E3 2019: Prepare to Smash, Fly, Swing Hammers in Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel Studio’s eleven-year journey came to its epic conclusion in April with the release of Avengers Endgame. While the silver screen has been blessed with four Avengers films and nearly twenty solo films, the gaming space has been particularly dry. Aside from some terrible spin-off games during Phase 1, Marvel’s game output has lagged far behind its chief rival, DC. That’s changing, though, with Marvel’s Spider-Man kicking things off last year. For this year, after much teasing, Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal finally took the lid off Marvel’s Avengers, a new action-adventure title starring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

First and foremost, Marvel’s Avengers is not tied into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The world, story and characters are separate entities and don’t co-exist. In the world of Marvel’s Avengers, the Avengers are beloved icons who’ve made the world a better place. The five main cast members (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow and Hulk) gather in San Francisco for the opening of their new west coast headquarters. Unfortunately, the celebration is put on hold after Taskmaster, armed with stolen Stark tech, attacks the Golden Gate Bridge.

The level demoed to us took place early in the game and provided a look at all the characters in action. Crystal Dynamics stressed that each Avenger plays differently and that there’s no right or wrong way to play. For the demo, however, this level was structured to showcase what each character can do.

For example, Thor is more melee focused with select ranged attacks. In many ways, Thor’s gameplay feels a lot like God of War. From the way Thor swings his hammer to how he throws it and summons it back, Mjolnir is highly reminiscent of the Leviathan Axe. It’s not too surprising considering Vince Napoli was combat designer on God of War and lead combat designer on Avengers. Iron Man, like Thor, can fly but has more versatility in his weaponry. Missiles, repulsor blasts and the Uni-Beam are his primary forms of attack. While the Golden Gate Bridge level was linear, Crystal Dynamics did promise that other levels would be more open and allow for more flight time, which is good considering how on-rails Iron Man’s gameplay looked.

Hulk, Captain America and Black Widow are different types of brawlers. Hulk is slow but powerful. Watching him perform his ‘Puny God’ smash was always hilarious. Captain America’s gameplay, however, feels reminiscent of Batman Arkham with Cap hammering and countering his opponents with his shield and impressive legs. The demo culminated with Black Widow facing off against Taskmaster. Like Hulk and Thor, Widow’s combat revolves around beating on opponents and countering them. She also has lots of tools to play with, however, including batons, invisibility and dual pistols.

Of the five characters, Hulk, Cap and Black Widow appeared the most fun to play as. Hulk’s insane strength made him a powerhouse. Meanwhile, Captain America’s gameplay style felt familiar after four Batman games. Black Widow, however, felt the most like a Crystal Dynamic protagonist, blending gravity-defying parkour moves with melee attacks and two pistols. The big problem with Thor is that Mjolnir doesn’t quite feel right. For such a heavy hammer, the blows never felt like they had much weight to them. It’s a feeling that Santa Monica Studios took years to nail down, but they eventually turned the Leviathan Axe into a satisfying tool of destruction. With tweaking, Crystal Dynamics will likely be able to pull off something similar. As for Iron Man, it was difficult to judge how fun he is because what he’s best known for, flying, was so streamlined in the demo.

To be clear, Marvel’s Avengers is a single player game with a co-op element. This has been an extremely confusing topic thanks so some mixed messaging. Essentially, based on what Crystal Dynamics said, the game has a single player campaign and a co-op component. The game’s main story follows a through line and is single player only. Meanwhile, new co-op missions unlock throughout the game that tell side stories that flesh out the universe. Players can also opt to play those missions solo if they prefer.

Marvel’s Avengers
isn’t part of the MCU but is intent on forging its own path as a standalone product. Taking it like that, Crystal Dynamics has put forth a compelling vision of a superhero team in disarray. One that was once beloved by the public, but now outlawed. One that may have had many members, but now must fight tooth and nail to reassemble them. It wasn’t a perfect showcase, but what the developer demoed was a strong debut. Hulk, Captain America and Black Widow already look plenty of fun to play. Thor needs a few more tweaks and Iron Man needs a level that doesn’t limit his flying. Marvel’s Avengers doesn’t assemble for almost another year, which means there’s still time to perfect the game.

Marvel’s Avengers is out May 15, 2020 on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Stadia.