It would be fair to say that Crystal Dynamics' superhero team-up, Marvel's Avengers, has a lot to prove. It's a live-service game in an increasingly crowded genre, as well as offering a fresh spin on superheroes fans have decades of memories attached to. Thankfully, it just might work.
Marvel's Avengers Beta Impressions
In our preview build, we're able to step into the suit, cape, and torn trousers of each of Earth's Mightiest Heroes in turn as we play out the game's inciting incident, A-Day. This tutorial gives us ample time with each hero, punctuated by scripted set-pieces that are full of explosions, flying, jumping and more. It's a 25 minute Marvel theme-park ride, and each of the game's quintet of initial Avengers feels impressively nuanced. Flight with Iron Man feels a little restrictive in the earlier stages, but unleashing his uni beam attack to tear through enemies is second only to the Incredible Hulk's immensely satisfying elbow drop from up high that would put Macho Man Randy Savage to shame.
After this whistle-stop tour of superheroism, we're jumped forward in time to the Avengers being disbanded, and bad guys AIM seizing control of many of their assets. Picking up as Kamala Khan (Ms Marvel to you or me), we're introduced to an entirely new set of powers. Ms Marvel's stretchy limbs and ability to turn into a giant with her "Ultimate Ability" are great, slapstick fun, and we're almost disappointed to return to the Hulk again, such is the fun of Kamala's go-go-gadget arm traversal.
Square Enix has positioned the game's campaign as a full, single-player experience, and at no point did it feel anything other than ran exciting superhero romp. Sure, there are gear systems and upgrades to earn from defeated enemies and secret boxes dotted in each area, but between the wildly destructive environments, explosions, and even a cheeky boss battle (which we won't spoil here), there's more than enough for Marvel fans to get their teeth into - regardless of their propensity for loot and levelling. In fact, you can instantly equip your highest-level gear with a single button press.
Once the duo accesses the War Table, the game's central hub, the demo opens up to offer Avenger-specific "Hero Missions" that progress the game's storyline, before eventually feeding into a variety of co-op missions. HARM rooms augmented reality training challenges, are addictive to complete with a team, but the real meat is found in the game's War Zones. These much more open areas allow for increased freedom of movement, so Iron Man really comes into his own here.
Each of the beta's five War Zone missions offers points of interest with unique challenges and puzzles that offer bonus gear as rewards, but you could just as easily enjoy swinging through the streets as Kamala Khan or Black Widow, or wrecking shop as Hulk. Every playstyle feels fun, and combat feels responsive and offers great rumble feedback on the Dualshock 4 to make you feel as though you're, well, superhuman. Pair that with the ability to hop into Iron Man's Hulkbuster armour, and the game feels like an Avengers toy box of sorts.
While the game's combat controls feel a little shallow at first, offering light and heavy attacks, along with special and ultimate moves, a brief peek at the upgradeable skill trees for each character shows just how much versatility there is. My Hulk, for example, is focused on quick movement and attacks between dodges to negate the fact that he's a huge target, but it's just as possible to focus on his brutish strength to hurl debris at enemies. We'll find out more about build diversity in the full game, but for now, things are off to a promising start.
Honestly, we're incredibly impressed by what we've seen so far. Live service games live and die based on their content pipeline, but the sheer volume of things to do within this beta suggests the game is off to a solid start, with much more promised in the months after launch. As far as being able to step into the shoes of characters we've come to love, Crystal Dynamics may have proved the doubters wrong.