<i>Marvel: Avengers Alliance</i> brings the Marvel Universe to Facebook

The new Marvel: Avengers Alliance Facebook game launched ... well, I'm not quite sure, to be honest, when the game officially launched, but I started playing it late last week, much to the detriment of every other Facebook game I used to play (which, admittedly, was down to one ... Dragon Age, I hardly knew ye...). Designed by Playdom, one of Marvel's sister companies within the great Disney media empire, the game allows players to assemble a team of Avengers from all corners of the Marvel U. to fight through various missions involving a host of villains.

Avengers Alliance shares several characteristics with many other Facebook games, including:

  • It's designed to be played in short chunks of time vs. being able to sit on it all day and just go through all the missions. You have to have a certain amount of energy available to you, which replenishes naturally over time, or can be replenished by your friends or by buying more--if you're willing to pay real money, which leads me to ...
  • The game has a "freemium" business model, meaning you can play most of it for free, but if you spend some of your real money on the in-game gold currency, you can buy various items to help out your characters, or more energy, if the game doesn't replenish it fast enough for you. Or you can exchange it for some of the other in-game currencies.
  • You can get additional bonus items/assistance through your Facebook friends, so recruiting new folks to join the game is highly encouraged. If you're on Facebook and are friends with other comic fans, it's probably likely you've already gotten requests to come play.

It's relatively easy to get started, as the game gives you a brief tutorial that walks you through the basics of the control panel and how to fight. You run your team from a helicarrier -- a helicarrier! -- which gives you access to a flight deck (so you can send your heroes on various missions when you aren't playing, which nets you more coin) as well as list of tasks you can complete over time for additional bonuses and experience.

In the game, you're a SHIELD agent who is given command of your own team of Avengers, with Maria Hill and Nick Fury there to offer advice and set up your missions. The first activity in the game is to customize your agent; create someone you like to look at, because you'll be seeing them a lot throughout the game. He or she is there for every mission, in every fight, as he or she teams up with various Avengers to take down the bad guys. Speaking of which, the game is broken into 10 chapters with six missions each ... each mission, at least the ones I've played so far, feature about six different encounters with various henchmen as well as fights against two bosses. For instance, the fifth mission in chapter one features battles with Frost Giants, the Destroyer and eventually Loki. There are also side missions you can send your heroes on where they go off to do something off-screen ... essentially making them unavailable for a battle, but they come back with something potentially helpful like a gadget or an extra bonus item.

The encounters are scattered around New York, with landmarks both real (Empire State Building) and fictional (Avengers Mansion) popping up on the maps. Playdom gets points here for the little details and for the nice design work they did throughout the game.

Five missions are free to play, while the final one is a premium mission ... in the first chapter, for instance, you can purchase a battle against the Abomination that also gives you the Hulk for your team. Or you can just skip over it and move to the next chapter. (edit: actually these missions become available to you when you buy the character ... that wasn't clear when I first wrote this. There's not an "extra" cost for them beyond that).

As for the fights, well, they're the crux of the game, and Playdom doesn't let you down ... they're a lot of fun:

Above you'll see my agent, Agent Jack, teaming up with Iron Man and Thor to fight Loki. Each boss encounter allows you to team up with an Avenger you may not have in your stable ... in this case, Thor joined Iron Man and my agent to take down his brother. Which the three of us did with much joy. Each character has various powers at their disposal and various class bonuses they can use ... She-Hulk, a "bruiser" gets enraged when a "scrapper" hits her, while Hawkeye, a "tactician," gets an extra turn if he attacks a "blaster." So a lot of times the battle can be won just by choosing the right classes to send into the fight. Your SHIELD agent can change their class based on the type of armor you put on them. It took me a few battles to figure this out, but then again I'm a shoot first, ask questions later kind of guy. Once I realized this, I started dominating a lot more battles than I had been, so it was worth reading the text to see who I was fighting and sending in a team that matched up against them well.

Once your characters gain enough experience, they can level up.

Your SHIELD agent will do so automatically, but your heroes will have to be trained. Which costs both silver and what they call SHIELD points. In additional to silver, SHIELD points and gold (which costs real $$$ or is earned at various points in the game), there's also a currency called command points, which you can use to buy additional heroes for your team. And they cost a wide range of command points--I bought Cyclops for 15 of them, while characters like Spider-Man and Captain America cost 130. At the beginning of the game you're given three characters -- Iron Man, Black Widow and Hawkeye -- with the option to buy more once you earn enough command points. I also got an additional hero for free at the end of chapter one (I had the choice of five, and I went with Iron Fist) and I assume that probably happens each time you finish a chapter. Command points are fairly hard to earn, at least more so than silver or SHIELD points, and the fact that you have four different kinds of currency seems needlessly complicated. And it always seems like I have plenty of one resource when in fact I need another to advance.

That's probably my only complaint with the game, though. I've played many other Facebook games, and while this one doesn't seem to have any game play features I haven't seen before, it has several advantages, the biggest being that hey, it's the Marvel Universe, smack dab in the middle of Facebook. The attention to detail is great, from the maps to the power sets to the writing. It also features a deep array of characters to choose for your team--granted, if you can get enough command points. Any game that allows you to play as Sif, Black Cat, Nightcrawler or Iron Fist has to be a winner, right? And finally, for a comics fan who is friends with other comics fans on Facebook, it's been relatively easy to find other folks who are playing the game ... and I don't feel as bad asking those who aren't to join in the fun as I would if, say, I was sending them a lame Farmville request.

Anyway, if you're a comics fan, particular a Marvel Comics fan, they made a Facebook game that's worth a few minutes of your time to check and see how much fun it could be.

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