Marvel's Avengers from Crystal Dynamics might be one of the most ambitious games of this generation. It wants to put you into the shoes of all your favorite heroes and to allow you to choose which heroes you want to play. In the opening level, it presents five heroes: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, and Black Widow. Later you get to play inhuman Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel. After launch, players will get to check out Hawkeye and — if you have a PlayStation — Spider-Man. We're sure that the company will announce even more post-launch characters as well, filling out your roster and giving you the team-up of your dreams.
Even without knowing the details of what went into development, it's easy to see where a lot of the effort went. The designers had to create multiple distinct power and move sets for each character, along with unique animations. While the characters share certain moves (for example, each has a light attack and a heavy), that looks drastically different between, say, Black Widow and the Hulk. That's not even mentioning how the narrative designers then had to figure out how to introduce each character in the story missions while ensuring the player could actually play each character.
I start off with this as a disclaimer. There's a lot to appreciate about Marvel's Avengers and how complex it all is. However, after spending a couple of hours with the Avengers beta, which is out to the public this week, I wonder if all of that time and effort equals the quality of the final product. While you can tell that a lot of time was put into crafting the characters technically, there's a lot missing.
What's in Marvel's Avengers beta?
The beta is a tiny snippet of what Marvel's Avengers has to offer. The first level works as a tutorial mission where you get to play each of the five main Avengers. They're in San Francisco when an attack on the Golden Gate Bridge pulls them away. You switch between each character and jump from battle to battle on the bridge, taking out mostly unnamed baddies and getting a hold of each hero's kit. While each playable character features the same controls — on PS4, hitting square is a light attack, triangle is a heavy attack, and everybody has their own ultimate attack — there are distinct abilities and flows that show you just how different each character is.
The beta is a tiny snippet of what The Avengers has to offer.
You don't get a lot of time to play around, though, because you have to defeat Taskmaster. Then, the unthinkable happens: the Avengers realize it was a distraction from the real plan, which was to release a Terrigen bomb. Captain America is killed, the Avengers are blamed for the attack, and they split up — which kicks off A-Day. As is expected from a Terrigen bomb, a batch of Inhumans rises up and starts causing destruction across the city, making it a quarantine zone (appropriate in 2020).
The beta then skips forward to when Kamala, a new Inhuman, finds and teams up with Bruce Banner to find the Avengers. She's also on the run from AIM, the big company run by George Tarleton (who later becomes MODOK) that seems to be behind the Terrigen bomb and other Inhuman experiments. The two land in the middle of a forest and immediately run into AIM soldiers, who make up the bulk of the enemies you'll encounter during the beta. The attack forces Bruce to transform into the Hulk, and then he becomes the main playable character. Later, you get the chance to play as Kamala, but these two heroes are the only ones you can play during the story, which is made up of four "hero missions" in the beta. After you complete the hero missions, you unlock Iron Man and Black Widow, who you can then take on side missions.
You're also treated to three HARM Room challenges (the game's holodeck for running training missions), four War Zones, and five Drop Zones in the beta. The latter two are side missions that vary in size (War Zones are larger maps that can range anywhere from ten minutes to two hours, and Drop Zones are shorter missions with a singular objective). Overall, depending on if you want to replay missions, you'll get around three-four hours, maybe more, out of it all. Unfortunately, the HARM Rooms and Drop Zones became repetitive and hard to distinguish between. War Zones offer more variety due to their size, but the ones offered in the beta don't crack into their full potential.
The characters are also capped at level 15 and progression is sped up, so this isn't a one-to-one recreation of what the game will be like on full release. You do get to see some of the power-ups and extras, like comics, you can pick up in battle and through exploring maps.
But just who are Marvel's Avengers in the game?
These aren't the Avengers you might be used to from the movies. If you're a comics reader, these versions of the characters might seem more familiar to you. However, you don't get to see much of what the game has to offer character or story-wise in the beta.
Unfortunately, beyond some sweet moments, there's not a lot to latch onto.
