'Marvel's Avengers' the 90s brawler we all missed

“Marvel’s The Avengers” is an exercise in how not to market a major release.

There’s no hotter entertainment brand at the moment than Marvel’s pantheon of superheroes, lead by Captain America and Iron Man. Earth’s mightiest heroes have only grown in popularity since the 2012 release of “The Avengers,” so it seems a surprise that it took eight years in order for a big budget video game to be released — even accounting for the prolonged development period of modern AAA games. And yet, after at least three years of hype and anticipation, publisher Square-Enix and developer Crystal Dynamic’s “Marvel’s The Avengers” is a game that isn’t as good as it should be, but is much better than its marketing would lead you to believe.

The ultimate problem with the game can be boiled down to the messaging throughout development and leading up to release. From the moment Crystal Dynamics fully announced its “Avengers Project,” every piece of information and marketing has been aimed at its games-as-a-service elements. Traditionally, games-as-a-service titles are designed to extort as much money as possible from the player. They’re the ultimate in cynical development titles — aimed more at profits than fun. One needs to look no further than Ubisoft’s “Tom Clancy’s The Division” series or “Destiny 2,” to see how the endless grind for content versus just paying to get that next piece can be frustrating as a player — especially one who doesn’t have hundreds of hours of time to dedicate to games as he once had.

An “Avengers” game should be focused on the power fantasy that is playing as one of the most popular heroes in comic books or popular culture. So when Crystal Dynamics spent so much type talking up post-game content, like raids and enemy hives and the grind for loot, it set off alarm bells like no other. This wasn’t going to be the power fantasy we had hoped for. It was going to be another modern money-munching cynical cash-grab of a game that checked off every AAA design choice in order to maximize profit.

Imagine my surprise when, after the first five hours, I had enjoyed a surprisingly heartfelt origin story of new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, and her quest to reunite the Avengers after a massive terrorist attack that nearly destroyed San Francisco, and unleashed thousands of inhumans. If none of that makes sense, it’s fine. The game does a good job of explaining the story, introducing the characters and providing plenty of connective tissue to fill everyone in. For comic book fans, it’s the game we’ve all been wanting.

When you sift through the endless garbage of marketing talk about games-as-a-service mechanics, you’re left with an AAA action-adventure brawler that channels ‘90s arcade greats like “X-Men,” “Streets of Rage” and “Double Dragon” with modern graphics and packaging. The addition of co-op to combine attacks from Thor and Iron Man or Black Widow and Captain America for screen-dazzling moves that look like they’re ripped straight from the pages of the latest “Avengers” comic release is icing on the cake.

“Marvel’s Avengers” allows you to take control of the five main “Avengers:” Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, along with newcomer Ms. Marvel. Each one plays completely different, offering players the choice of many different playstyles. Captain America is much more brutal, in-your-face fighting with amazing attacks using his shield that can ricochet across the environment. Black Widow uses agile movement and attacks from afar with her dual pistols. Iron Man can combine all of his technology to create lasers that combine with Pym particles to shoot enemies and shrink them before disposing of them with ease. That’s only one specific type of playstyle for each character. A large skill tree that can be customized on the fly affords so many opportunities for advanced gameplay skills and variations.

There’s so much content packed into this game — complete with a 15-hour story-based campaign that utilizes every “Avengers” hero — that you never have to touch the games-as-a-service mechanics for the “endgame” — no pun intended — content. The addition of loot is, initially, a strange mechanic, but it works. The more you get into the game, the better loot drops, the more it allows you to further customize your favorite hero and playstyle. It’s never visible, as visual character customization is limited to costumes — which must be purchased with real money, of course. But loot does add an additional later to an already fairly deep game.

“Marvel’s Avengers” did release a little too hot — hitting shelves and storefronts with a significant number of glitches, performance issues and balancing problems that are still being ironed out. There are issues to be raised — like the PlayStation exclusivity of Spider-Man and the downright predatory nature of some of the costume costs — but it’s certainly a better game that one would have initially anticipated. Go in expecting something more along the lines of a 2020 update of Konami’s “X-Men” brawler and less “Destiny Marvel Edition,” and you might have a good time.’

Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.

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