DEMO REVIEW: Hands on With Crystal Dynamic’s ‘Marvel’s Avengers’ at NYCC19

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At New York Comic Con 2019, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics brought Marvel’s Avengers out to play. Not content to leave to only announce Ms. Marvel as the main playable character, the  behind this super hero dream gave congoers a chance to try out the game early. While the demo features the same gameplay that Square Enix showed off in June during its E3 presentation, playing the game was different from watching a trailer. So, here’s breakdown of everything we learned about the experience and what might expect when the game drops in 2020.

As the game demo begins, the city of San Francisco celebrates A-Day, which looks like a Marvel themed fourth of July party. Just as our Avengers show up to bask in the spotlight, the celebration comes under attack by armed goons. Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, and the Hulk all take off to punch bad guys and save the day. Is almost the same lineup as the Avengers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but, as the internet was quick to note, the designs hew closely to the characters’ MCU iterations.

From there, the game hands things off to the player. You heroics start when you take up the hammer of  Asgard’s favorite son. Through the God of Thunder we learn the general move set of every character. Each hero has a light attack, a heavy attack, a unique power, and a dodge. Thor’s specialty is throwing and calling back his hammer, as you’d expect. It should feel familiar if you fell in love with Krato’s Axe in God of War. This allows players to hit one enemy by throwing Mjolnir only to knock another down by strategically maneuvering enemies between you and the hammer before you call it back. It’s satisfying for sure, but doesn’t quite hit God of War level. 

From there we switch to Tony Stark. Here’s where Crystal Dynamics first shows of Marvel’s Avengers hero play-style diversity. Thor’s gameplay was satisfying, with a plenty of hammer tossing and dodging blows. The gameplay is close enough to the third person action combat made ubiquitous by games like Assassin’s Creed and Rocksteady’s Arkham series to feel familiar. Iron Man, on the other hand, plays completely differently. His sections swap between chase sequences that play like an aerial dogfight, and an on the ground battle. Instead of laying out some iron fists, Tony’s move set revolves around his propulsor beams. Able to fly, Tony’s can hover above ground and take out targets with relative ease. 

The next section only reinforces this idea when they throw you into Bruce Banner’s tight purple pants. The Hulk has no need to dodge, only to smash. His move-set revolves entirely around grabbing enemies and using them as flails, tossing one mook into another. It’s fun grabbing enemies and giving them the full ragdoll treatment.  About as fun to do as it is to watch, live out your own puny god moments. But Hulk’s sections also bring Avenger’s grander design into view. On top of smashing, Hulk also shows us a truly frustrating platforming section.

Marvel’s Avengers telegraph some traversable platforms by making them bright red, while other interactable terrain is scuffed and scraped to indicate where you should land your man monster. But with the absolute state of destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge, everything looks rubbley and covered in debris. Hulks jumps also don’t give enough height for you to course adjust, so misjudging a platform sends you back to the checkpoint. The only time I died during the demo was during this section.

Though Hulk’s platforming isn’t Marvel Avenger’s proudest moment, Captain America saves the day. Now I’ve always had a soft spot for the star spangled man, so getting the chance to throw Cap’s shield in a AAA game had me excited. I’m happy to report that Marvel’s Avengers did not disappoint. While playing as Cap wasn’t quite “Christmas come early”, the sheer satisfaction of taking on a room of enemies at least ranks in at an early spring break.

Captain America has a full blown brawler playstyle. In addition to throwing his shield like a champion, Cap’s moves with a fluid ease that makes combat a joy. His ultimate ability literally clears a room full of enemies when Cap lets loose a shield throw that ricochets across the room. As enjoyable as I found this section of the demo, it passes by far too quickly for my preferences. I would have played as Cap for hours, but after clearing out a room we hop to the final character in the lineup, Black Widow.

Black Widow gets to take on the demo’s boss, professional henchmen and kinetic memorizer Taskmaster. While her sequence begins as a series of quick time events (QTE), once you take control of Romanov you can see why Crystal Dynamics saved her for the closer. With no powers and only a pair of pistols for weaponry, Black Widow’s move-list focuses on hand to hand combat. Black Widow takes on Task Master with precision and skill, alternating between taking shots at the boss, dodging dash attacks and and close quarter combat. With her powerful ranged attacks and vicious melee, there’s never a moment where Black Widow isn’t doing damage. 

With Taskmaster’s defeat, the demo ends. But this entire experience is only the beginning of Marvel’s Avenger’s Odyssey. Cap goes down with the ship when the attackers destroy an experimental helicarrier. From here, the demo plays a string of highlights from cutscenes pulled from throughout the game. We see a young Kamala Kahn get immersed in Terrigen Mist, while the world at large turns against the Avengers in A-Day’s wake. From here the games leaps forward five years. The Avengers have been outlawed, while super science think tank Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) enforces order across the world.

What kind of game is Marvel’s Avengers? That was the question I kept in mind when laying my hands on Crystal Dynamics demo. I think I have an idea of what Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics  have in store.Though both publisher and developers have have been reluctant to classify the game-type but the game plays like a third person beat-em-up. Punching enemies is the aim of the game, and Marvel’s Avengers make that aim feel good.

But more than anything, Marvel’s Avengers demo showcases the game’s strongest selling point: The Avengers. Each character feels bespoke, but no one character is overly complex. Shallow isn’t the right word, but the combat on display all has a common core that’s simple for any player to understand. Heroes are easy to pick up and satisfying to master, which is always a good sign.   

But while there’s plenty to  love about Marvel’s Avengers, it doesn’t let you forget that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics want this to be the next big live service video-game. Monetization models inform  and Game design, and for the game that means loot. While it’s not incorporated into the demo, the core game-play loop centers on collecting loot. Each character has a host of customizable skins and armor sets, as well as gear to boost character stats.

During a video that played at the demo’s end, we got brief glimpses at some of these customizables. They ranged in complexity from different Iron Man and Thor armors to a full blown Joe Fixit skin for the Hulk. The team at Crystal Dynamics draw from across Marvel history for these outfits, as well as original outfits designed for the game. All progress made with a hero carries through all game modes. 

For those craving the thrill of a solo superhero adventure, devs confirm a story mode starring Ms. Marvel, Kamala Kahn, as the lead, as well as host of single player missions tailored for individual heroes. For those who prefer their heroics to be more social, Marvel’s Avengers also feature co-op multiplayer missions. In these, players join together in groups of four to take on the super powered threats of the Marvel Universe. At the time details on these missions remain sparse. But if my hunch is right, they hold the key to the game’s potential. 

What surprised me most in the demo though, was how Crystal Dynamics shaped their environments to match different hero’s skills. As frustrating as Hulk’s platforming section may be, its presence in the game has huge implications. Along with Iron Man’s unique flight sequences, Hulk’s platforming suggest a game where levels offer unique paths for different categories of heroes.

It’s easy to imagine Venom or Juggernaut making the same leaps as the Hulk, while Captain Marvel or Cannonball could have the ranged combat abilities as Iron Man. That game would have a lot in common with Overwatch’s class based system. Since each multiplayer mission consists of four characters, that suggest two distinct possibilities in game direction.

In one, Marvel’s Avengers has fixed missions like everyone else. In this scenario, the game’s multiplayer missions would evolve the same meta strategies that prioritize some heroes more than others and obsesses over Ideal team composition. The dream though, would be a game whose very levels rearrange themselves to match your super crew. In this scenario, missions would be modular affairs, with unique elements added and subtracted to match each hero’s unique abilities.

To learn more we’ll have to wait until the winter of 2020 when the game hits Xbox One, PlayStation4, Google Stadia, and PC.