dynamics. The demo featured several highly scripted encounters, most of which are punctuated by quick-time-events that give each member of The Avengers their moment. There's a significant focus on the spectacle of super-heroics, the type of elaborate gravitas and ensuing mass collateral damage that's become common in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
During an E3 interview with GameSpot, Crystal Dynamics studio head Scot Amos stated that the game is heavily focused on offering a fun Avengers experience, with each hero designed in a way where they could be the lead of their own game.
"We've made games focusing on one character with Lara Croft, and now, we made a game with like six characters (including Ant-Man)," said Amos. "Then we figured we should make 12, then 30 characters. It is crazy for us to be able to go back and say, here's all the stuff these other heroes can do on their own. That's when we started hiring people like Vince Napoli, who did God of War last year, to lead combat for the game. How do we start pulling people together that are experts in these things, and say, 'now go make this hero awesome'? With access to all these heroes that play differently, you can play the way you want."
This opening level leans quite heavily on spectacle, both in terms of core combat and action-oriented set pieces with characters moving through the levels at a fast pace. Combat seems quite similar to games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, allowing you to freely move and engage your surrounding enemies while activating each hero's unique skills. Thor uses his hammer and lightning abilities to pummel goons on the streets, for example. In addition to throwing his hammer Mjolnir--which he can call back after a strike--he can also summon forth massive bolts of lightning on the enemies and even imbue his regular attacks with enhanced energy.
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After clearing out the enemies on the street, the action switches over to Iron Man, who chases after a set of airborne soldiers. In flight mode, Iron Man can freely move around, firing off missiles and repulsor blasts. On the ground, he's very much like the character's appearance in the MCU films, charging up his hand blasts and using them to power up his melee strikes. Iron Man's super move is the Uni-Beam, a high-powered chest-laser that can destroy vehicles and clear out most enemies in front of him. Next up, the Hulk jumps into the fray. Sticking mostly with close-range attacks, he can grab enemies, slam them into the ground, and toss them aside with ease. One of the Hulk's signature moves is his Sonic Clap, which wipes out all enemies nearby. His section of the level ends with him picking up a tank, chucking aside its driver, and tossing it at another vehicle.
The action jumps over to Captain America, who fights off enemies in the Avenger's helicarrier. Similar to the Hulk, Cap is a brawler and sticks mostly with close-range attacks. However, he can still use his shield to strike multiple enemies at a distance. One of his unique skills allows him to target specific foes and send his shield their way for a powerful blow, with his shield returning to him after it hits its targets. The demo culminates in a confrontation between the Taskmaster and Black Widow, who uses a pair of batons and high-tech spy gadgets. The villain quickly adapts to Black Widow's tactics, using his shield to block her long-range attacks.
This entire sequence, which sets up the larger story of how the Avengers have become outlawed and why they need to come back together, does a fun job of showing off that familiar MCU spectacle. It felt very much like a sequence that could easily be presented as a major set piece in the Marvel films. However, a growing question I had throughout this demo is, what kind of game is this, exactly? One thing that is still a point of confusion is the overall structure of the Marvel's Avengers, which will apparently open up for co-op play as you take on more missions. Following this linear demo, it's hard to picture how this will all come together as a games-as-a-service title that features online co-op. During our talk, Crystal Dynamics stated that Marvel's Avengers follows a "bespoke campaign," focusing on story and character-driven missions.
"Throughout our history, we've done third-person action adventures that are very much intimate, personal stories," said Amos. "Something of this size, this massive game with all these heroes, it's a matter of not one of them, but all of them. When we first partnered with Marvel Games and said, 'Hey, how do we want to do this? What are we good at? What are you guys good at?' They know about heroism and humanity, we know about third-person action-adventures and character-driven narrative. [...] Getting to switch between those heroes, that's even more fun. With these levels of the bespoke campaign, we want to tell a very specific story here, that's still open for you to dive into at your own pace. We want to tell a very specific story here. What about going further than that? Once you have these heroes to play with, you can start mixing and matching them in ways, online with your friends."
I do like what this superhero team-up game is trying to accomplish, but it seems like it's retreading ground that's already been covered by other games. It also doesn't help that the style and designs of the heroes come off as somewhat outdated and unflattering. In a lot of ways, the new Avengers game gave me similar vibes from the PS3/360-era of licensed Marvel games, from the design and visual standpoint. Still, I enjoyed the spectacle and scale that was shown off in the demo. Though this section focused on a linear level, the full game plans to feature an array of missions that open up and can be taken on at your leisure---and that's something I'm still looking forward to seeing.