There's a long road ahead for the Marvel's Avengers game, which has already been through a lengthy gestation period at Square Enix.
The game is out in the world now, and Stealth Optional has tried it out. We've also been lucky enough to chat with its Senior Producer, Shana T Byrant, who is well aware that Square's journey with Marvel's mightiest heroes still has a long way to go.
The next leg of the journey will see the game growing with more story content and online missions, but let's start by going right back to where it all began...
The long road so far
When Marvel’s Avengers was first announced by Square Enix in 2017, MCU fever was at an all-time high. Just 12 months earlier, superhero scrapper Civil War saw Cap and Iron Man go to head to head on the big screen - they were smashing box office records along with each other’s skulls.
If that wasn’t enough to get Marvel nerds frothing at the mouth, against all odds, the Sony-owned Spider-Man finally broke free of his cinematic legal limbo, swinging his way into the MCU! Stan Lee be praised. In other words, it felt like through all facets of pop culture in 2017, the world firmly belonged to Marvel - and the timing for an Avengers game couldn’t have been better.
Unfortunately, 2017 wasn’t the year in which Marvel's Avengers, the game, came out. For Square’s four studios working tirelessly on this ambitious action-adventure meets co-op RPG, their creation was nowhere close to completion.
Another 12 months went by without a word on the crossover game. Still, Marvel fans had other things to keep them occupied. After the huge cinematic successes of Black Panther and Infinity War, 2018 was undoubtedly another annum that belonged to the Avengers. It was also the year that gamers finally got their interactive Marvel fix…. but not from Square Enix.
Released to critical acclaim just a year after its reveal, Insomniac Games' thrilling PS4 exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man showed the world what gamers wanted from a licensed game. It was the ultimate superhero power fantasy, telling an all-new story that perfectly captured the essence of the iconic character. For Square, the pressure was now on.
As 2019 reared its ugly head, Avengers: Endgame came with it, wrapping up the story for the current arc of Avengers. Yet just as the world has forgotten about Square Enix’s mysterious project and waved a teary goodbye to cinema’s caped crusaders, Square Enix’s Avengers was finally unveiled. Thanks to the slightly off-looking renditions of cinema’s beloved heroes, and a glimpse of gameplay that looked oddly dated, fan reaction wasn’t exactly stellar.
Our impressions of Marvel's Avengers game
Fast forward 14 months and in September 2020, Marvel’s Avengers has finally assembled on consoles. We’ve poured many hours into the game and, we’re sad to say that so far, it’s an adventure that’s not been worth the wait. As a looter-shooter, it feels cold and repetitive. Equally, as a cinematic story-led adventure, Square’s offering simply doesn’t come close to the giddying heights of Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Offering a mix of a lengthy story-led campaign and Destiny-inspired shared world loot-hunting, Square Enix’s action opus certainly can’t be faulted for its ambition. Yet thanks to a litany of bugs, repetitive combat and a story that feels disappointingly soulless, sadly, Marvel’s Avengers isn’t the crossover caper that many had hoped for. (That being said, our chums over at GfinityEsports.com found some things to love about it.)
Still, that’s not to say that all hope is lost with Square Enix’s latest. Unlike Insomniac's PS4 exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man, Square’s take on the Marvel Universe isn’t just a ‘one and done’ campaign – it’s designed to be a living, breathing world. With Marvel’s Avengers, like Destiny (and er, Anthem) before it, Square has committed to continuously add new story content to this online world for years to come.
A producer explains the long road ahead...
Speaking to Stealth Optional on the eve of the game's release, Senior Producer Shana T Byrant admits that she is acutely aware of the game’s flaws.
“We really appreciate people identifying issues, and we are going to fix them. Just stick with us! This story and this world is continuing to grow. We are adding new characters, we are adding new content, we are clearing stuff up.
"The beta was an amazing experience and an amazing opportunity for people to really get their hands on it and for us to see where we want to focus our attention and our work. If people stick with it and keep playing it, they are going to have a good time. We are going to continue updating it and making sure that it is the most stable that it can be but also it is the most fun experience they can have with Marvel characters.”
Yet one thing the game did get right on its first pass, is the addition of lesser-known hero, Kamala Khan. Where the main five Avengers felt disappointingly soulless, like carbon copies of their MCU counterparts, Khan’s joyous and dorky presence adds a layer of warmth and humanity to a game that sorely needs it. It’s why the next planned character addition gives us hope that Square Enix might be able to add more charm to this looter brawler after all.
Outside of the controversial news that Spider-Man would be heading to just the PlayStation version of the game, Square has wisely chosen to introduce another lesser known character to the fold – Kate Bishop.
“We obviously just announced Kate Bishop, we announced Hawkeye, all that stuff is coming. When you watch the Kate Bishop announce trailer, one of the things we mention is that her story takes place immediately after the end of the Reassembled campaign. I definitely think the players are going to have a lot of content, and that they are going to be happy with what they see. We want to make sure that players feel like this world is constantly and ever expanding.”
As a woman of colour in the games industry, for Shala, bringing characters like Kamala into the fold was especially important. “As a woman who has been working in games for almost 20 years, I am excited that I get to work on products where we actually have a good team of representation. We are pushing those boundaries. This may be an Avengers story, but Kamala Khan is the character that you are playing. It has been very rare that I get to work on a game that had female characters, let alone black and brown female characters! So this is an exciting moment for me, and you are seeing everything through her eyes.”
It’s a promise that, if fulfilled, could go a long way to making this game feel more like something special. Having access to some of the most beloved characters in the world and free rein to tell your own stories in their universe should be a willing formula, as the Batman Arkham games proved back in 2009. Yet aside from Marvel Avengers' wonderfully endearing Kamala Khan, it’s hard not to feel (as you smash hundreds of Robots as a slightly off-looking Hulk or tackle Taskmaster as a muddy reflection of Scarlett Johansson) that you’re simply witnessing a Poundland version of the MCU.
It’s wise, then, that Square looks set to expand its roster with lesser-known heroes, giving them more of a license to tell a fun and fresh-feeling story. And Shana teases that Kate Bishop is just the tip of the iceberg: “There is so much cool stuff on the horizon. All I will say is this; we had a great opportunity here with the fantastic pantheon of characters that Marvel allows us. You have already seen a bit of that,” Shauna pauses before teasing, “And there will be more!"