Marvel: Avengers is a really impressive game for all the wrong reasons. Armed with the Marvel license and hundreds of possibilities, Crystal Dynamics squanders all of that to create a vapid, boring, uninspiring live service game that’s so overwhelmingly bland it’s no surprise the game is leaking players.
What’s most disappointing about Avengers though is just how much potential this game actually has. This was very obviously a single player-focused title at one point, with a direct narrative, an intriguing set-up and lots of room to grow.
When it was announced at E3 last year that Avengers would be an always-online experience, grumbles soon turned to real concerns. A cheap pop about no loot boxes was enough to get some brownie points, but that can only get you so far when the game is in your hands.
The title is essentially split into two distinct parts. The first, is a 10-12 hour campaign that begins with you playing as enthusiastic fan-girl Kamala Khan. The game immediately establishes itself into a repetitive mission structure, tasking you with collecting five comic books at a prestigious Avengers Day event. Here, you meet each of the chosen superheroes before the main storyline takes hold.
A catastrophic accident results in the world turning on the Avengers and our superheroes subsequently disbanding. In their wake, a new group called AIM begin ruling with a robotic iron fist, courtesy of genius scientist George Tarleton.
From here the reigns are handed over to you as you engage in various missions to re-assemble the Avengers and thwart AIM’s evil plans before it’s too late. It’s all pretty basic stuff but unfortunately that simplicity bleeds into the level design too.
While most of these areas look visually impressive, they’re undermined by a simple corridor trick of moving from point A to point B with little deviation. So many of these campaign levels feel like something out of Crash Bandicoot or Final Fantasy XIII. Sure there’s a couple of open-ended areas like the latter but this a very basic and disappointingly simple title that’s part platformer, part beat-em-up. Unfortunately it doesn’t do either of these tasks particularly well.
The distinct lack of memorable Marvel villains is a big problem here and aside from Abomination and Taskmaster, your entire journey sees you taking out variations of different robots – including the final boss. Given the emphasis on robots, not even Ultron manages to make the cut!
All of this could, perhaps, be forgiven if the heroes we’re given to play with are satisfying to use. But they’re not. Every character jumps like the Hulk, Black Widow and Kamala both fly through the air and grapple objects like Spider-Man, while Iron Man and Thor have nigh-on identical flying mechanics.
This is only made worse by the bullet-sponge enemies that complete negate the idea of you using superheroes. Simple grunt soldiers can withstand four or five blows from Mjölnir. Hulk can punch human soldiers in the face the same amount of times and they’re still standing.
It’s even more disappointing because the first mission – showcased in the demo no less – shows off the power for these heroes on the Golden Gate bridge. Here, Hulk dispatches numerous soldiers at a time and throws tanks around. In the game, you’ll be hard-pressed to take out more than one soldier at a time. This is just a façade for a more grindy chore as you plough through the game.
That’s to say nothing of the story itself which uses these strange stunt0-doubles for our Avengers that don’t resemble their comic-book counterparts or their live action movie doubles. Instead, it feels like a bunch of imposters have taken up the mantle. And there’s also no Hawk-Eye either.
On top of all this, the mission structure – when it’s not walking down single hallways – is so geared toward multiplayer that it feels off-putting to the story being told. Some times you’re tasked with holding territories from enemies, other times you have to destroy multiple waves (usually 3) that materialize in front of you while the loading screens (around 20-40 seconds each time) give you a lobby interface or a boring elevator sequence to sit through.
As you progress through the campaign, you also unlock various other missions that range from training sequences to sequences dedicated to leveling up each of the heroes. There’s definitely a wealth of content to get through but most of these missions are disappointingly short and revolve around simple fetch, kill or holding territory quests. There’s not even a good boss at the end.
That’s before even mentioning the tutorial screens and various sequences that guide you through how to play the game. At a most basic level, these screens tell you to press X to continue. What they actually mean is to hold down X. This sounds petty but given the game’s insistence on teaching you everything (sometimes three or four times), it feels like an oversight to make you hold down the button rather than pressing it.
As an example of the above, I was taught how to fly with Iron Man and use his abilities 6 hours into the campaign after I’d already been playing as him for a while before. This isn’t the same for every character but the hand-holding is distracting and unnecessary.
Once you’re done with the Campaign, the rest of the game accentuates the problems with gameplay and glitches in the multiplayer mode. There’s no surprise this one has dropped below 1000 players at a time on PC. The frame-rate problems are worse here, the uninspired missions are designed to be repetitive and the monetization speaks for itself.
The fact that the online shop is the most functional part of this game is a hilariously cruel sense of irony. Given Crystal Dynamics made a big deal about there being no loot boxes, everything here “is cosmetic” but designed to get you to pay.
The intentionally obsfucated and confusing resource system is unnecessarily complicated while any costume deviations for your chosen Avenger are reserved for those willing to grind – or pay – to wear them. There’s also the subject of skill points which are granted after level ups but feel pretty grindy to give yourself new abilities.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the game is buggy and feels unfinished. In the 20 hours of playing, I’ve had camera problems, freezing screens, wonky AI, terrible pathfinding, frame-rate stutters and several instances of animations during cut-scenes stuttering and messing up the lip-syncing.
It’s worth noting that all of this occurred after the most recent update. Given the problems inherent at launch, I can only imagine how bad it must have been back then.
Marvel’s Avengers is just not a fun game. It’s a vapid, boring, buggy, uninspiring mess of a live service that tries to jump on the band-wagon and falls flat on its face doing so. It’s a game typifying everything wrong with live services and an impressive showcase of how to take the Avengers license and drive it into the ground.
The sheer irony here is that perhaps if this was a single-player experience, fans would be sticking around for the long haul. There’s literally hundreds of villains, heroes and ideas to play with, all of which could have been fleshed out into a semi-open world experience with your friends.
What we’re left with then is a distorted hybrid of Fallout 76 and Anthem. Do yourself a favour and play one of the Lego superhero games instead.
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