After their triumph at the box office in a string of popular super movies tied to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return to video game realms to shine in the third-person adventure Marvel’s Avengers (Square Enix, rated Teen, $59.99 to $79.99, reviewed for PlayStation 4).
With the combined development might of Crystal Dynamics (orchestrators of the reimagined Tomb Raider) and Eidos Montreal (Deus Ex franchise), the virtual adventure features solo and co-operative gameplay for up to four players.
Elements of deeper combat customizations, limited exploration of locations and collection of an unending amount of resources to upgrade characters leads the charge into this ever evolving game.
Options also include those unwelcomed, real money, out-of-pocket, micro-transactions used to buy mainly legendary costumes for the characters.
Life begins for the player with a roughly 10- to 20-hour-long campaign that does a splendid job of mixing up the interactive action while delivering an engaging cinematic story.
Gamers are quickly introduced to Kamala Khan, a teenager living in New Jersey, in love with the Avengers and writer of prolific fan fiction. Miss Khan’s work gets her an invite to A-Day, a celebratory convention in San Francisco to meet the superhero team comprised of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Captain America.
The event turns chaotic quickly after a terrorist attack by Taskmaster leads to the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge and the supposed death of Cap. Even more catastrophic, the crystal power source used to power the Avengers flying fortress headquarters, the Chimera, gets destroyed and its mist infects humans turning them into super-powered beings.
The disaster forces the Avengers to disband and, five years later, a player controls the now super-powered Kamala on a journey to uncover the truth behind the tech corporation A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics), now literally robotic enforcers for the government and collecting anyone with inhuman DNA.
Most importantly, she will also reunite the Avengers as player’s control each hero and Kamala through sub missions as diverse as collecting Tony Stark’s pieces of armor and rebuilding the Chimera.
I was slightly bummed controlling Kamala at the beginning and only getting a taste of controlling the key Avengers.
That soon evaporated as her odd powers of elasticity for swinging and climbing along with allowing her to grow massive fists (moves more familiar to the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards) combined with a heroic power to grow multistory in size (that never gets old) to crush and swat enemies.
Players will eventually get plenty of time with the other Avengers as they unravel Kamala’s emotional journey (especially with poignant moments between her, Bruce Banner and Tony Stark) as she eventually becomes a key member of the Avengers’ rebirth.
Her story should especially appeal to female gamers often left out of the virtual world often more slanted to male counterparts.
In fact, playing the campaign with help from a college-aged female, she found it “refreshing to see a truly unique female character at the forefront,” and she welcomed a character “so seemingly normal and unthreatening becoming the centerpiece for the Avenger’s redemption.”
The adventure certainly offers a roster sure to satisfy fans of the movies but more importantly, the original sequential art source material.
For example, almost immediately after the game’s opening, Kamala walks around the A-Day midway and is tasked with collecting comic books. Those book covers, such as “Avengers No. 4” from 1963 (Captain America’s return) are stored in a player’s collection and offers information on the creators and release dates.
Non-playable legends such as Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Hank Pym and Tony Stark’s famed super computer J.A.R.V.I.S. as well as villains that need to be beaten such as the Abomination and MODOK all take on a lifelike visual quality reimagined much like Eidos’ Batman: Arkham Asylum games had done to DC Comics characters in the past.
The near infinite amount of super-power variations afforded the characters will also make fan boys grin ear to ear. Take a rampaging Hulk using his thunder clap or literally tearing up the terrain while glowing green to crush evil minions.
Of course, Thor can throw his hammer and strike down bad guys with bolts of tethered lighting while Iron Man uses repulser rays, laser, rockets and a chest beam to nearly incinerate aggressors. Even more eye-catching, Ole’ shell head can call down and wear the famed Hulkbuster armor for particularly nasty encounters.
I was also thrilled by the overall visual presentations. Taking its cue from the Marvel Cinematic Universe without the actors of the movies, the costuming and facial constructs were lifelike and even Bruce Banner even had a bit of Bill Bixby (the 1970s Banner) in his hairstyle and facial expressions.
That was calming since early reports had painted the Avengers game as a visual mess. OK, the hair sometimes looks a bit more helmet like than flowing but watching the Hulk roar with a slight bit of spittle in the corner of his mouth made me forget any style issues.
So if that not enough, and for me, a 15-hour movie certainly was an extremely satisfying experience, players dive into an unending collection of missions accessed via a hub in the reconditioned Chimera.
The overly ambitious developers apparently worked on paying homage to the video-game franchise Destiny through the combative, loot seeking, co-operative gameplay that can keep players busy round the clock.
However, at this point, let’s call the multi-player effort, loaded with too much mission and environmental repetition as well as brutally grinding and tedious looting, a work in progress.
Still, what should be even more appealing for the fan who dives aboard is, as with many video games these days, the unlimited amount of expansions possible to game via downloads as well as patches to fix any possible issues currently pestering players.
In fact, Crystal Dynamics has been very attentive to players’ concerns and offering up fixes to some of the major issues as well as keeping fans up to date with blog posts.
For expansion, expect, most importantly, new downloadable characters with their missions such as a Female Hawkeye (Kate Bishop), Spider-Man and Black Panther and added quests and battles that are, at this time, apparently free add-ons for players.
Those characters are especially tempting since near every hero and sometimes villain in the Marvel Comics universe has been a card-carrying member of the Avengers and that leaves plenty of room for growth opportunities for developers.
For those looking for perfection in Marvel’s Avengers, get over it. We get a looting brawler of a game, and I don’t need hundreds of combination moves or a forest of skill trees of customization to succeed. I found enough sweet spots with heroic powers and intuitive attacks to make me feel like an Avenger.
To further put it in context, if I stream Disney’s latest live action “Mulan” in my home with the family, its $30 for the roughly two-hour event.
Starting at $60, this game allows a whole family to sit down and watch as well as play a well-constructed action-packed story easily over 10 hours long and with plenty of narrative extensions in the future. I’m going with Marvel’s Avengers for this home entertainment choice any day.