After years of nothing but scraps of details, Square Enix has properly revealed a substantial portion of Crystal Dynamics’s Avengers game. Those who saw the unveiling may have been torn as a result of strong cinematics marred by lackluster looks. Excitingly, Square Enix was kind enough to allow some E3 attendees a chance to see half an hour of hands-off, raw gameplay. All anticipation came screeching to a halt the second gameplay kicked in, though. Maybe the final product will yield better results, but, for now, Marvel’s Avengers looks heroically boring.
The demo that E3 attendees saw in a behind-closed-doors setting is an extension of the game’s reveal trailer. During the A-Day celebration, a rogue military group attacks the team, causing significant damage to bystanders and supposedly killing Captain America.
The demo showed about 5–10 minutes of gameplay for each character, starting with Thor, then following Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and finishing with Black Widow. While Captain America takes out baddies on a newly-unveiled Avengers heli-carrier, the others defend the city on the ground.
Black Widow, specifically, is entrusted with taking out the Taskmaster before the villain detonates a round of explosives. Each section of gameplay is flashy and sometimes even spectacular. However, the problem is that moments are rare where the game looks like it may actually be fun to play.
Marvel’s Avengers takes inspiration from Destiny’s super moves, where players feel all powerful with every hammer throw and ground pound. Crystal Dynamics is trying to implement a similar feeling with every second of gameplay instead of in spurts, but the idea is not so great in practice.
The comparison may be tired by the time this preview goes up, but Thor’s playstyle looks eerily similar to a certain Greek, axe-throwing God killer. Unlike God of War, player control is not the priority, as finishers and cinematic moves take precedent. Throwing Mjolnir hard enough to send soldiers careening into the blue or with enough force to pin them to walls is exactly the balance Marvel’s Avengers so desperately needs, so those moments stick out as highlights. Disappointingly, such moments are few and far between for the son of Odin.
Next up (and maybe worst of all) is Iron Man. Take away Iron Man’s practically pre-written blueprint for in-game flight and put him on an immovable track and players can picture Crystal Dynamics’s vision of Iron Man. Anthem, despite its talked-to-death flaws, has an unmatched mech-suit free flight system to take advantage of. Marvel’s Avengers takes the idea down to its most barebones, essentially turning most of Iron Man’s time on-screen into an on-rails shooter. The other portion of his time on screen is relegated to slow moving hovering and basic-looking third-person shooter gunplay.
Hulk brings back the attention of any who had lost it following this lukewarm (at best) opening. Hulk not only manages to be both the best-looking Avenger graphically, but also a powerhouse of fun. Hulk packs the speed and unabashed rage seen from decades of movies and media content—and deciding what the team could do to make the character’s gameplay any stronger is hard. Along with pure, beat-‘em-up clobbering, Hulk can jump off walls and slam into the ground. With the exception of the possibility of combat becoming too meat-headed after a while, the big green meanie appears to strike the right balance of dumb fun.
Captain America looks about as good as he can thanks to the character’s lack of fitting lore to pull from. Marvel’s boy scout seems to have combat that is fairly involved, with a solid number of options. What makes Cap look most interesting, though, is the constant pinballing of his shield between cracked enemy skulls. Throwing Captain America’s shield might be the character’s saving grace.
Black Widow takes a step back again thanks to another section that looked sadly on rails. As stated before, Widow takes on the Marvel deep cut villain, Taskmaster. Long story short, nearly half of the boss fight could have been a quick time event and even the battle’s most cinematic moments were obscured thanks to significant framerate drops. At this point, I really just wanted the demo to be over, especially because Black Widow’s boss fight felt overlong in and of itself.
Many commentators have already called out the game’s confusing artistic choices, so players should be sad to know that seeing the action in motion does an already mediocre look no favors. Sometimes, however, Marvel’s Avengers can achieve photorealistic qualities. Even with a few spots of lavish polish, more often than not, Hulk and the others resemble superhuman potatoes.
Not everything is as bad as it seems, as the promise of future content and a genuinely intriguing premise are stronger than most seem to give credit for. Though the dialogue could be less hammy in a few areas, the delivery and some standout interactions were enough to promise a generally engaging cast.
A solid foundation is undoubtedly in place and some maneuvering or, hopefully, even a delay could push Marvel’s Avengers just enough to accomplish something unmatched. The cinematic gameplay is well done and impressive in its own right, but it just needs a certain fun factor to make the game a game and not the next entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Maybe the disappointment is from the years of hype or maybe it comes from Marvel’s almost flawless track record in terms of its core properties. Even considering Hulk-like expectations, I cannot shake the feeling that something is desperately wrong with this game. Crystal Dynamics not only needs more time to address fan outcry, but to completely reassess Marvel’s Avengers from a gameplay perspective, too. Superheroes should play like superheroes, not just look like them.
As stated toward the beginning of this preview, far too few have actually gotten their hands on the game, so a finished product or hands-on time could totally change this marred perspective. That said, if Square Enix wants to execute its plan to roll out playable heroes, bonus content, and extra modes in the future, players need to see its game is worthwhile and, for now, that guarantee is absolutely not present. Marvel’s Avengers just does not seem to pack the punch it so desperately needed for its debut.