For a publisher seemingly in need of a success story, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite should be the very definition of an easy win. Indeed, since Marvel vs. Capcom 3 launched, the comic book brand has become an unstoppable force in theatres, with multiple movies becoming record breaking blockbuster hits. And that’s ignoring the fact that NetherRealm Studios’ uber-popular Injustice series has legitimised the whole superhero fighting game scene. Success is all but guaranteed, then, eh?
Not quite: the Japanese organisation’s latest fighter must step out of the shadow of Street Fighter V, a title which undoubtedly excels in the ring – but has come in for unrelenting criticism elsewhere. The good news is that the company has been listening: Infinite comes with a traditional arcade ladder mode as standard – and it has a full cinematic story suite out of the box. But it still lacks the kind of polish that you’d expect from a project of this scale – and in many ways has regressed.
This is a much different breed of crossover brawler than you’ll have experienced before. Accessibility is the order of the day, as the three character crews of yesteryear have been replaced by much easier to manage twosomes. You’re still getting a six button game, but where Fate of Two Worlds had specific partner assists and air combo inputs, you can get by with a bit more button mashing this time – even if experienced players will still comfortably eat your lunch.
You have light and heavy punch and kick attacks mapped to the face buttons, and rolling across these will enable you to work into quite devastating combos. A lot of the combos and special moves function identically for many of the 30 strong roster, so you don’t have to relearn everything when you change character. Perhaps most divisively, Hyper Combos can be performed using a combination of two simultaneous button presses – although you can learn the specific quarter-circle inputs for a bit more control.
All of this is intended to make the game that little bit easier to pick-up and play. Whereas previously you needed to wait on very specific situations in order to tag in a team mate, now you’re pretty much free to execute a switch at any time with the tap of a button – and you can do it during Hyper Combos for a devastating double attack. It’s fast, flashy, and fancy – and, most importantly, anyone can do it. Exactly how that will sit with elitists in the fighting game scene remains to be seen.
Perhaps the key thing is that you need to know when to make your move; experienced players will still have the upper-hand in battle as they time their specials and switches in order to take maximum advantage of vulnerabilities in their opponent’s defence. And Infinite Stones – new gems that need to be picked alongside your team – add extra depth by opening up new abilities, such as sucking opponents in closer or enabling you to make a quick escape.
There’s a question mark over the balance of these jewels, but it’ll take the pro scene a few days to figure those out. One powerful pebble named the Soul Stone allows you to consume health from your opponent and resurrect a fallen comrade, and is already getting a lot of mileage online; don’t be surprised if it swiftly gets nerfed unless pro players can find a way to successfully counter it. We’re not ashamed to admit that we’ve been taking full advantage of it thus far.
To be fair, the core fighting is enjoyable. While the roster is generally quite unimaginative as a whole, there are some entertaining attacks spread across all 30 characters; Jedah – the antagonist from Darkstalkers – is the perfect pantomime villain, leveraging the bodies of opponents to sign a contract relieving them of their soul. Meanwhile, the likes of Frank West from Dead Rising and Doctor Strange have some seriously neat specials – although generally the Marvel side of the fence is a little dry.
Speaking of forgettable, the story mode isn’t great. While there are a handful of laugh out loud exchanges and some good cut-scenes, the tale of Ultron Sigma largely serves as an excuse to bundle a bunch of fights together, and you won’t remember much of the three or so hour campaign once it’s over. Despite signing some high-profile stars, the voice acting is generally atrocious across the board – Morrigan’s unorthodox Irish accent being a particular abomination.
And this is where Infinite really comes unstuck: the presentation is very poor. The stages – ranging from Metro City to Tony Stark’s office – are bright and colourful, but generally appear soft. Meanwhile the characters are chunky but lack detail, and the art seems flat compared to the bold outlines of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. But it’s in the menus, fonts, and obnoxiously frequent loading screens that the title starts to feel cheap – not deal breakers, perhaps, but more than enough to detract.
Online performance is excellent thus far, with the netcode being flawless in every round we've played. As in most modern Capcom fighters, you can search for matches while you play solo, but there are also lobby options and a Beginner's League for those who want to play against people with a similar skill ceiling. There's no question that the functionality is bare bones compared to, say, Injustice 2 – but bouts are easy to find and practically lag-free, and that's the most important part.
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is more complete than Street Fighter V, and its accessible bouts fare favourably – even though they’re likely to divide long-time franchise fans. But this package lacks the polish that you’d expect from such a high-profile title, and even accounting for its forgettable story, it still winds up feeling light. While it’s all largely agreeable, we’re yet to be convinced that this title is a knockout – let alone a Hyper Combo finish.