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June 2021

Marvel's Avengers

Platform(s): Google Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal (EU), Crystal Dynamics (US)
Release Date: Sept. 4, 2020


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PS4 Review - 'Marvel's Avengers'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 3, 2020 @ 11:00 p.m. PDT

Featuring a completely original story, Marvel's Avengers is being designed for gamers worldwide and will be packed with all the characters, environments, and iconic moments that have thrilled longtime fans of the franchise.

Buy Marvel's Avengers

It's strange to realize that despite being the biggest movie property in the world, "The Avengers" has never had its own big-budget game. It's mostly been regulated to mobile games and cameos. Marvel's Avengers isn't the big-budget, movie tie-in game you might expect at first, but it is a surprisingly good Avengers game.

Marvel's Avengers is like the recent PS4 Spider-Man game in that it is set in its own universe, which borrows from movies and comics while adhering to neither. After a tragic explosion during what was supposed to be an event to celebrate the Avengers, the world has turned on the heroes. Five years have passed since that day, and the Avengers are all missing in action — except for from Captain America, who seemingly died during the explosion. A corporation called Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) has taken over defense of the world, using its advanced technology to create an army of robotic peacekeepers. Those same peacekeepers are hunting down Inhumans, the superpowered humans who were created in the wake of the "A-Day" event. The story follows one Inhuman, Kamala Khan (AKA Ms. Marvel), as she struggles to avoid AIM's evil grasp and find a way to bring the Avengers back together again.

The use of Ms. Marvel as the viewpoint character is incredibly well done. In reality, Marvel's Avengers is a clever name because it refers to both the company and the character. This game is about Khan and how she rescues the Avengers, and it's a smart way to handle it. The game assumes you know who the Avengers are and don't need refreshers, so it spends most of its time dealing with Khan's anxieties and her struggle to become a worthy hero while also trying to reassemble the fractured Avengers. It's a lot of fun and Khan is an excellent fit, filling a similar role to the young Spider-Man in the movies while having her own identity. The plot is the standard "we need to beat the bad guys" comic fare, but focusing it around Khan gives the title some heart. The game bluntly use Inhumans as a stand-in for mutants — likely due to licensing issues while the game was being developed.

Avengers is really two games: a stand-alone single-player campaign and a multiplayer loot-driven "games as a service" title like Destiny. The single-player campaign is something you can approach without feeling like it got the short end of the stick. The fully story-driven campaign has a lot of character beats and cut scenes. You'll probably play an hour into the story before you can control anyone beside Khan for more than a few minutes. If you want an excuse to play as the Avengers in what amounts to a playable Avengers film, it does the job well, even discounting the multiplayer.

At its heart, the game is a brawler. Each character controls in roughly the same way: ranged attack, strong attack, weak attack, and three special moves that boil down to attack, support and Ultimate. Regardless of which character you choose, you won't need to relearn the gameplay from scratch. There are differences between characters, but you'll discover them during gameplay instead of feeling like you've wandered into a different genre.

Each character brings distinct advantages to the table. Ms. Marvel, as the protagonist of the game, is the best all-around character and can fill any niche. Her most distinctive feature is her support ability, which is a group heal, which is a must-have for multiplayer encounters. The Hulk is the largest Avenger and the most durable one due to his Rage ability. He regenerates health every time he attacks, so as long as you're smashing, you're healing. Iron Man is the ranged specialist of the group, and his special ability is summoning the Hulkbuster armor, which anyone on your team can pilot. Black Widow deals tons of damage to a single target very quickly, so she is a beast against single strong foes. Thor is the best "pure" brawler in the game. He can use his hammer to smash foes and boost his power with Odinforce. Captain America is the most agile character, with wall-running and double-jumps being part and parcel of his move set. He can block almost any attack as long as there is energy in the Shield meter.

By and large, the game does a shockingly good job of balancing the many disparate play styles in one setting. My biggest complaint is about balance: Characters who are extremely hard hitters, like The Hulk, feel anemic. The game tries to get around this by focusing on other things, such as The Hulk being the most durable character and Thor being able to shoot electricity. It's an odd blip for a game that otherwise does well in keeping characters true to their abilities.

