Following a questionable debut in July at Comic-Con International, Square Enix’s upcoming Marvel's Avengers video game had a bit of a hill to climb in the public eye before its May 2020 release. Thankfully, it’s taking some massive steps forward this week at New York Comic Con, and CBR got some encouraging hands-on time with the game itself.
However, that’s not all, as the studio also revealed one of the game’s most important (and most promising) details of all: the addition of Kamala Khan as the story’s main character.
The announcement of Marvel’s Avengers met with a … less-than-positive reception. Formerly known as The Avengers Project, it landed with a thud, drawing complaints of ugliness, and questions about the confusing release schedule. Some positivity followed the reveal that Square Enix developer Crystal Dynamics would take lead in the game’s creation, but then came the announcement that the lineup of heroes just appeared to be a diet version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's original Avengers, minus Hawkeye.
The first glimpses of gameplay suggested a linear path through the story, with combat reminiscent of a mobile brawler. On top of all of that, Square Enix teasedthe game would undergo consistent content updates, potentially suggesting the it would feature an unfinished story at launch. The heroes themselves didn’t look great, even earning comparisons to the scene in Spaceballs in which they accidentally get the characters’ stunt doubles. Perhaps, many wondered, some of these issues are just limited to the opening portion, and it begins to open up later on?
It seemed slightly unfortunate, then, that CBR’s hands-on demo was also largely restricted to the same opening segment from that first trailer. Yet, it miraculously took only a few minutes for many of those issues to melt away. Once the player actually takes hold of a controller and gets into the game, it immediately feels perfect, like slipping into a favorite pair of shoes. The combat is clearly building on the Arkham/Spider-Man school of fighting, with light attacks, heavy attacks, a dodge and combos, but allows each hero his or her own style, skillset and specialty moves. The demo takes place in San Francisco, as the team of five Avengers (seriously, where is Hawkeye?) works to stop Taskmaster and his endless waves of goons from destroying the city.
It opened with Thor, who similar to Kratos in 2018’s God of War, has the ability to aim and call back Mjolnir with the press of a button. The enchanted hammer blends perfectly into the typical superhero combat system, fluidly allowing the player to continue combos, even when at a distance from the nearest enemy. The god of thunder also has the ability to fly, which gives the hero his own quirk, but it feels familiar.
A segment as Iron Man was next, and controlling Tony Stark felt similar to Thor in terms of power and flight controls, but his ranged attacks are much different. Marvel’s Avengers allows a massive amount of customization in terms of how the player wants to play, which extends to Iron Man’s ranged attacks, giving the player the ability to swap between lasers, repulsers and rockets on the fly, depending on the threat. There was also an on-rails flying sequence as Iron Man, but it only lasted about 30 seconds and offered very little depth, not even allowing dual-stick controls.
Playing as Hulk was probably the most satisfying part of the demo, swapping out flight and ranged attacks for an unstoppable, rampaging monster. Taking out the enemies was quite easy, even for a demo, but it felt so natural smashing around, picking up enemies and pieces of concrete, then smashing them into each other that the difficulty wasn’t really an issue. In terms of level traversal, Hulk leaps from bright red launchpads, there to help the player follow the critical path in a Naughty Dog-like manner.
Captain America received one of the briefest stretches in the demo, but the Avengers’ leader had a fully developed skillset and playstyle, even if he does meet his doom in the first act. Throwing the shield, fighting enemies while waiting for it to return, then delivering a finishing blow upon its return was an intuitive flow, and it’s sad to see it go to waste (or will it?).
The last stretch of the tutorial followed Black Widow in a boss battle as she faces off against Taskmaster. It was a bit clunkier than the first parts of the demo, and because it was a boss fight it’s difficult to get a grasp on how Natasha will actually control during battle. It’s still the early stages of the game, but the boss fight was quite repetitive, featuring three phases of “solve-and-repeat” action to eventually bring down the villain.
When the tutorial’s gameplay draws to a close, footage from the first trailer plays, as we see Captain America go down with a Helicarrier, the Avengers disband, and AIM replaces heroes as the law-keeping regime.
Narratively, outlawing heroes and replacing them with a more automated system resembles classic deconstructionist stories like Watchmen and The Incredibles, but it’s never really been done to this degree with the Marvel heroes. It’s intriguing, and the heroes are all left in duress, with Thor leaving Mjolnir out of fear of unworthiness and Banner trapped in a permanent Hulk state. The story properly kicks into gear when Kamala Khan, the stretchy Inhuman and future Ms. Marvel, comes to the team with proof that AIM has sinister motives.
The final hands-on activity CBR was granted with Marvel’s Avengers was in the HARM Room, basically a training facility for the Avengers, and control over Kamala herself. The character is easily the best-feeling in the game, with smooth animations that flow quickly into the next. Her expressive, powerful fists and feet grow when she makes contact, but she also moves quickly, dodging blasts more easily than some of the chunkier characters.
All in all, if gameplay is king, Marvel’s Avengers will turn out just fine, with a bountiful selection of gameplay styles that are each rewarding in their own way. And that isn’t to speak of many additional systems, like upgradable power moves, gear and unlockable costumes.
As for the questionable release schedule, Crystal Dynamics head Scot Amos helped clear that up as well. The game will feature two types of missions, one titled HERO Missions, which are solo levels that progress the story, and another titled WARZONE Missions, which allow for up to four-player online co-op, and add additional story content. From launch day, Amos confirmed that the entire story of Kamala and AIM will be available to play from start to conclusion without waiting for any updates, but that there will be free updates that add missions, heroes, and locales.
After learning a bit more about the game and spending some time in the tutorial and training modes, it’s safe to say many of the initial concerns about Marvel’s Avengers are unfounded. Generally, the combat is fluid, with enough distinct differences between characters to justify the full roster of heroes, but similar enough to feel a cohesive unit. With Amos’ guarantee that the game, at launch, will feature a start all the way through the conclusion to a satisfying story arc, it’s safe to say that in the end, the only issue that remains is the muted, gray color palette, and hey—maybe they’re just trying to carry on the tradition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Developed by Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix, Marvel's Avengers features Nolan North as Iron Man, Troy Baker as Bruce Banner, Laura Bailey as Black Widow, Jeff Schine as Captain America and Travis Willingham as Thor. The game is scheduled to be released on May 15, 2020, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia.