After seeing Marvel’s Avengers in action at E3, I’m so much less excited to actually get my own hands on the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
When Marvel’s Avengers was first unveiled back in 2017, I immediately had high expectations. Coming off of the back of the announcement of Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2016, it seemed like Marvel was finally ready to take things in the realm of video games seriously. With a competent developer at the helm of the project in Crystal Dynamics, and with me personally being a big fan of the studio’s Tomb Raider titles, I expected another high-caliber title.
After seeing Marvel’s Avengers being played in front of me today though during a behind-closed-doors, hands-off demo at E3 2019, my expectations have plummeted. Marvel’s Avengers by no mean seems like a bad game based on what I saw, but it just seems so basic. During a show where I’m looking at juggernauts like Final Fantasy VII Remake, DOOM Eternal, and Cyberpunk 2077, Marvel’s Avengers, by comparison, looks so basic and, more than anything, just not all that enjoyable to play.
The section of the game that Square Enix showed me today was that of the game’s opening mission taking place on A-Day. Much as you probably saw in the reveal trailer for Avengers, this sequence has you playing as all five members of the team to get a feel for how each of them plays. It’s a fine, if expected, opening to get the story rolling.
Within mere seconds of seeing Thor in action, the first character that we saw controlled in this sequence, I already had some major reservations with what was shown. Combat largely looked standard and boring, with no real “wow” moments ever occurring. Even as you switched to then control Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and ending with Black Widow, the core gameplay largely seemed to just consist of smashing a single button to punch enemies that walked in your way.
Each character in the game also had their own unique special abilities as well, mapped to L1 and R1 respectively on the PS4, and an ultimate ability that, more often than not, let you clear a wide variety of baddies in one fell swoop. For example, with Hulk, this ultimate ability was his iconic power clap move which then sent enemies flying in all directions. Cap, Iron Man, Black Widow, and Thor could also throw or shoot the weapons they each utilize, while Hulk could pick up chunks of the ground and blast bad guys over the head.
I’d say 90% of what I saw of the demo, at least in the realm of combat, just consisted of smashing a single button to punch, hammer, or shield bash enemies into oblivion. It didn’t look like there was a whole lot of depth in terms of this gameplay loop and I really didn’t see any unique combos pulled off by any of the characters. You would punch a whole lot until your specials were off of their cooldown, use those abilities, and then proceed to just punch some more.
The only time things really changed in the demo came near the end when Black Widow took on Taskmaster in the first boss fight of Marvel’s Avengers. This section was actually kind of cool and, as a big Taskmaster fan, I thought they did the villain justice. That said, actually taking him on in the fight wasn’t all that novel. You’d wait until openings appeared to then deal damage with your fists as Black Widow. While waiting for those openings to appear though, you could just mindlessly shoot at Taskmaster with Widow’s pistols. There were also a few quicktime events in this boss fight which weren’t even that exciting to watch play out.
This demo was even more jarring for me coming off of last year’s release of Marvel’s Spider-Man which had so much depth and fluidity in its combat. Insomniac was able to build and curate an entire video game solely based on what Spider-Man has at his disposal and it worked wonders. I think the problem with Marvel’s Avengers is that each character in the game has to have the same baseline attacks so that it makes it easy to transition between them. While each of the five playable characters have their own unique specials that are tethered only to that hero, that’s really the only major thing that seems to separate each of the characters.
The biggest issue that I had after watching yesterday’s reveal trailer dealt with the character design of each of the Avengers in the game. After seeing the actual game in action, I don’t think it’s as bad as I initially thought; each character in action largely looked pretty good. There were a few instances in which strange animations occurred, but I mostly just chalked this up to it being a pre-alpha build.
Even though I’ve largely gotten used to the designs in the last 24 hours though, the one thing that I still find pretty lacking in Marvel’s Avengers deals with the colors. The demo that I saw had some pretty cool-looking backdrops, especially when you looked out over the bay and saw the city of San Francisco in the distance. With that being said though, I don’t think the colors pop here in Avengers at all. I want my comic book games to be bursting with color, much like their source material often does. Marvel’s Avengers looks so muted and dull in the same way that Zack Snyder’s DC movies do.
Despite my complaints and worries moving forward with Marvel’s Avengers, I want to stress that I do not think the game is going to be bad or is a lost cause. I think a portion of why I may have been so underwhelmed by what was shown was because it was simply the opening scene of the game. In my own estimation, a vast portion of video game opening sequences are terrible and are far too on-rails. Perhaps it’s just this opening portion of Marvel’s Avengers that looks underwhelming, whereas hours into the experience things may be drastically different.
It’s also worth noting that none of what I saw in this demo was played in co-op, which Marvel’s Avengers will offer. Maybe this will be more of a game that you’re meant to play with friends or others and not alone. I’d like to see if special abilities between different heroes can synergize with one another, similar to a game like Marvel Ultimate Alliance. But, alas, I can’t speak to any of this since I only saw how it’ll play out in single-player.
If there’s one element that I am banking on redeeming the potentially lackluster gameplay though, it’s that of the story and world that Square Enix is building for this iteration of the Avengers. Even though many are tied to the MCU version of the famous superhero team, as a longtime comic book reader, I’ve become pretty used to seeing new interpretations that others may have with these superhero characters. I have my fingers crossed that this narrative that Crystal Dynamics ends up spinning is a worthy one.
I did not expect that I would be writing a largely negative preview for Marvel’s Avengers at E3 this week, but here we are. This was likely my most-anticipated game coming into E3 2019 and to come out of the demo that I saw today shaking my head in frustration wasn’t fun. I still firmly believe that Marvel’s Avengers could turn out to be a solid video game, but judging from what I saw, this is not at all what I hoped it would be.
Marvel’s Avengers will release for PS4, Xbox One, Google Stadia, and PC on May 15, 2020.