As a huge Crystal Dynamics fan, I was over the moon when it was announced that they would be developing an Avengers title. The hope that we would see another game as amazing as Marvel’s Spider-Man was pretty high, despite the less than worrying previews of the game that were later revealed. So getting some hands-on time with the game via a beta before it’s September 4th release was a thoroughly welcome prospect, even though it was tempered with the worrying thought of just how much would Crystal Dynamics be able to fix from beta impressions so close to launch.
Clocking in at a whopping 30gb download, the beta came with at least a dozen hours worth of playtime, four campaign missions, three training missions and a handful of War and Drop Zone missions. Couple that with a look at how the character levelling and upgrade system works, along with marketplace content and the ability to play the MP content solo or with matchmaking and you’ve got a pretty good view of what the final game will be.
Since then, the beta has polarized both critics and potential player base alike and, after booting it up, it wasn’t difficult to see why. My initial thoughts were. . . Less than amazing.
Starting off with the Golden Gate Bridge mission and it’s a scripted spectacle, which by now you’ve probably seen enough off, the game throws you into various bits of the mission as each of the main Avengers before transitioning over to the buddy formula team of Hulk and Ms Marvel as she tries to reunite the Avengers to thwart the threat that is A.I.M.
Once I was popped into Thor’s shoes and flinging Mjolnir around like it was going out of fashion, the games controls really hit home. Movement and combat felt awkward and stiff and while it was nice smacking baddies twenty feet away with one swipe, it simply didn’t feel fluid enough. The opening demo rushes you through each character, though each one has that same feeling of awkwardness to them, especially the Hulk who was just no fun to play as. Iron Man fared a bit better but his vertical combat and slow rate of fire got frustrating pretty quickly. Things picked up by the time Crystal decided to hand over control to Ms Marvel whose stretchy powers were just a joy to use. Watching the culmination of her combo attacks ending in a giant fist or foot to boot enemies into Midgard just never got old.
The story sections were pretty substantial and reinforced the feeling that what I was playing was basically a 3D update of Streets of Rage or Final Fight, a corridored brawler that felt awkward and stiff and not responsive enough.
After that, you’re introduced to HARM, the Avengers Danger Room-style training area which will get you to grips with each character, and the War Table, which displays your next port of call. This is when the game drastically started to diverge for me. Once I started to level up whichever Avenger I wanted to use – Ms Marvel, Black Widow, Hulk and Iron Man are available in the demo – and unlocked new moves along with gear upgrades, the combat actually started to get fun. The more I played, the more in tune I got with how to use each character and the timing needed to pull off the various moves and juggle combos. Almost every character came into their own, though even after a dozen hours of play, I still didn’t enjoy using Hulk. Black Widow, Ms Marvel and Iron Man became far more responsive and fluid than they felt in the games opening section, which is probably the worst move that Crystal could have done in trying to sell the game.
Ms Marvel became my favourite character to play as, with her Reed Richards style flexibility and Embiggening attacks making the combat a complete joy especially if your combo attack with one of the other Avengers to quickly deal with the bullet sponge enemies. Timing became key and displayed the depth of the combat system that the opening level did nothing to hint at.
Only characters you play as receive experience and gear during the missions or as rewards. Unfortunately, new gear doesn’t make any visual changes to your character – though that would make sense as you won’t have to think about whose doing impromptu surgery on the Hulk during a mission to swap out a spine – that’s left to different costumes you can either unlock or buy through the marketplace.
By this point, I became far more interested in the single-player campaign.
The bulk of the beta’s playtime was given over to the War and Drop Zone missions which are basically Destiny-style Strikes for Multiplayer. And this is where the bad came in for me for a number of reasons. I’ve never been a fan of Destiny’s method of keeping major story bits as multiplayer missions, and Avengers seem to be following this formula as well. And while it’s true that all of these missions can be played solo or with A.I. instead of people, the multiplayer design style didn’t work well for me.
These missions felt like large open areas populated with bad guys that you basically had to beat the snot out of while dealing with some objectives which ranged from the very poor, defend an area with no cover while been pummelled from all sides (seriously who thinks this is good design??) to rescuing rebels. Some of the missions are short-lived affairs while others take you through two or three different blandly designed areas that all looks the same. The A.I.M. bases all feel as though they’ve been copy and pasted.
The frame rate also takes a major nosedive in these areas, along with visual fidelity. The MP sections of the game are definitely been rendered at a lower resolution that makes the game look a little hazy but it’s the drop in frame rate that hurts the most. Sections slowed to a crawl at times and that was just with me playing with A.I.
Unfortunately, I can’t speak about how the game actually plays with other people as for my playthrough none of my friends were jamming the beta and the matchmaking didn’t come through. I’d get paired with one other player and the game would sit on the launch screen with the notification that someone was trying to join the session. Eventually, I just quit trying to compose a heroic team of fellow humans and made do with mostly competent A.I. Occasionally they’d get stuck in an area or not attempt to revive me when I got knocked out, but for the most part, they were fairly useful. If you’re playing by yourself, the A.I. Avengers you bring with you will be of the stats and gear that you’ve levelled them up with.
According to Crystal, much will be changed in the final game and with a pretty substantial Day One patch of 18gbs, it will be interesting to see what exactly that is. As it stands now, the combat and story are interesting enough that I really want to play through the main campaign while the MP components are the only sore point that has me concerned.
Written by M. A. Ligocki
Marvel’s Avengers launches on September 4th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia
Previewed on PS4
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Marvel’s Avengers is an epic, third-person, action-adventure game that combines an original, cinematic story with single-player and co-operative gameplay*. Assemble into a team of up to four players online, master extraordinary abilities, customize a growing roster of Heroes, and defend the Earth from escalating threats.
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