[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Marvel’s Avengers.]
Update: After getting a bit more time to mess with Marvel’s Avengers in the second Beta weekend, I got a much better idea of the game’s combat mechanics, breadth of and depth of content (or lack thereof), and where they plan to go from here. For example, Iron Man’s controls are much better in the main game than they are in the early tutorial mission. Once you’re in the training room or out in the field, you actually feel much more like Tony Stark’s super-suited character from the movies; it’s phenomenal fun. The same goes for Black Widow who gets an amped-up arsenal with a ton of tricky situational combos and gear to help pull them off. And while the H.A.R.M. Rooms may get repetitive with wave after wave of bad guys, it’s essential to run these combat scenarios to not only unlock your characters’ abilities but to gain mastery of them, something I’m still struggling to do … and we’ve only just begun.
I had a much better time with this game in the second Beta weekend and am no, honestly, a bit bummed that I have to wait a few days to play it again! My original review follows below:
The Beta for Marvel’s Avengers is just around the corner for PS4 players, but we got a sneak peek of the superheroic action to share with you today. (Those of you who have pre-ordered the highly anticipated title will be able to pre-load the game on August 6th ahead of the weekend’s first closed Beta from August 7th to the 9th. Two more Beta weekends follow; details can be found at the link above.) So it’s thanks to Sony, Marvel, Square Enix, and the fine folks at Crystal Dynamics that we’re able to bring you our early impressions from the Beta today and let you know if it’s worth your time and attention.
Here’s what we got to experience: The opening 25-minute or so Golden Gate Bridge sequence that sets up the story and allows you to play, a little bit, as each of the characters — Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Black Widow – culminating in a boss battle against Taskmaster. From there, we teamed up as Ms. Marvel and the Hulk, heading to the Pacific Northwest in search of J.A.R.V.I.S.; that globe-trotting adventure brought us into a thrilling confrontation with Abomination, as expected. Once you gain control of Kamala Khan and help set up the new Avengers base — as part of the “Reassemble” mission — the single-player campaign wraps and the multiplayer co-op game starts to open up. That’s when you get access to Iron Man and Black Widow, in addition to H.A.R.M. Rooms, War Zones, and Drop Zones, once the war table is operational.
But enough of the content; how did it all play? Well, for starters, let’s talk about the sampling of each character’s movement and power sets in the opening sequence. Hulk is the most fun to play here by far; he’s got simple controls for brutal attacks and combos, along with a robust traversal ability that lets him cover a lot of ground when he’s not lumbering around smashing everything in sight. (That holds true for Hulk’s campaign later on; more on that in a bit.) Captain America and Black Widow are next when it comes to ease of use and fun factor; their melee-based combat feels honest to the characters themselves. Cap’s Brooklyn Brawler is a fun nod to his roots and Widow’s marksmanship with her twin pistols adds some needed range to her technique, though the close-up grappling mechanic takes some getting used to.
Surprisingly, Thor and Iron Man were my least favorite to play as in the early going. Thor feels a little too bulky and slow as he moves leisurely about the area, though his hammer abilities just about make up for all of that with a nice mix of ranged and melee attacks. Iron Man, oddly, feels the least polished; the flying mechanics feel slow and clunky with no real sense of “flight”, merely up-and-down and side-to-side controls without any room to maneuver in the all-important third dimension in the restricted action sequence. I’m sorry to say that the flight controls don’t get much better once Kamala enters the H.A.R.M. Room in an Iron Man simulation later on, and even the Repulsors and Unibeam attacks feel rather limited.
And that’s not the only downside. There’s an unfortunate focal point in the story that sees a team of scientists attempting to find a cure for an outbreak. Sounds good, right? Well, the problem is that these scientists work for Advanced Idea Mechanics, also known as A.I.M., under the employ of George Tarleton, better known as M.O.D.O.K. Yep, the scientists are the baddies, that old chestnut. So while Marvel’s Avengers is merely adapting the organization and its nefarious deeds that have played out in the pages of Marvel Comics since the mid-1960s, now’s maybe not the best time to equate researchers and engineers with supervillains. But I digress.
