I’m going to be upfront right away here: I enjoyed every minute I played of the Marvel Avengers beta. Before you get all uppity, though, bear in mind the following three facts: One, I’m a bit of a Marvel nerd; Two, I’m easily pleased when it comes to explosions (yes, I like Michael Bay movies); and Three, I went into this beta with very, very low expectations.
To say I wasn’t overly impressed by the reveal last year is like saying Endgame made a few quid at the box office. I didn’t like the look of the Avengers game, nor the sound, nor the concept. So it’s fair to say I needed some convincing – but knock me down with an Asgardian hammer if I’m not just a little bit more convinced after the beta.
It’s the gameplay loop I enjoyed most. Smash bad guys, break boxes, pick up loot, level up, repeat. But I found the locales to be detailed and good looking, I like the fact that most of it is destructible, and I think the character models are solid, even if the game does look like a collection of scenes from the movies that they had to shoot with the stunt doubles. In many ways – far too many, for some – it reminded me of Destiny. There’s even a “gear score” which feels completely arbitrary, and once again has no real-world applications because you won’t understand how it’s calculated. These things are like corporate bonus calculations or lottery spending, in that you’re not meant to understand them, you just have to accept that what you’re being told means something.
You suit up, pick your hero (or heroes, in most missions), select an activity from the “War Table”, and the Quinjet drops you off at your destination, where you’re required to destroy everything that moves, follow objective markers and loot everything that isn’t bolted to the concrete. So, like I said, it’s got a very Destiny feel to it.
The characters though, are cool and pretty well built. Each has a variety of unlockable moves and powers; they have traversal abilities, ranged and melee attacks, and three Hero Abilities on cool down that are universally awesome. Captain America, sadly absent after the intro due to story reasons, is great fun to play with. Iron Man and Thor can fly, Hulk can throw himself around like a wrecking ball, bounding from wall to wall, Kamala Khan can swing on her weird stretchy limbs, and Black Widow has a grappling hook.
Once you’re in a room full of goons or robots and there’s more than one of you playing (or you bought some AI bots to the party instead), it gets very, very messy. Performance was fairly steady, but the screen was busier than Picadilly Circus during the bigger encounters and, while the action is satisfyingly punchy, the target lock is as much use as a cardboard garden hose since it disengages itself more often than Katy Perry.
The thing is though, I wonder if people are expecting too much from this game. While titles like Marvel’s Spider-Man or the Arkham games can laser focus on one hero and their particular stable of nasties, an ensemble title like Avengers is different. Concessions have to be made to get everyone moving at the same speed and with a balanced experience, and Crystal Dynamics have largely achieved that. Playing as Hulk feels very different to playing as Black Widow and yet both are equally useful in a fight, bringing trademark moves, styles, outfits and animations that mark them as completely separate entities – and that’s an impressive thing in a game with so much going on.
Only after a solid length of time with the full game will we know how much content it has, but while the campaign missions felt enjoyable, with some impressive cutscenes and a couple of serviceable – if a little straightforward – boss fights, the side content feels a bit tacked on. Dropping into a mission with three other players to literally fight a room full of enemies before being told the mission was accomplished was pretty underwhelming – to the point where I began to wonder if this wouldn’t have worked better as a straight story campaign with a bit of multiplayer tacked on instead of a live service model.
The live service element is what will turn a lot of people off, too. Each Marvel Avengers character has their own battle pass-style progression tree, and though we can’t see in the beta how this will be monetised, there is definitely a premium currency involved, which means real money. Each pass unlocks a variety of things from skins to emotes, but nothing essential to the game itself. In fact, while the skins are expected in a super hero game, they do conflict with the loot system. When I’m picking up vests and bangles and Odin-knows-what from loot chests, I want to see evidence that I’m equipping them. Unfortunately, likely in service to the skins you’re supposed to grind or pay for, this doesn’t happen.
Also, Crystal Dynamics’ versions of some of the characters are hit and miss. I like Banner in this, riffing as he does off Mark Ruffalo’s awkward performance in the movies, and Natasha comes off well, too. Thor, though, sounds bloody awful. Like, “Chris Hemsworth in Snow White and the Huntsman” awful. And Stark and Cap just feel… off. But maybe that’s just because of the MCU. It didn’t matter that Sony’s Spider-Man wasn’t Tom Holland, because we’re used to seeing Peter Parker sporting different faces all the time. I don’t like Kamala much, though. They over play the giggling fangirl persona so much that it becomes irritating and, quite often, out of place to the point of being inappropriate. Be excited to see Nick Fury, by all means, but not when you think he could be leaving you a message from beyond the grave. That’s not the time for gushy fangirling and it’s irritating. Also, if I’m honest, her power is just weird and cartoony and not particularly cool at all.
There were a lot of elements in the Marvel Avengers beta that I really liked, though. I liked poking around in the Chimera, snooping in Bruce Banner’s bedroom, I liked the level of fan service paid to those who are going to look for it. And I like the movement in missions, the feel of the combat and the variety of powers. I’ll enjoy unlocking skins and mixing up my team of heroes, and I look forward to seeing who else gets added to the roster. But I can’t help but feel that people are going to come at this game ready for a fight, ready to pick it apart for faults they’d ignore elsewhere. Sometimes, you have to let something exist on its own terms.
From what I’ve played, Avengers isn’t trying to be the “new” anything; it’s an action game set in its own version of an established universe that wants to entertain first and foremost, that sets out its stall early with a bombastic, over-the-top, knowingly clichéd action sequence and then just does more of the same, which, let’s face it, is what its source material has done for almost a decade. If you’re trying to tell me the MCU is a franchise made for thinkers, you’re kidding yourself.
Either way, there’s not long left until the full release, and the Marvel Avengers beta has given me a slightly cautious thirst for more. It’s not perfect, and it’s too early to tell if it has the legs to carry it, but I genuinely enjoyed everything I played, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else Crystal Dynamics can do with this universe.