Marvel’s Avengers has come under intense scrutiny since its official unveiling at E3 2019 – strange, considering the Crystal Dynamics developed superhero smash opens in the most eye-popping manner imaginable. Perhaps it’s merely a case of all the criticism leading to lowered expectations, but we came away from a 25 minute hands on with Square Enix’s blockbuster bet outrageously impressed – this is the kind of spectacle seldom seen outside of first-party franchises like Uncharted.
The demo opens on A-Day, as the titular super group celebrate the opening of their second headquarters. Things swiftly go awry on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and you’re thrust into the considerably big boots of Thor to deal damage on some of Taskmaster’s troops. This opening segment is pure God of War, with the Asgardian deity wielding Mjolnir in much the same way as Kratos uses his axe. Yes, you can toss it – and yes, it’s suitably crunchy and satisfying to use.
The scene quickly segues to a chase scene involving Iron Man, where you’re soaring through an exploding San Francisco, zapping away at enemies. Each playable character appears to have their own rechargeable special moves, and in the case of Tony Stark it’s a devastating laser beam fired from his chest. You must use this to take out a series of tanks, before the Hulk descends on the scene to, well, issue one final smash.
Unexpectedly considering the, er, considerable size of Bruce Banner’s green-tinged alter-ego, the gameplay best resembles Tomb Raider in this particular scene, as Doc Green leaps across dangling parts of the Golden Gate Bridge’s infrastructure, swatting soldiers out of the way. It’s one of those Nathan Drake-esque chase sequences; make all the right moves and you feel like a bad ass, but accidentally leap in the wrong direction and the set-piece stumbles.
Speaking of hiccups, a brief interlude with Captain America – who, spoilers, tragically “dies” at the end of the demo – pumps the brakes on the intense action, but it’s not long before you’re thrust into the thick of things with Black Widow, as she goes to battle with Taskmaster amid all kinds of explosions and particle effects. All of the characters share similar control schemes, but the Russian spy has dual-pistols, for example, making her a kind of Lara Croft in latex.
In all, it’s a superb opening mission; the kind of edge-of-your-seat action that will leave marks on your thumbs as you clutch the DualShock 4 too tightly. The question is: how representative of the final product will it be? It seems that the developer is shooting for some kind of Destiny-esque service game experience – a brief look at inventory screens riddled with stat-boosting loot items confirms as much – so we’re anticipating plenty of bland combat-based missions to pad out the campaign.
The gameplay is good, but none of the characters feel quite as rounded as the web-slinger in Marvel’s Spider-Man or the caped crusader in Batman: Arkham Knight – and these are the gold standard for superhero games. As such, this could just as easily end up an online button basher rather than the story-driven, cinematic spectacle teased in the opening stage. Honestly, it’s just impossible to infer anything until we see more.
The jury is still out, then, but our interest has been piqued. After seeing so much negativity surround this project, we were dazzled by what we saw – it looks and feels good to play, and is more than deserving of the monolithic Marvel moniker it wears. But it has plenty to prove, and while we were wowed by this impressive introductory mission, we’re curious whether the rest of the game can hit the same dizzyingly high standards.
Are you excited by what Crystal Dynamics appears to be assembling in Marvel’s Avengers? Which playable character are you most looking forward to using? Hulk smash the comments section below.