A Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups advertising campaign from the ’70s introduced a wonderful phrase into our cultural lexicon: “Two great tastes that taste great together!”
Originally, this phrase referred to the combination of chocolate and peanut butter. Since then, though, this phrase has become synonymous for creating something new by jamming two old favorites together.
That’s basically the design philosophy behind Crystal Dynamics’ new Marvel’s Avengers game, set to release fully on September 4. The game seeks to combine the immersive world of Marvel with the engaging gameplay of games like Destiny.
However, early beta impressions make one thing clear: this is not chocolate and peanut butter. Instead, it is simply a disappointment.
Obviously, taste in character design is very subjective. But the first thing we need to talk about are these weird-looking characters!
Marvel’s Avengers moves away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of design, so don’t expect Iron Man to look like Robert Downey, Jr. or Thor to look like Chris Hemsworth. That’s not such a bad thing, considering some of the best Marvel games (like the Ultimate Alliance 3 or Spider-Man) feature original designs.
However, Crystal Dynamics still wanted character designs that looked more realistic and movie-esque. The final result provides a kind of “uncanny valley” experience, with characters that look like they are badly cosplaying the MCU’s characters.
Bottom line? As petty as it is, these designs are often distracting and disappointing.
How would you describe combat in your favorite Marvel movies and games? The most typical description is “fast.” Unfortunately, the combat in Marvel’s Avengers is often quite slow.
Most character’s punches and other attacks feel very slow and sluggish. While that makes a kind of sense for a big boy like Hulk, it feels weird to throw slow punches as Captain America or Black Widow.
Even ranged combat often feels slow and laggy. And while some of this could theoretically be cleaned up before the final release, it underscores a major problem: none of these superheroes feels very “super.”
At the end of the day, comic books are a power fantasy. We enjoy reading about characters with powers and abilities greater than we could ever know.
Superhero video games take that to the next level by putting you directly in control of these characters. Unfortunately, the Avengers characters in this game often suffer from what I call “the Superman problem.”
Unless he’s saddled with Kryptonite, Superman is functionally invincible. Bullets bounce off him, he can fly, and he can basically destroy someone by looking at them. All of this makes it hard to craft a great Superman story or video game without throwing out god-level opponents or seriously nerfing our hero.
The latter is what is happening in this game. When the Hulk — someone who can take on gods — needs several punches to take out a “puny human,” it takes the fun out of the power fantasy. And when the Hulk doesn’t seem to do much more damage than Black Widow, it takes much of the fun out of playing as different characters.
Crystal Dynamics was clearly inspired by Destiny for this game. And Destiny is a game that is largely driven by the quest to find bigger and badder loot.
Unfortunately, the loot in the beta was bad on several different levels. You get a steady stream of loot, but it doesn’t make any significant differences in how your characters play. So, while a new gun can completely change how you play a game like Destiny, a new bit of loot won’t significantly change how Cap throws his shields at enemies.
Instead, gear mostly provides better stats and modest bonuses, and you juggle this along with a character skill tree that lets you customize your heroes. And while the skill tree has some real potential, the beta has you spending a lot of time swapping out new gear for stat boosts and bonuses that aren’t really worth it.
A serious tone
Like character designs, the tone of a story is extremely subjective. And Marvel has crafted some awesome serious stories in the last 50+ years.
However, the MCU made Marvel mostly synonymous with lighter, more humorous characters and stories. That’s part of what makes this game’s serious tone and story feel so jarring.
It’s not that every character needs to have a million quips or every story needs to be as irreverent as Thor: Ragnarok. But a Marvel game that plays everything so damn seriously often comes across as just another boring action title filled with disposable characters.
Boring and repetitive
When you try to copy the best of Destiny, you’re bound to get some of the worst elements, too. And that comes in the form of boring and repetitive missions.
Crystal Dynamics tries to keep things fresh with different characters, abilities, environments, and enemies. But at the end of the day, your missions devolve into either wiping out your enemies and/or completing the narrative equivalent of capturing a territory.
And if you scratch the surface, most of the environmental designs feel like the same combination of corridors and open spaces with different filters slapped on them. While Crystyal Dynamics has promised the full game has much more than the beta, these early impressions don’t inspire much hope.
Some good news about Marvel’s Avengers
Fortunately, there is some good news that has come of this. Crystal Dynamics has listened to fan complaints and already made some substantial changes to their open beta.
For example, they have reduced the distracting motion blur throughout the game. And they’ve added the option to reduce the camera shakiness that some players found downright nauseating.
They’ve also improved the matchmaking system, reduced lag, and generally improved the gameplay. While there are still occasional hilarious glitches (like Black Widow wearing a Hulk skin), these many improvements give us hope for a more polished final game.
What do you think about Marvel’s Avengers? Sound off in the comments below!