A few hours into Marvel’s Avengers, Crystal Dynamics’ new game based on the popular superhero squad, we’re pleasantly surprised by what we’ve played.
Much of the game’s marketing has centred around the game’s multiplayer gameplay. But Marvel’s Avengers isn’t just a team-based loot ’em up; there’s actually a hefty amount of single-player content, too. And it doesn’t feel tacked on or under-developed.
At the start of Marvel’s Avengers‘ campaign, you step into the shoes of a young Kamala Khan. She’s a huge Avengers fan, and rocking up to a conference with her dad, she’s excited to get a chance to glimpse her heroes. Unfortunately, the day doesn’t unfold quite how Kamala had hoped. A day that later becomes known as A-Day, it’s the day that the Avengers disbanded and fell from public favour after a tragedy befalls San Francisco.
Five years later, Kamala’s older and wiser – and as a result of that day, she now has supernatural abilities. Those abilities aren’t welcomed in the wider world anymore, so she has to keep them a secret, otherwise the agency known as AIM will come for her. But after discovering inside information about A-Day and what really happened, she sets out to find what’s left of the Avengers and attempt to get them back together.
If you’re a big Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, Marvel’s Avengers might feel a little alien at first. Its story is set in an alternate universe, not part of the MCU canon. As such, characters’ likenesses haven’t been used; Tony Stark doesn’t look like Robert Downey Jr. and Thor doesn’t much resemble Chris Hemsworth, and they’re not voiced by their Hollywood counterparts. But once you accept it’s telling its own story, it’s easy to get invested.
Kamala is a wonderful protagonist. Her younger self, seen in the opening scene, is filled with wonder and joy; it’s easy to imagine yourself in her shoes, and how it’d feel to come face-to-face with her heroes. Even five years later, when she’s lived through the tragedy of A-Day and everything that game after it, she still shows glimpses of that childlike wonder. The first time she picks up Captain America’s shield, for instance, or when she wanders around the Helicarrier for the first time, she takes time to be amazed and impressed – even though a threat may loom in the distance.
Each of the Avengers, too, are well written and portrayed very well. You’ll meet Hulk first, in a heart-pounding chase sequence through the ruins of the Helicarrier. Back as Bruce, he’s a soft-spoken, kindly ally to have. Soon after, you’ll track down Iron Man, with all the wit and ego you’d expect.
Though you’ll start in Kamala’s shoes, as you move from mission to mission, you’ll also take control of each hero. Every one of them has their own special skills and combat style. Basic attack inputs remain the same, but controlling each has their own nuances that take some time to get used to. You’ll soon find yourself having your favourites.
No matter what hero you take control of though, Marvel’s Avengers is simply fun to play. In our preview, we called it “big, dumb fun”, and after spending a few more hours in the game, it’s still living up to that. It’s not a game that requires much thought or skill; you run and jump around, bashing and shooting enemies as you go.
But that’s perhaps the joy of Marvel’s Avengers. It’s a spectacle; like Marvel movies themselves, it requires little thought while you sit back and watch the action unfold. The most enjoyable moments in the game are more or less on rails; you’re rallied down a very specific path while you jump and fumble over obstacles. It’s very bombastic, but it’s thrilling – and a whole lot of fun to play.
It also looks fantastic. Playing on Xbox One X, Marvel’s Avengers lets you choose from a 4K mode that prioritises visuals, and a performance mode that prioritises framerate. In 4K mode we’ve yet to encounter any stutters in performance; it’s silky smooth and looks absolutely beautiful. Environments are incredibly detailed and beg to be explored, while character models are wonderfully brought to life, looking and feeling like real, living people. It’s surprisingly impressive for what is supposedly a multiplayer-focused game.
A couple of hours into the game’s campaign comes the point where you can team up with other players and tackle missions co-op. You don’t have to though; you can continue playing Marvel’s Avengers solo if you wish. AI companions will join you in that case – but it doesn’t feel like an afterthought. The AI is competent without overcompensating for you; it’s still very much your mission, and you’re in control of whether you succeed or fail.
We’ve a lot more to see and do in Marvel’s Avengers, but our first few hours have left us feeling very positive. We’re looking forward to trying out the game’s multiplayer and seeing what the rest of the campaign holds. Look out for our full review early next week.