Luckily, that faux pas is one of very few oversights in what’s a very solid start overall. I honestly thought Hulk would be the most fun to play — once I got a handle on his Rage meter and how it works — but, believe it or not, Ms. Marvel is my go-to hero at the moment. And I think that’s by design. Kamala’s power set is well-balanced: Strong group-clearing and one-on-one attacks, a decent distribution of up-close and rangy melee techniques (yeah, she’s a stretchy hero), great traversal mechanics, and a fun set of customizable equipment and gear that amps up her abilities in a variety of ways. That last part isn’t exclusive to Ms. Marvel — every hero gets the opportunity to gear up — but it’s a prime example of the min-maxing available in this game, long-term.
But more than that, Kamala’s origin as a fangirl of The Avengers, who suffers mightily during the event known as A-Day only to rise again with new powers and soldier on in order to reunite the Avengers, well, that’s the heart of this story, honestly. Marvel’s Avengers gives fans everywhere a chance to play as their favorite superheroes, but it also serves as another introduction to the relatively new hero for a whole new generation of fans before she arrives in Marvel’s live-action universe in some capacity in the future.
Some miscellanea before we close out on this round of early impressions: Despite slow load times — made somewhat better by the many tips pages that popped up to fill the space — I had no technical issues or buggy performances. Character movement, combat, and interactions with each other and the environment were smooth and fluid (though I may have made Thor’s cape flop up and over his face more times than was entirely necessary, just for fun; bug or feature, I laughed either way.) The early goings offered a great look at the basic combat available for players, combat which ratchets up quite a bit in awesome one-on-one boss battles. Kamala and Bruce’s sojourn through the Pacific Northwest felt very The Last of Us: Part II but with a much lighter tone to the whole adventure. Their eventual base, which is in the process of being restored and repopulated, very much feels like a home away from home, a hub from which all future multiplayer adventures will play out. (It’s also just one area where you’ll find a ton of Easter eggs, so be sure to take time and explore. You never know what’s waiting for you to discover!)
Marvel’s Avengers is off to a great start with this Beta. It’s clear that the team behind the scenes wants this title to be a game for fans first but also for the long haul. Don’t expect a Marvel’s Spider-Man style of story or playthrough; this isn’t a standalone character-focused solo adventure with a definitive ending but rather a team-based multiplayer battler that allows players to customize and min-max their chosen superhero(es) through an evolving series of action-packed adventures. And you’ll get to do it with both new and existing friends (or take a contingent of A.I. companions with you, if you’d like) as the story continues into the foreseeable future. The Beta is just the beginning; I can’t wait to see what Marvel’s Avengers does next!
For those prepping to get into the Beta, here’s a handy FAQ given to us by the folks behind the scenes of Marvel’s Avengers that should help out a bit:
- The BETA includes 4 Hero Missions that are part of the Campaign, 3 H.A.R.M. Room challenges, 4 War Zones, and 5 Drop Zones. The 4 Hero Missions are The Light that Failed, To Find Olympia, Missing Links, and Help Dr. Banner. Two of these include boss fights with classic Marvel villains. But you can replay the War Zones content with any of the heroes as companions or as your key hero to try them out and level them up.
- In the beta, only one of three skill pages are available per hero and you can’t completely max it out in one play through. When Marvel’s Avengers launches on September 4th, players will be able to fully customize each superhero in their roster via the full unlockable skill trees that let players pick and choose detailed ways their moves and heroics work for the team’s benefit to improve melee combat, ranged combat, traversal, Intrinsic Abilities, and Heroics.
- The H.A.R.M. Room (Holographic Augmented Reality Machine) is a holographic training room where you can practice playing with each available hero.
- War Zones are types of missions that range from sprawling cities to dense forests and can be played with up to 4 players, or solo with a group of A.I. teammates. There will be 5 beta War Zones to play, filled to the brim with human and robotic A.I.M. baddies to beat. In the full game, War Zone missions can range in duration from as short as 10 minutes to around 2 hours in length.
- All War Zones missions are replayable. However, in the beta it is a one-way trip through the available Hero Missions. You can delete your save data which will allow you to restart the campaign entirely. We’d recommend you do this BEFORE playing any of the more open War Table content as once you delete your save game, all progress is lost.
- Drop Zones are short missions with a single objective, such as defeating a High Value Target or sabotaging a critical A.I.M. facility.
- Power cap: Hero Level of 15 and a Power Level of 45 is attainable in the beta for each hero.
Marvel’s Avengers full game releases on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia this September 4th.
Dave Trumbore is Collider’s Senior Editor overseeing Games, Animation, and all those weird Saturday-morning cartoons no one else remembers. Test his trivia IQ on Twitter @DrClawMD