Marvel's Avengers preview

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After watching an extended gameplay demo of the new Marvel’s Avengers game from Crystal Dynamics, I’ve been left with more questions than answers, and not much of a sense of what this game is really going to be.

It’s a cinematic, story-driven single-player game with five playable characters. But it’s also an ever-expanding online multiplayer title with a customisable roster and ongoing free content updates. Either of those games could be great – but so far neither Crystal Dynamics nor publisher Square-Enix has explained how Avengers will manage to be both.

First teased a while ago, but officially unveiled at E3 2019, Marvel’s Avengers will hit PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Google Stadia on May 15 2020. What arrives at that point won’t be the full game though, with Square promising ‘years’ of ongoing story and new characters, all delivered through free content updates.

That’s not what I saw in the 20 minutes of gameplay that Square showed behind closed doors at E3 though. This gameplay focussed instead on a single-player run-through of the game’s opening chapter: an attack on San Francisco just as Earth’s mightiest heroes are supposed to be enjoying a moment of triumph.

Flitting between Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, and Black Widow as the story progressed, what I saw looked like a fairly typical third-person action title. Each of the five heroes had differing power sets, but mostly boiled down to the same sort of thing: hit enemies in melee, use a few ranged attacks, and unleash an occasional special.

Thor and Iron Man could fly, Black Widow could turn invisible, Cap got to bounce his shield around like an especially violent boomerang, and Hulk got a glorified platforming section as he leapt down a crumbling Golden Gate Bridge, but at their core each of the characters controlled in fundamentally the same way.

The demo was heavily cinematic, with brief fights broken up by cutscenes and quick-time events. And in fact other than those quick-time events Square didn’t show off any gameplay at all except combat, so it’s not clear if the game will offer anything to do other than hit bad guys until they stop hitting back.

Cinematic as the tone may be, it’s worth emphasising that this is not a videogame take on the big screen Marvel Cinematic Universe – even if it has borrowed the exact hero lineup of Marvel’s first Avengers team-up movie, minus poor old Hawkeye.

Instead of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., Square has assembled its own A-list team of videogame voice actors, including Troy Baker, Nolan North, and Laura Bailey, and to their credit they don’t just offer impressions of their MCU counterparts.

Even so, from the costumes to the SHIELD tech, this take on the Avengers looks an awful lot like the one we’ve gotten used to watching in cinemas, but just that little bit off. It’s almost like the uncanny valley effect, and it’s hard not to wish that Crystal Dynamics had worked a little harder to give the game its own aesthetic stamp, especially given just how varied the Avengers have been in their comic book origins.

Aside from all that, I’m still left confused about what the rest of Marvel’s Avengers will be. The E3 demo showed no sign of the online co-op that will presumably make up a major chunk of the game, nor how it will fit into the cinematic, quick-time-heavy style of the gameplay I’ve seen.

Since the E3 announcement some of the devs have explained a little more on Twitter, suggesting that the main game will be playable offline and alone, but that the online co-op will consist of separate multiplayer missions. Still, none of this has been spelled out clearly yet, so it’s difficult to get too excited.

Early verdict

It’s hard to know what to think of Marvel’s Avengers so far. What I saw looked like a perfectly fun third-person action game, albeit one that doesn’t seem to offer anything especially unique – beyond the ability to play as Earth’s mightiest heroes.

The online and co-op components will likely be what make Avengers interesting, but right now we’re none the wiser about what they’ll entail.

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