I’ll be the first to admit that I had a difficult time adjusting to Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics’ take on Marvel’s famed superhero troupe in Marvel’s Avengers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read plenty of different comics starring the heroes across multiple adventures and it was easy to adjust to the cinematic universe’s take on the characters, but seeing the likes of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America without Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, or Chris Evans reprising the roles in a full-blown cinematic experience with full voice acting just felt… weird. It’s not just me, right?
After finally playing through the entirety of the game and seeing the way it develops its characters and world though, everything feels right. This isn’t meant to be an expansion of the cinematic universe or even a take on one of the comic book stories, but a unique vision of the Avengers that takes place in its own universe. Thankfully, it also offers a thoroughly enjoyable gameplay experience for gamers to dive into, albeit one with a few issues along the way that prevent it from striving towards superhero greatness.
Marvel’s Avengers’ tale begins on A-Day: a special event that recognises all of the heroic work that the Avengers do and that allows fans to meet their heroes. It’s kind of like Comic-Con I suppose, but if the superheroes were actually real. Naturally, things take a turn for the worst when an unexpected attack is unleashed upon the celebrations – lucky we got a group of superheroes on hand then, really. This time though, the Avengers don’t save the day; this time, a lot of people get hurt and have their lives changed thanks to the mutations that fall upon them in the aftermath of the destruction.
With the Avengers’ name tarnished, you would think that players would jump straight back into the role of the team as they look to return to glory and save the day, right? Well, Marvel’s Avengers takes a different approach by putting you in the role of Kamala Khan (aka Ms. Marvel), who finds herself with mysterious stretching powers following her lucky escape from the disaster that was A-Day. Five years on from the fateful day, she spends her time looking to prove that the Avengers are still the heroes that she believes they are and that a shady corporation known as AIM is the mastermind behind all of the destruction.
The narrative comes together nicely to make for an impressively cinematic and engaging experience, with all of the Avengers playing the roles you’d expect them to. Whilst the voices and faces might not be the same ones that we’ve heard and seen in the cinematic universe, their personalities remain the same and the interactions that they share with one another will really make you feel like you’re spending time with old friends that you’ve never been apart from. It’s great really and, as a big fan of Marvel, I had a smile on my face throughout.
What really pulls everything together though is Kamala’s role in the story. In Ms. Marvel, we have a hero that not a lot of people will necessarily be familiar with, but one that so many people can relate to – she’s a normal-ish girl who simply adores her superhero idols. Sure, we might not be able to stretch our bodies like she can (unless you’re Street Fighter’s Dhalsim), but we all want to meet our heroes, right? The way that she does it in the game is superbly portrayed, whilst her role in the overarching story proves this isn’t your typical Avengers tale. It’s brilliantly done and truly does make the narrative feel unique.
Early missions in the campaign see you play as Kamala too, with her skillset focusing on her new-found stretching abilities to wallop her way through baddies and make epic leaps across each locale. That actually makes up a lot of what levels consist of, really – you’ll make your way through a myriad of levels across different environments, beat up any bad guys in your path by using your abilities as well as light and heavy attack combinations, use defensive manoeuvres to avoid incoming attacks, and then complete any objectives given to you. There’ll also be times when you might have to be a bit stealthy to avoid enemies and sometimes going in all-guns blazing isn’t the best option, but there’s no denying that action is at the forefront for the most part and the main gameplay loop will feel familiar to a lot of gamers.
Of course, what makes Marvel’s Avengers special is its cast of characters, with six unique heroes to play as including Ms. Marvel that all feel completely different to use. Take the Incredible Hulk for example, whose monstrous size allows him to smash, bang, and wallop enemies to smithereens, all whilst destroying his surroundings in the process thanks to his sheer force. I found the Hulk to be one of my favourite characters to play as, purely because of the path of destruction he goes on when overwhelming his foes.
Black Widow on the other hand takes a more subtle approach, with her martial arts expertise and super athletic manoeuvres making her feel like the most ‘normal’ of the heroes. Despite this, there’s something mesmerising about acrobatically bouncing around the environment and taking out foes, with an element of precision to just about everything that she does.
Then you’ve got Iron Man who uses his suit to fly around and cause masses of hurt to his enemies. Attacking from range as Iron Man is as real treat, with his seemingly limitless weaponry allowing him to pick off enemies from afar with his over-the-top explosive abilities. You’ve got the Hulkbuster at your disposal too, so yeah… he’s pretty good. Thor can use Mjolnir to great use too, with the mighty hammer launching enemies all over the place with each hit – and yes, of course you can call it back to you too, making it ideal for ranged attacks.