The nice thing is that no character is stuck with one build. Each character has a specialty, but it can go in a few different ways. For example, Tony can focus on crowd-clearing lasers, heavy single-target damage, or getting the Hulkbuster up and running. Ms. Marvel can take on the tank role, a supportive healing role, or she can smash foes with her giant extendo-hands. It's hard to say how this balance will shape up, since it will take the community a few days to figure out what is strongest or weakest, but at very least, it seems like there's a lot of build potential.

This also plays into the gear aspect. The game has two different methods of leveling: regular levels and power levels. Regular levels are traditional RPG style: Kill enemies, gain EXP, and level up. Leveling up gives you more skill points, which you spend to unlock more character customization. The specializations can be swapped at any time once they're unlocked, so you're not forced into one specific build. There is no re-spec that I can see, but it appears that a max-level character will be able to have everything unlocked at once, with the differences being which spec they are using.

Your power level is determined by the level of the gear you have equipped, so there is no particular "level-limited" gear, only gear with a higher power level. Your stats are determined by your gear, which also can have perks, such as a percentage chance to deal status damage or activate buffs. You can spend resources to power up gear, which keeps it competitive and unlocks more perks on high-end gear.

The core gameplay loop is fun, but the generic enemies got tiresome after a while, and I would've loved more variety. You're mostly fighting AIM, so you'll see multicolored robots with various weapons and elemental gimmicks. Marvel has a number of classic enemies to take on, and Avengers barely scratches the surface. Faceless robots are less fun to beat up in huge numbers than Hydra or Thanos's bug armies.

The campaign has a lot of cool moments. The multiple battles against robots at the AIM laboratory are interspersed with some neat mission setups, such as Tony Stark taking to the skies in homemade armor and blasting through an AIM encampment to the tunes of AC/DC, or a dramatic battle atop a Helicarrier where you constantly swap between various Avengers as the plot demands. It's a solid brawler, and it does the job well if you're playing it for the Avengers story.

As of this writing, it's tough to judge the multiplayer portion of Avengers. The campaign can't be played in single-player except for a few missions, and the bulk of the multiplayer is tied to the post-story War Zones, which the game warns you may feature spoilers. The War Zones are large areas where you can undertake missions to get more loot and powers, and they can be played on multiple difficulty modes. You can run into special missions, which include boss fights or timed challenges. There are post-game events, and complex raids are supposed to be coming later. The multiplayer piece will need regular content refreshers to remain interesting, but the state of the game in six months will be a better indication of its long-term sustainability. The game doesn't currently allow duplicates of the same character in the same instance, but hopefully that will change down the line. The multiplayer segment feels like it'll be fun to play after the story mode finishes, but it remains to be seen if it will be anything more than a few hours of blasting stuff with your favorite characters.

Avengers is a good-looking game. It ran fairly smoothly for me with minimal hiccups, but the occasional cut scene had some odd hair physics. I had to restart the game after it froze mid-cut scene, but it worked fine otherwise. The character models are well animated, but it takes a lot to get used to the fact that they're different from the movie designs. The voice acting is excellent, but Nolan North's Tony Stark sometimes feels like Drake from Uncharted in a mech suit. Unfortunately, the music is largely forgettable, aside from a few excellent uses of licensed songs for dramatic moments.

Marvel's Avengers is an enjoyable Avengers-themed brawler that's tied to an untested multiplayer mode. If all you want is to play through the video game equivalent of a Marvel movie, then it does an excellent job. If you're hoping for something you can play for infinite hours with constant updates, the truth is that it's too early to tell. What we played was fun for a few hours of co-op, but I have my doubts about its long-term viability. It's by far the best Avengers game ever made, and with the exception of Hulk (whose Hulk: Ultimate Destruction remains the pinnacle of Hulk gameplay), it features the best video game version of the superheroes to date.

Score: 8.5/10

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