The Avengers may have assembled, but perhaps the pieces behind Crystal Dynamics’ game have not.
I don’t know about you, but I was diagnosed with Marvel fever at quite a young age. Growing up, there was a real sense of excitement and wonder everytime a new Marvel game released. Now it seems like we’ve truly hit the golden age of superhero games. Crystal Dynamics is next at-bat with their big title, Avengers.
What was formerly referred to as The Avengers Project was revealed during E3 2017. The short teaser showed only brief snippets teasing the heroic team. Ending with the iconic Avengers symbol and #Reassemble, my mind began reeling at the possibilities. Flash forward to Square Enix’s 2019 E3 show, Crystal Dynamics unveiled Avengers. Unfortunately, the reveal didn’t stick its landing and was met with mixed reactions.
Crystal Dynamics is a very capable studio. They revitalized the Tomb Raider series when they rebooted the franchise in 2013. Additionally, Marvel Games is overseeing the project, with similar involvement to Spider-Man and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. However, after marinating on what was shown, I can’t help but wonder if we should be concerned about Avengers.
The first glaring issue that rose in my mind is the Avengers themselves. Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with how the game holds up graphically. In fact, I think Avengers looks on par with a lot of modern action-adventure games. Sure, there may be some rough edges, but Crystal Dynamics has an ample amount of time to refine the graphics. What concerns me is how similar the characters are to their MCU counterparts.
Avengers is being treated as a contained story outside of any official canon, and we’re to believe these characters are not the same as the ones on the big screen. Yet, they look and act so similar. Many characters hold the exact same cadence as their MCU counterpart. Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy series may have faced the same issue when it came to the game’s eclectic group. The Guardians were so similar to the film counterpart, it perhaps became a blemish because Telltale wasn’t allowed to fully commit and tamper with canon. Differentiating the two universes is important. This may be part of why Insomniac’s Spider-Man excelled. Their Peter Parker wasn’t Tom Holland’s, which is what made Yuri Lowenthal’s take so special.
Crystal Dynamics is working with acclaimed voice actors like Troy Baker, Nolan North and Laura Bailey. Let them take liberties and make the characters their own. We’ve only got a small taste of how the cast of characters holds themselves in this world. My hope is that along the course of the narrative, this line of talented voice actors can shine their own light on our beloved heroes and make them stand on their own.
Lack of messaging
Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix may have failed to get ahead of the messaging of what the gameplay of Avengers is. The E3 2019 trailer set the groundwork and introduced A-Day, revealed Taskmaster and even killed off Cap. What the trailer didn’t show was any meaningful gameplay. The trailer featured moments of what could be assumed as gameplay, but the show concluded leaving everyone with more questions than answers.
Leaked gameplay surfaced during a private panel during SDCC. It was here that we got to see Thor swinging his hammer like Kratos’ Leviathan Axe in God of War. We also saw Iron Man blasting his way through the skies—albeit it seemed a bit on rails. Hulk and Captain America’s portions looked pretty stellar as well. I respect Marvel and Square Enix’s decision to withhold footage and only show it to attendees of SDCC. Though, can Square Enix really be shocked that it leaked? Everyone’s been looking for a taste of Avengers gameplay. It’s no wonder that as soon as the screen lit up, attendees began reaching for their phones. Having a clear messaging right out of the gate could have done wonders for Avengers.
Reports have dripped through, stating that Avengers is a cinematic, story-focused single-player experience, with optional co-op segments. The thought of a narrative-driven Avengers game has me excited, but there are lingering questions. How does co-op fit into the story? If they are optional, do you miss story beats if you opt out?
This is a problem that will be rectified as we get closer to the April 26th, 2020 release date. Crystal Dynamics will undoubtedly shed more light and clear the air during the summer and fall season. Until that happens, this will be a problem area for Avengers.
More heroes, fewer purchases
Finally, the way Square Enix closed out their E3 2019 show left more to be desired. Crystal Dynamics brought Scot Amos and Meagan Marie to the stage to sell the GaaS initiative and lack of loot boxes to the audience. This would bring new regions and heroes like Ant-Man to the game at no additional cost. I’m all for free DLC and I support games that don’t nickel and dime you. In fact, I’m sure hearing this statement would even cool down the Hulk. But aren’t we putting the cart before the horse on this one?
Crystal Dynamics sold us on a service model before selling us on a game. It’s an unfortunate time in the industry when the lack of pay-to-win options and loot boxes becomes the sticking point over engaging narratives and gameplay mechanics. I can’t blame Crystal Dynamics for getting on top of their stance as almost every subsequent interview would eventually ask questions regarding microtransactions. Though, it’s important to remember that above all else, gameplay and story are king.