Captain America uses his shield to great effect both defensively and offensively, whilst Kamala’s previously mentioned stretching abilities make her a joy to play too. Between all of the playable characters, you’ll find a wide array of fighting and movement styles, a selection of stylish looks, and a huge assortment of powerful abilities that make them flow together as a team perfectly. You’ll often be joined by AI allies when playing through the roughly ten-hour story mode, and linking up with them to unleash hell on foes is always fun no matter who you’re playing as.
Whilst the campaign is a blast and full of impressively varied set-pieces and genuinely enthralling cinematic sequences, Marvel’s Avengers’ longevity will come from its other game modes, the Challenge Cards and collecting loot. With the Challenge Cards, each hero will have a range of different challenges to complete that bring with them fresh unlockables – some of these are for the player to use on their profile, some give you new takedown attacks, whilst others give you all-new outfits to apply a stylishly fresh look to the heroes. The challenges themselves are more time-consuming than difficult to complete, but they do add an extra incentive to keep playing if you want to earn additional cosmetic items.
You’ll also earn loot when completing missions, which is something that drives a lot of gamers to continue playing in similar titles such as Destiny or The Division. It’s something that I’ve actually loved in those aforementioned games in the past as different loot alters the look and feel of your characters, but unfortunately that’s not the case in Marvel’s Avengers. Instead, it just alters your stats, which obviously makes you more powerful but doesn’t feel all that significant in-game. I never really found myself caring about the variety of loot that I collected all that much and instead pressed the ‘auto-equip’ button to ensure that I had the most powerful gear equipped… not that I ever really noticed. Whilst I have no doubt that having the best loot will be important across incoming challenges in the future and it does tie to your power rating (more on that in a bit), the fact that it doesn’t feel all that satisfying to collect and equip did leave me feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Fortunately, levelling up your characters and improving their abilities did feel satisfyingly deep and has kept me playing on through the game post-completion. There’s a heck of a lot to unlock and fine-tune with each hero, so those who like tinkering with abilities will easily find themselves invested in improving each character. Sure, it’s nice to play favourites at time (hello, Hulk), but having a powerful team is more important than powerful individuals with the Avengers.
Outside of the main campaign, you can take on the ‘Avenger’s Initiative’ mode that consists of a wide range of missions that can be played solo with AI allies or in online co-op with up to three friends or strangers, with a great variety of objectives to complete and environments to explore to keep everything feeling fresh. You’ll have a power rating with each hero based upon your level and loot equipped, with some missions requiring specific power ratings to complete – it drives you to keep improving yourself to see everything that’s on offer and tackle those tougher missions for more rewards. There’s a satisfying sense of progress to the game which is complimented by the fun and over the top gameplay, which ensures each mission is always enjoyable to work through. Add to that the addition of free heroes coming to the roster in the future and the promise of on-going support and it seems like players will be stuck into Marvel’s Avengers for a long time, especially if you have a good group of friends who are just as invested in the adventure as you are.
Of course, whilst Marvel’s Avengers is a lot of fun to play and features plenty of content to get stuck into, it does have some imperfections that sour the experience a little. Some things are pretty straight-forward, such as a lack of enemy variety – sure, the boss battles are fantastic and feel unique in design, but there’s a lot of time spent beating up the same kinds of baddies that can grow old over time. Some of the missions can grow a little repetitive too, with a lot of them utilising the same environments and objectives time and time again… it’s something you’ll notice when you’re ploughing so many hours into the game. Add to that a frame rate than can see itself drop on a regular basis during some of the more intense sequences and it’s clear that Marvel’s Avengers can fall short of the mark on occasions. There’s certainly more good than bad, but there’s no denying that it has some issues.
Marvel’s Avengers lets gamers live out their wildest superhero dreams, with its engaging action-fuelled gameplay complimented by a brilliant story and some frantic showdowns with foes. There’s a hell of a lot to dive into here that’ll keep players enjoying themselves for hours on end, with the character development, co-op missions, and sheer array of unlockables to earn offering plenty for players to sink their teeth into. Add to that an entertaining campaign and it’s clear to see that Marvel’s Avengers is something special.
Unfortunately, it’s not without its flaws thanks to a boring loot system, a lack of mission variety post-completion, and the occasional technical hiccup. These issues are not problematic enough to make Marvel’s Avengers feel like a bad game or any less fun to play, but they’re definitely noticeable and could do with improving.
Still, with the promise of continued support through new superheroes and missions, the future is pretty bright for the game. It might have some issues, but there’s one hell of a good time to be had adventuring with Marvel’s Avengers.
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC