Last year, “Avengers: Endgame” revolutionized box offices by once again applying Marvel’s tried-and-true formula: a blend of heart-pounding action, clever comedy and tense human drama. Unfortunately, these key elements do not factor into Marvel’s Avengers, the new co-op brawler from developer Crystal Dynamics.
Marvel’s Avengers centers around Kamala Khan, the winner of an in-game Avengers fan fiction contest and a convenient member of the teen target audience who eventually rises to the mantle of Ms. Marvel. Despite the cringeworthy faux teenage dialogue, Kamala can be endearing in the prologue — but when players still find her fangirling five years later, she quickly becomes annoying.
From the start, Marvel’s Avengers is an obviously compromised effort. Although Crystal Dynamics and publisher Square Enix obtained the license for Avengers games, they do not have access to the Disney-owned cinematic characters. And instead of finding a unique or stylized take on the superheros, Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers feel like ersatz versions of the official Avengers, right down to the Chris Hemsworth-knockoff Thor. Not only do the character models look like stunt doubles for Disney’s Avengers, the performances feel just as conscious of the film portrayals.
Much of this could be forgiven if Marvel’s Avengers placed its characters in an exciting plot. The story retreads predictable comic book tropes, brushing over character motivations and stringing together unmotivated combat sequences against generic robots or, if extremely lucky, an actual super villain. Some of the scripted action set pieces can be exciting, but by the time the campaign finally starts to somewhat work, players have lapsed from boredom into utter apathy.
In addition to Kamala’s lackluster story, Marvel’s Avengers features a multiplayer component with repetitive, rotating co-op missions that involve suiting up as the Avengers and punching things.
Even in basic combat, however, Marvel’s Avengers suffers from poor design and technical issues. The visual style is generally a dizzying, explosion-filled, chaotic jumble punctuated by crashes, graphical bugs, physics glitches, camera control issues and various performance problems. Level design is simplistic, unimaginative and often recycled — most missions play out in nearly identical linear hallways or content-barren open fields. A few new enemy types are introduced as the game progresses, but combat in the endgame constitutes essentially the same static, mindless button-mashing as in the prologue.
There is also not enough care taken to capture each Avenger’s basic attributes. Hulk should be able to take devastating damage without flinching, but in Marvel’s Avengers, he is as easily staggered as Black Widow. Widow is likewise no more inclined toward traversal than Hulk, nor are there any parts of the maps that only she can access. No character can specialize nor are there any unique tag-team attacks, so teamwork feels incredibly artificial. Co-op matchmaking is unreliable and the replacement bot companions cannot achieve most objectives.
These major flaws in Marvel’s Avengers’ gameplay are overshadowed by an even bigger fault: its egregious monetization scheme. Unlike traditional role-playing games, in which cosmetic items are found in-game and affect character stats when equipped, Marvel’s Avengers leaves upgrades unbound to character skins so they can be sold on a cosmetics marketplace. Players are urged to spend between $7 and $14 more per skin to avoid wasting hours in a repetitive grind earning the same items.
Marvel’s Avengers’ convoluted microtransaction model is akin to that of several free to play games, such as Fortnite, and works in part by increasing the social pressure to spend money — especially for young gamers. Except with Avengers, of course, players will already have paid full retail price for the base content.
The developers justify using this deeply flawed model by promising endless content to come, including free playable heroes. However, the same cynical corporate influence pervades this notion as well. In addition to rotating sets of paid skins, each post-launch character will carry an optional $10 microtransaction to help make the game less tedious.
While some may mistake Marvel’s Avengers for a top-of-the-line action game such as Marvel’s Spider-Man, it is in fact a thinly veiled corporate product. From the sponsored skins to the exclusive characters, Marvel’s Avengers feels like a strategic effort to squeeze maximum profit out of the popular intellectual property.
This review is based on the PC version of Marvel’s Avengers.