My reaction to the trailer for Square Enix’s newly unveiled Marvel’s Avengers title was tepid to say the least, but at E3 I got the chance to take a longer look at the game in action behind closed doors, where I was treated to 25-minutes of hands-off gameplay. Unlike the trailer, my reaction to the gameplay demo was more positive.
The demo opened in San Francisco, where the Avengers—Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, and Thor—are the guests of honor for the city’s Avengers Day celebration. Unsurprisingly, the Golden Gate Bridge is attacked by baddies shortly thereafter, prompting the super team to split up and contain the situation. The gameplay focused on one character gliding through the ensuing chaos from hero to hero for a couple of minutes at a time, showcasing their unique movesets and personalities.
Maybe the biggest thing that had fans feeling leery of the game when the trailer debuted at Square’s E3 press conference is the character designs and tone. Square’s Avengers looks heavily inspired by their MCU counterparts but don’t bear the likenesses of the big screen actors, which is an understandably jarring visual. Ostensibly, they look like store brand versions of the real deal. Square has confirmed that this is a wholly new, original take on Avengers. But why, then, do the character designs look like they’re based on the films? It all feels a little muddled and misleading.
The presentation didn’t do much to assuage my concerns in this regard. The characters look somewhat like the movie versions, but they speak in a way that more closely resembles a Saturday morning cartoon, which doesn’t feel quite right. Thor, for example, employs the Shakespearean tone you’d expect from a Norse God swatting puny humans around, which sounds like a caricatured, knock-off interpretation of the MCU Thor. If you’re going to invoke the movies, even just in part, the writing had better be really, really good. It isn’t.
All of this was disappointing. But as far as gameplay goes, Avengers looks truly spectacular. I cannot overstate this: I want to play this game so bad after what I saw in that room.
What impressed me most were the vast differences in gameplay mechanics between the five characters. Mjolnir behaves in a similar way to Kratos’s axe in God of War, returning to Thor’s hand at will. When the God of Thunder gets really mad, he can unleash a thunder/lightning storm attack that can level the battlefield. Iron Man’s flight mechanics look like Anthem’s, which, believe it or not, is a good thing, as he zooms around the battlefield letting down a barrage artillery fire on the bad guys. Hulk leaps and bounds in a way reminiscent of 2005’s underrated Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Captain America is a melee machine, using his shield in a variety of acrobatic, inventive ways while simultaneously letting his fists and feet fly.
But the most intriguing character to me gameplay-wise was Black Widow. The male members of the group have extraordinary powers and weapons, which naturally makes their combat look empowering and over-the-top cool. So I was curious to see how the developers would make her gameplay as visually and viscerally spectacular as her teammates’. Once I saw what Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montréal did, it all made complete sense: Black Widow’s gameplay borrows heavily from the studios’ Tomb Raider games, a formula they’ve got down to a science at this point. Basically, she plays like a slightly more melee-adept Lara Croft, which is awesome.
One of the coolest moments in the demo saw Black Widow sprinting across the Golden Gate Bridge as the asphalt crumbled and cracked beneath her feet until she got to a ramp of sorts (conveniently formed by wreckage and debris), which she then jumped off of seemingly to her doom (this, of course, is about as Tomb Raider-y as it gets). Thankfully, she landed on the back of Taskmaster—the supervillain responsible for the attack—who happened to be zooming around on a jetpack. The ensuing aerial fistfight saw them corkscrew in and out of the collapsing bridge, and in the background you could spy the other Avengers, breaking bones in glorious fashion, all in one exhilarating, continuous shot. This set piece was incredible.
Some may be wondering about the absence of Hawkeye in the footage we’ve seen so far, considering the rest of the roster mirrors the MCU team. My guess would be that, considering that each of the five characters we’ve seen brings a unique style of gameplay to the table, Hawkeye probably isn’t playable because his gameplay would too closely resemble Black Widow’s. Hopefully, he’ll pop up in the narrative in some form or another down the line.
There are a lot of questions yet to be answered regarding Marvel’s Avengers. What will the confirmed multiplayer mode look and play like? Will the game’s storytelling find its own voice or ape too much from the MCU? Square has announced that the narrative will be delivered over multiple years (presumably through DLC) at no additional cost. How long will it take to tell the whole story? Hopefully, we’ll get satisfying answers to these big questions in the coming months, before the game’s scheduled release date on May 15, 2020.
Listen to all our reactions and impressions from E3 2019 right here:
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.