By Jason Schreier, Bloomberg
AT FIRST, the new Avengers video game from Square Enix Holdings, Co. is disconcerting, like watching a Tony Stark or Captain America impersonator at a children’s birthday party. After more than a decade of memorable performances from Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans in Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel movies, the video game adaptation feels out of place.
But the game, Marvel’s Avengers, is a pleasant surprise. It allows players to pummel enemies using superheroes from an alternate dimension of the ubiquitous comic book franchise. I’ve played around five hours of the game, which is out on Friday, and had a lot of fun so far. Developer Crystal Dynamics Inc. has sculpted a version of the superheroes that’s lovely once you’ve gotten over the fact that they’re not quite the A-listers you’re used to seeing.
Besides, the best character hasn’t been in a single Marvel movie yet: Kamala Khan, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, a teenage girl granted superpowers after a cataclysmic accident. Khan is a self-confessed fangirl of the other Avengers, which makes for some charming dialogue as she works to bring them all back together.
For a long time, video games based on comic books and movies were the dregs of the industry. The projects were rushed to hit movie deadlines and often poorly received. The website Eurogamer described the 2008 Iron Man game, released alongside the movie, as “a singularly unpleasant experience.”
In recent years, the landscape has changed. Publishers have shifted away from movie release tie-ins and invested big money into making top-notch games. The beloved Arkham series gave new life to Batman throughout the early 2010s, while Sony Corp.’s critically acclaimed Spider-Man sold more than 13 million copies following its 2018 release and became the best-selling superhero game of all time. Last month, AT&T, Inc.’s Warner Bros. unveiled Gotham Knights and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, which have both built buzz.
Marvel’s Avengers appears primed for a big entrance. A beta version of the game, playable for fans last month, became the most downloaded beta in PlayStation history. Critical reception has been good, although some reviewers have dinged the game’s missions for feeling repetitive. What’s clear is that Marvel’s Avengers is striving for quality and not the bargain bin at Target.
And there’s room for improvement. Marvel’s Avenger is the latest example of what the industry has coined “games as a service,” or video games that can be updated over time with new content, sometimes for an extra fee. Heroes like Hawkeye and Black Panther will be added to the game for free in future months, while players can dish out cash to get fancy new outfits for their characters. (One beloved fighter, Spider-Man, will be exclusive to PlayStation, which has been unpopular with those playing on the Xbox or PC.)
Comic book video games still have a long way to go before catching up with the Marvel film juggernaut, but this new Avengers game will move the genre a little closer. — Bloomberg