Preview: Marvel Rivals 1

Marvel Rivals feels like it should be the most sure-fire success in the current gaming landscape. It stars just under 20 heroes and villains (at launch, anyway) from the comic book house's extensive roster, and they're thrown together into a free-to-play third-person shooter that, despite the perspective change, feels very Overwatch. After playing a few rounds with various different characters, our main question is whether that slam-dunk combination will really result in a memorable game.

"At Marvel, we always wanted to do a team-based, PvP game, and we found a studio [in NetEase] that shared the same passion with us to create a best-in-class [team-based PvP shooter]. And hence we have Marvel Rivals," Executive Producer Danny Koo tells us. It's an idea that's been cooking since 2018, and the title is due to release on PS5 and other platforms later this year.

Thaddeus Sasser, game director on Marvel Rivals, provided us some context for why these heroes and villains are teaming up and fighting each other. "Two Doctor Dooms from alternate timelines, one from the future, one from the [present], are rivals over these entangled time streams. They're trying to achieve dominance over all the universes, all the timelines. The heroes are [embroiled] in this conflict and trying to resolve it, so that hopefully neither Doctor Doom is successful!"

That means both heroes and villains are working together and doing battle against alternate versions of themselves, as they're all aiming to thwart the plans of the two main baddies. We wanted to test out a few of the playable characters, and each of them has unique play styles and special abilities, as you'd expect. Groot can attack with his extending arms, but also put up large walls to create defences for his team. Scarlet Witch uses blasts of dark magic to attack and hex opponents. Players who want to get stuck in with a more traditional shooter character can opt for The Punisher, who uses a mix of firearms, a grapple hook, and even a gun emplacement to lay waste to enemies. As beginners to the game (and very rusty on the ol' mouse and keyboard), we probably had most of our success with him.

Preview: Marvel Rivals 4

Each character looks great and has abilities you'd expect, such as Bruce Banner being able to turn into The Hulk, becoming a big tank that can take a lot of punishment. There are also healer options too, such as Mantis who can restore and power up allies at the cost of more limited offensive options. The minute-to-minute flow is very reminiscent of Blizzard's hero shooter, as we mentioned, albeit with a slower time-to-kill and a different camera.

We'd say that the 6v6 battles can be super chaotic as players rush to the objective, be it a capture point or an object needing protection, for instance. With characters like The Punisher or Magneto, we were able to hang back a little as we got used to the game's pace. That worked for us, but obviously there are lots of options for players to turn to.

If we're being honest, Marvel Rivals feels exactly the way we thought it would, and we left the demo having enjoyed our time but with little to say about it. Again, that marriage of Marvel and a free-to-play shooter is basically guaranteed to be popular, but it didn't really surprise or leave us hungry for more. Popular culture has been invaded by Marvel heroes to such an extent that we felt as though we'd played this many times before, and even with unique features like team-up attacks between certain characters, it's not doing a lot to differentiate itself.

The game is getting a closed beta test on PS5 in July, and it's with this that we may find our feet with Marvel Rivals. Our demo was conducted on PC with mouse and keyboard, so we'll feel a lot more confident on the DualSense. Fortunately, it sounds like controller support has been part of the plan since the start.

"So the game was developed with controller and keyboard in mind at the same time," Koo says. "Even on PC, we already supported controllers during the previous alpha, so it'll work well on consoles. The good thing about consoles [too] is it has a locked frame rate due to a common hardware to work against, where on PC there's so many configurations. But it feels really good [on controller]."

"Yeah I think it feels great," agrees Sasser, who says they're always looking for feedback from players about controls and how the game feels in the hand. "I think there's some unique challenges to adapting to controller for a third-person shooter, but we think we've found a pretty good recipe."

It's perhaps something we'll be revisiting, then, as acclimatising to a game's controls will definitely be part of the battle. However, our concerns about the game standing out despite its popular cast of characters remain, and the jury is still out on the game's economy and how characters will be accessible in this free-to-play game. We've no doubt it'll be popular, but whether it will live long in the memory is another thing entirely.

Are you excited for Marvel Rivals? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.