Marvel’s Avengers is something of a superhero take on the Destiny formula. It’s a game where you can play as your favorite comic book hero, team up with friends for various missions, and uncover lots and lots of loot. You gain new powers and outfits and just generally keep grinding away. I’ve been playing the game for the past week and have hardly experienced any of that — instead, I’ve been focused entirely on the single-player campaign, which is surprisingly great.
The premise is, admittedly, somewhat generic. Five years after a tragedy that infected some of the population of San Francisco with superpowers, so-called inhumans are essentially outlawed, and the Avengers themselves have disbanded, viewed as a danger to society. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are in hiding and have grown gnarly beards, while robots patrol the streets in search of anyone with superhero DNA. Behind all of this, naturally, is an evil corporation intent on stealing these powers to enhance its growing army of robotic soldiers. Essentially it’s a darker take on The Incredibles with some familiar faces.
What makes it work is Kamala Khan. At the beginning of the story, she hasn’t yet become the stretchy hero Ms. Marvel. She’s just a fan attending an Avengers event on the strength of her fan fiction. She gawks when she sees Captain America’s shield, and loses her mind when she meets the heroes in real-life. Fast forward five years and she now has powers thanks to the infection, and is spending almost every free moment in search of a mysterious resistance force fighting for inhuman rights.
Her enthusiasm and warmth are what tie an otherwise bland story together. She’s the one who starts bringing the Avengers back together, and she’s the one who keeps them in tact even amidst their persistent squabbling. When Bruce and Tony bicker amongst themselves, Kamala is the mature one, the only person who seems to realize the good that the Avengers can do. The structure also leads to a satisfying sense of progression, as your superhero team and base steadily grow and improve over time, thanks largely to her efforts. The places where it stumbles are when the game tries too hard to mimic the feel of the movies. But when it goes in its own direction — which mostly happens with Ms. Marvel — the campaign really shines.
The game is also a lot of fun to play on a moment-to-moment basis. The missions in Marvel’s Avengers aren’t particularly creative; they mostly involve venturing into cities or military bases to clear out enemies. Occasionally you’ll need to defend a scientist or stay put fighting waves of soldiers until Jarvis is able to hack into a computer. It’s a beat ‘em up that can get repetitive, but is saved by the large roster of varied heroes.
While you start as Ms. Marvel, slowly other Avengers members will re-join the squad. And each feels very different. Ms. Marvel’s stretchy powers make her a nimble melee fighter, who can dance around opponents but also deliver a massive fist when needed. Hulk, meanwhile, is a bruising tank ideal for big waves of enemies, while Iron Man can hover above the battle delivering pulse blasts. The campaign forces you to move from hero to hero, and so while the missions don’t change much, it never really gets monotonous. Making Black Widow invisible so she could uppercut a robot isn’t something I got bored of.
Outside of the story and action, Avengers can be a bit too fiddly for my tastes. As an action role-playing game with a heavy emphasis on gear and loot, you have to spend a lot of time collecting things (every battle ends with lots of shiny green and purple items to gather) and then leveling them up. It felt like I was constantly upgrading my gear, often mid-mission, and searching for treasure chests for even more ways to upgrade it. There’s an option to just equip the best gear automatically, but it was still a hassle that feels unnecessary. It’s weird worrying about Hulk’s armor since he only wears torn purple shorts.
I don’t know yet if the multiplayer aspect of Avengers will hook me, but I can say that the single-player mode has been a pleasant surprise. It doesn’t hit the highs of other superhero games like Spider-Man, but it still manages to capture the fun and action inherent to the genre. At times it may seem like a cheap knockoff of the movies, but then Kamala comes along and everything gets better.
Marvel’s Avengers is available today on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.