The main characters you get to know are Kamala and Bruce. You begin to understand both Kamala and Bruce during cutscenes and see the start of a relationship building between them. Bruce in the game is more awkward than you're used to seeing him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — he often fumbles over his words or gives cringy thumbs-ups to Kamala when she decides to bare her soul to him. She's the enthusiastic, bright-eyed hero who believes in the best of people, and Bruce is just exhausted. There's a lot of room in this dichotomous dynamic for humor and touching moments, but we only just see the start of that in the beta.
Unfortunately, beyond some sweet moments, there's not a lot to latch onto. You get to see some camaraderie between the Avengers in the opening level, but it's surface level and doesn't go beyond battle banter in most instances. Thor, Captain America (who is presumed dead, but considering he has a whole playable kit you briefly get to experience, he'll probably be back), and Black Widow are non-entities for the most part. Thor probably has the most intriguing moves — you can throw his hammer Mjolnir and summon it back for fun combos — but you don't get to see much of who he is. Both Captain America and Black Widow don't get characterization at all.
Dialog is also either awkward or repetitive. Tony Stark is known for his wit and sarcastic tone, but in the game, it comes off as bad dad jokes. Worst of all is when you hear the same horrible quip multiple times in one battle. Another example is with Kamala, who begins the game by saying, "You know that saying 'never meet your heroes?' Well, I did. And it was awesome!" This is in line with Kamala's bubbly, optimistic personality and sets up the eventual Avengers reunion, but it seems out of place considering it's immediately followed by the tragic and traumatic A-Day.
How do Marvel's Avengers play?
Since you get the most time during the beta with Kamala and the Hulk, we'll be discussing them the most here. That seems to be for the best since, based on the tutorial and time with Iron Man and Black Widow during side quests, they seem to be the most dynamic to play.
The Hulk is so fun to play that this should've been a Hulk game instead of an Avengers one. His size and strength allow you to mow through relatively tiny enemies, whacking them out of your way. You can pick them up and throw them around, and upgrades help you pick up larger enemies. You can also pick up pieces of the ground to throw for long-ranged attacks, and Hulk can jump and hang onto walls (but it's not as seamless as hopping around). While the Hulk in the comics can jump over miles in one swoop, he jumps just slightly higher than normal in-game.
While the missions become repetitive quickly, you can change up which character you play,
Kamala actually plays similarly to the Hulk, which is why it's not difficult to switch between them. They're both tanks that deal a lot of damage and can knock people aside. Kamala's polymorph abilities ensure her animation is constantly changing as she changes size and shape. She can use her stretchy arms to reach areas others can't, and her ultimate allows her to grow big and rampage.
As I previously mentioned, each Avenger has similar abilities that help the player remember multiple moves and power sets. The differences come down to ultimates and other strengths. Black Widow's ultimate ability can turn you and your teammates invisible for a brief period while Thor's is electricity based. Movement is also a big difference between them. Some characters, like Iron Man, can fly, which adds another layer of difficulty. As anticipated, Black Widow has the most basic move set, but during the opening level, she hops from one flying enemy to the other for melee action. Developers also gave her gadgets that enhance her fighting beyond hand-to-hand combat.
This is where the game shines. While the missions become repetitive quickly, you can change up which character you play, which then influences how you go about completing a quest. In the full game, you can team up with online friends to build your party, but the AI can get the job done if you need it.
Bottom line: Should you play Marvel's Avengers beta?
The beta answers a lot of questions we had about Marvel's Avengers. The game is clearly ambitious, with six different characters with six unique move sets and abilities, and that was always going to be a tough balancing act. We haven't gotten a ton of time with each character, but so far, the Hulk and Kamala seem like standouts. They're both powerhouses with specific animations that make it easy to combo moves. They flow well, especially when they're taking out hordes of enemies.
The cracks start to appear in the story, character interactions, and in possible longevity. Dialog is awkward in most cases and isn't varied enough. While side missions take place in different environments, they're not unique enough to present new challenges for the player. The beta is short compared to what is promised for The Avengers, so we'll have to see how Crystal Dynamics keeps ramping up the stakes and integrating all the characters. Post-launch characters like Hawkeye and Spider-Man won't be a part of the main quest line and will have their own stories, so there's uncertainty there as well.
Kamala says meeting her heroes was "awesome," but right now, it's only on its way to awesome.
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