The world is in chaos, a sense of uncertainty shrouds everything like a prickly doona and we’re all basically making vaguely educated (occasionally hopeful) guesses about what tomorrow will bring. 2020 is, frankly, the perfect time for another Avengers story.
We could all use a dose of unfettered optimism, eye-popping spectacle and glorious escapism. The problem? The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s main story essentially ended with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, and while the MCU keeps rolling along (we’re getting Black Widow later in the year… hopefully), it’s going to be a long wait until Earth’s mightiest heroes assemble once more on the big screen. Still, the humble picture house isn’t the only venue for such shenanigans, as the good people at Crystal Dynamics have entered the arena with Marvel’s Avengers – a brand new video game that might be just the ticket for those seeking some superhero solace and a respite from the ‘rona blues.
Because the world of Marvel’s Avengers isn’t the same as its cinematic counterparts, you’d be forgiven for a momentary sense of disorientation upon booting the game. Sure, Nolan North is an excellent voice actor, whose work in the Uncharted series remains a high water mark for the craft, but after twelve years of Robert Downey Jr. absolutely nailing the Iron Man role on the big screen it’s initially difficult to get used to the change. The same goes for the majority of the characters, they’re all voiced extremely well, but they’re just different enough to send the player into the aural equivalent of the uncanny valley.
Happily, Marvel’s Avengers’ smarter than expected script has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel who has been a fan-favourite in the comic books for years now and a delightful character to boot. Voiced to perfection by Sandra Saad, Kamala plays the role of wide-eyed Avengers stan and reintroduces us to the Earth’s mightiest heroes as they stand in the video game universe. Initially, she’s a nervous, quipping fangirl, but as the game progresses she becomes a vital force in getting the band back together.
See, in the story Crystal Dynamics has crafted, the Avengers are disbanded, humanity faces an internal threat from the so-called Inhumans – powered individuals made so during a failed experiment for which the Avengers have been unfairly blamed – and a new, never-seen-before-on-the-big-screen villain is waiting in the wings, whose plans are as evil as his head is oddly-shaped and bulbous. Yes, that’s right true believers, bonkers comic book villain MODOK has finally put in an appearance and the game delivers a genuinely awesome treatment, combined with a stellar performance from Usman Ally, that actually makes the big bonced baddie seem like a genuine threat. It’s… quite something and an absolute dream come true for comic book fans.
Of course, a solid script and a unique POV character are all good and well, but equally accomplished gameplay is required for a fully satisfying experience. Happily, while it’s unlikely to bewitch you with its depth and nuance, Marvel’s Avengers offers a variety of melee and ranged combat delights, with different and unique skills across the six characters available at launch.
Prefer a more airborne approach with ranged attacks? Well, Iron Man has you covered. Favour the brutish fists-first style of bingle? Then Hulk is your battle bae. Black Widow skews more stealthy, with the ability to turn temporarily invisible and execute sneak attacks, whereas Captain America combines strong damage dealing with strategic implementation of the shield. Rounding out the roster is Ms. Marvel – whose Reed Richards-esque elastic limbs are appropriately fantastic and, of course, Thor, who quite literally brings the thunder (and lightning) along with that iconic hammer. Impressively, each hero feels unique and players will likely pick a favourite and level them up, both stat wise and cosmetically, over their time with the game.
There is, it has to be said, a whole lot of online and multiplayer shenanigans going on with Marvel’s Avengers. While the campaign can (and honestly, probably should) be tackled solo, there are multiplayer modes and an ever present loot game. In practical terms, this means there are numerous currencies and materials to farm, collect and push towards upping your numbers. It’s pretty dizzying stuff for people not used to the likes of Destiny or The Division. However, it’s also completely voluntary. If you just want the experience of a 6-8 hour Avengers adventure, the single player campaign fits the bill nicely, while also providing a solid amount of tinkering and upgrading for those looking for some light RPG mechanics.
Marvel’s Avengers offers large scale, optimistic comic book spectacle at a time when it’s really needed. Some launch niggles exist, as is common with live service games, but the story is well told and the experience of assembling with friends to put the beatdown on evil is delightful. With reportedly four years worth of content planned for the future, and heroes like Hawkeye, Black Panther and the (Playstation exclusive) Spider-Man on the way, there’s rarely been a time more appropriate to lose oneself in cock-eyed, earnest escapism and giving the forces of darkness a solid smack in the chops.