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Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: Sept. 19, 2017


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite'

by Thomas Wilde on June 20, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Marvel and Capcom universes collide like never before as iconic characters team up for action-packed player-versus-player combat in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

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There's an uphill public-relations battle with this one. Marvel vs. Capcom, as a franchise, has a large, slightly insular, definitely eccentric fan base, and due to Disney's consolidation of all its Marvel licenses a few years ago, it looked like another MVC was never going to happen. People were warming up for another decade-long drought, where Ultimate MVC3 would be a regular on its own tournament circuit, as players mastered more eccentric teams and came up with ever more obscure tactics.

Then Disney shuttered its games division, and the first thing a lot of people thought, me included, was that meant there was hope for an MVC4. Aside from a few broken tactics that should've been patched out of the game long ago — Morrigan's degenerate Soul Fist spam, for example — a new MVC could've been perfectly acceptable if it were just MVC3 again with a few new characters and costumes.

Instead, Capcom announced Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, which at first glance, looks like the result from a monkey's-paw wish; you're getting a fourth MVC, but it's nothing like what came before. It returns to a 2v2 setup from MVC3's 3v3, dramatically pares back the cast, slows down its gameplay, announced imminent DLC at the end of its debut trailer, and perhaps most crucially, phoned in a lot of the graphics. Chun-Li in particular looks like an amateur Source Filmmaker model, the same way that Morrigan used to look weird in Capcom vs. SNK because she was still using her decade-old Vampire Savior sprite set; it's like she's in the wrong game.

Infinite's story demo went live on digital storefronts at the same time it became available to play at Capcom's booth at E3 2017, with versus matches going on all conference long; if you had a media badge, you also had the opportunity to get your face kicked in by a who's-who of fighting game pros. I ended up losing my turn to a couple of VIPs, but I did get a chance to see some relatively high-level play.

Right now, I still don't know what to think. Most of the returning characters so far have been changed just enough that their go-to tactics are decidedly different, most of the inputs have been vastly simplified, and most crucially, Infinite has a gem system that changes things up with every match. In a way, the third member of the team is whatever Infinity Gem you select, which works a bit like V-Skills and V-Triggers do in Street Fighter V. The gem has its own gradually filling resource meter, independent of your super moves, and gives you an active ability on top of your character's typical arsenal. You can expend half the gem's meter at once to cause an "Infinity Storm," which grants you a number of passive benefits for a few seconds, not the least of which is the fact that your opponent can't use their own Infinity Storm while yours is running.

If you remember 1995's Marvel Super Heroes, you'll be on immediately familiar territory with the gems in Infinite. At the start of a versus match, you can select one of the Infinity Gems; if it's in keeping with the original game and the story it was based upon, there'll be six in the final game, but the demo at E3 had four. The Power Gem gives you a short-ranged punch that inflicts a hard knockdown, and when activated, boosts your standard attacks' damage and impact. Pick the Space Gem, and you can pull your opponent toward you to set them up; its "super" imprisons your opponent in a blue cage of force, which doesn't inhibit their actions but keeps them from moving outside of a very narrow area in the screen. The Time Gem is likely to see a lot of use, as it gives your character a one-button forward dash that can be used in the air as well as a short-duration boost to your attack speed and combo potential. Finally, a character equipped with the Reality Gem gets an extra projectile with slight homing ability, and when activated, it works a lot like it did in MSH, providing all your attacks with bonus fire, ice, or lightning damage.

The old-school, arcade-style inputs from UMVC3, such as quarter-circles and Dragon Punches, are largely gone. Most special moves are now done via simple motions, like command moves in Street Fighter V, or quick combinations like down, down plus attack. Mashing the light button starts an automatic combo, and the basic control scheme has been converted to make it a little more stock-controller friendly; now it's a four-button game, like King of Fighters, with two punches and two kicks.

You'll recognize a lot of the moves that the returning cast members use, down to how basic attacks are animated, but most have gotten a few changes. Captain America now has a counterattack like Taskmaster's, Thor is more of a grappler, Iron Man has a stronger rushdown game, and Chris Redfield's Magnum is stronger but now has to be reloaded after three shots. Rocket Raccoon can call in Groot for a couple of different moves, such as a long-range swat with Groot's fast-growing arms, but retains some of his traps and cannons from UMVC3. Nobody I tried played quite the same as they did, if only due to the new system they're in.

The tag system has been revamped, allowing you to tag in your partner at virtually any moment, whether it's as part of a combo or in reaction to one. You can use a swap to break out of an opponent's combo, but if you time it poorly, both your characters will be on-screen and vulnerable at once, which will basically hand your opponent the round on a silver platter. There will be times when it's preferable to lose your character rather than run the risk of having both of them knocked out at once.

Infinite also has a story, aside from the vague hints at one that characterized the last game. The general idea seems to be that Ultron has reached across dimensions to contact Sigma, the villain from the Mega Man X series, and the two have merged into a single being. In so doing, they've merged Asgard with X's home city, turning its inhabitants into either robotic drones or tech-infected cyborgs who instantly obey Ultron-Sigma's commands. The plot involves a joint effort by an Avengers team and the Capcom heroes to infiltrate Asgard and rescue Thanos in order to discover the location of the one thing that might be able to stop Ultron-Sigma: the Infinity Gems, which are scattered all over the world.

It'll take a lot more practice before I feel like sharing an opinion about Infinite. Casual players will probably respond well to it, as it takes almost no effort to learn the basics this time around. What's interesting is that by now, the Marvel characters have all become well-known and popular enough that the biggest barrier to a casual audience is now arguably the presence of Capcom's characters. If the plan was to try to gather a new generation of fans to the series, it might have been a slightly smarter play to just do a new Marvel Super Heroes and avoid the crossover altogether.

Conversely, the handful of pros I spoke to were all working on figuring out high-level tactics. Early thoughts: The Time and Reality Gems seem like obvious go-to picks, and none of the available characters seem like they're outright bad. You can pull off some really disgusting mix-ups using the Time Gem's dash and characters with slow-moving fireballs, for example. While Morrigan's Soul Fist spam made her the most annoying character to fight in UMVC3, she can't do that anymore ... unless you pick the Time Gem and activate its Infinity Storm, at which point she turns right back into UMVC3 Morrigan for 10 painful seconds.

The biggest problems, of course, are that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is a big change from the previous game, in ways both good and bad, which might drive away hardcore fans in favor of a theoretical new, casual audience that might not exist. More crucially, the MVC4 that fans were looking for also showed up at E3 this year in the form of Dragon Ball FighterZ, which is basically MVC3, except with a different license and slightly more forgiving mechanics. This is going to be an argument in the fighting-game community for the foreseeable future, right up until DBFZ comes out. Meanwhile, Infinite's first tournaments are already planned, and it's coming out to a substantial fan community, but an uphill battle awaits it.

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