For each thing to like about Marvel’s Avengers, there’s something to cancel it out, as though it’s a glossy device that’s been carefully crafted by creative individuals in white coats and clipboards to neutralise every last drop of pleasure.
It does not matter what excellent active ingredients you feed into the mouth of the device – a loveable lead, maybe, or an outstanding voice cast – due to the fact that by the end of it, the gadget works to counter each of those positives with something annoying or aggravating. The result is an oddly dull, neutral experience that’s neither great nor awful however masterfully straddles both in a manner that’s rather honestly amazing.
To make matters worse, there are lot of times – normally within the mainly rewarding single-player project – when Marvel’s Avengers isn’t bland at all. Kamala Khan – aka Ms Marvel – is lovable, and her story, if a little foreseeable, strikes all the beats you’d get out of a tale embeded in such a renowned universe. The fight is great, if unrefined. The visuals are great, if average. The robbery is great, if a bit ineffective. The environments are great, if a bit repeated. The mild loot puzzles are great, if shockingly basic. But fine isn’t going to keep you here, is it? Fine isn’t adequate to make more needs of your money and time. And that’s the issue.
The single-player project is quickly the video game’s greatest draw, using a pleasurable, if rote set of objectives that follow Ms Marvel’s change from unpopular fangirl to bonafide superhero as she works to unify the posse after they dissolve, having actually been unjustly blamed for a disastrous occasion. She signs up with the battle to clear their name and rescue the unwary Inhumans nabbed from the city streets, working to remove the atrocious OBJECTIVE organisation and its crowds of homicidal robotics along the method.
Mechanically and aesthetically the experience is perfunctory. It’s a little bit rough around the edges, as though an absence of time or cash – perhaps both – avoided that last shiny spit-shine of polish. That’s not to state I didn’t enjoy myself due to the fact that I quite did sometimes, however the Marvel’s Avengers device is too bloody proficient at neutralizing the excellent bits by dishing out something that will frustrate or annoy, too.
Take, for instance, the objective “Starktech Outfits”. You’re soaring towards the exciting climax of the single-player project. It’s been tense and interesting, and while the locations you go to generally differ in name just – the OBJECTIVE designers relatively come from the IKEA school of identikit style – there’s no rejecting that you’re getting near to a last face-off with the Ultimate Super-Villain villain… and after that you’re tossed into a tiresome resource-gathering objective.
It’s not even that you have actually had these objectives prior to – you have not. But it’s now, when you’re around 90 percent done and itching to handle the huge bad – this is when Marvel’s Avengers includes a fetch-quest to collect electronic elements from robotic remains. While the opponents worried aren’t difficult to discover or ruin, there’s currently no way to replay story missions, either, so there’s no way to revisit an area where you’ve encountered them previously. Instead, you have to hop onto the War Table, pick a stray side quest you’ve yet to complete, and hope you’ll discover them. All momentum is shattered, leaving you frustrated and uncertain on what the hell you’re meant to do next.
Worse still, it’s about as stable as a one-legged stool. I’ve had times where the dialogue is wrong, overlapping, or not playing at all. I once played half a mission seeing only the outline of Black Widow’s skull and the backs of her camo-cloaked eyes. I was forced to buy gear from a new vendor – using up all my resources in the process – only for the item to never make it to my inventory. I didn’t notice much stuttering and slowdown at the beginning, but the further into the story you go – and the more enemies that swarm on-screen – the more problematic it becomes.
I’ve also had two hard crashes that forced me to reboot my PS4 Pro, and several occasions where loading hung indefinitely – an issue made all the more unbearable given how long Marvel’s Avengers loading screens are anyway. Once, my co-op partner was stuck in the loading screen’s helicarrier for a protracted period, yet could hear Hulk grunt and stomp around if he hit “X”.
That said, when I do get the right dialogue in the right places, good grief, does the diamond-tier voice cast show. It can’t have been easy for them to come into a franchise as well-known and beloved as Marvel’s cinematic universe and perform as such established characters, but even with the cheesy script, the voice work is impeccable. Troy Baker’s contemplative, softly-spoken Bruce Banner is a particularly memorable performance, and one that’s possibly my favourite of his to date.
But while the game quite rightly ensures you spend time with every hero on the roster – and successfully unifies a single control scheme for multiple characters, which can’t be easy to pull off – I came to loathe objectives that forced me to play as Iron Man or Thor. Aerial combat is clunky to the point of frustration, while vaulting and parrying, too, are a little hit and miss. Combat is melee-based with a handful of ranged and special skills thrown in, and it’s okay – even enjoyable at times – but the extensive skill trees don’t add as much to the mix as you might hope despite each hero’s bespoke abilities.
Levelling up gear is useless to the point of disbelief – there is so much of it, there’s little point boosting the power of anything until well after you have actually completed the campaign. Unlike Destiny – from which Marvel’s Avengers’ seems to draw much of its looter-shooter inspirations – there’s no cosmetic benefit, and barely a tactical advantage, either, which makes you wonder why there are vendors or factions in the first place. Mission objectives are recycled to the point of tedium, and while upping the difficulty boosts the challenge and rewards, this leaves some encounters feeling peculiarly imbalanced.
My favourite moments have been with a co-op partner at my side, times when we have actually synchronised attacks to wail on the same bad guy simultaneously, but the game fights at every turn to prevent me from doing that, too. You’ll need to get through a couple of hours of the solo campaign before you even open up the War Table mission-select screen, and despite the fact your single-player missions are often populated with AI companions, you can’t replace one with a friend. It’s such an antiquated approach, and an odd design choice for a game seemingly so well-suited for co-op.
Similarly, I don’t understand why you’re forced into a simulated HARM combat tutorial when you start the multiplayer mode, Avengers’ Initiative, given the game all but insists you finish the solo campaign first. Why would anyone need another basic combat tutorial after finishing the 12-ish hour single-player content? It doesn’t make sense.
As for the microtransactions? I know there’s a disingenuous trend of publishers deactivating the most egregious offerings until several weeks post-launch when people like me have already scribbled up our thoughts, however right now the offerings on Marvel’s Avengers’ marketplace truly are “just” cosmetic, and… well, dull, quite frankly.
I don’t particularly like the Hero Pass system – the individual battle passes locked to each hero – and like many of the game’s live-service aspects, they feel inelegant and obtrusive, stapled onto a frame that didn’t need it and can’t properly support it. But the passes do offer some additional hero-specific missions, which are pretty enjoyable, so… I don’t know. They’re inoffensive right now – all six starting heroes boast “free” hero passes – but it’ll be much harder to recommend future ones that want your real-life money (I know that completing a pass essentially “refunds” you the cost of it, but I’m not sure how feasible that is for most. We’ll see, I guess.)
As a live-service game, you can expect lots of tweaks and changes as the weeks morph into months, but having magpied so much from those kinds of games it’s left with little identity of its own. Despite the promise of its campaign, its endearing cast and impressive voice work, Marvel’s Avengers is an unoriginal and uninspired affair that falls sadly short of what it might have actually been – what it should have actually been.