Between last year's Spider-Man game and the one-two punch of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, you'd be forgiven if your hopes for Marvel's Avengers (Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC) were a bit high. But while this action-packed, third-person role-playing game may not meet your lofty expectations, it is more fun than having shawarma after an alien invasion.
After failing to stop a terrorist attack at their own headquarters, during which a mutagen gas was released on nearby San Francisco, the Avengers disband and disappear. But five years later, when a plucky superpowered teenager named Kamala Khan realizes the truth about that day, she decides to, well, re-assemble the team.
As you might imagine, having seen the movies or read the comics or even having played any of their numerous other games, much of the action in Marvel's Avengers is combat, with each character having their own melee and ranged attacks. Thor, for instance, can smack people upside the head with his hammer, or he can toss it at them, hitting them both when it's coming and going.
Similarly, characters have their own ways of getting around. Iron Man can hover in the air, raining down attacks like he's been playing a lot of Anthem (an improved version, it seems), while Hulk does his best Titanfall impression by kind of wall-running...well, wall-grabbing, anyway.
But the most fun character in Marvel's Avengers — in part, admittedly, because it marks her action game debut — is Ms. Khan. Or, as she comes to be known, Ms. Marvel. Thanks to her stretchy arms, her combat style is like a cross between Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four and God of War's Kratos when he's using his Blades of Chaos. She's also just as much fun when she's running around, with her aforementioned elastic limbs allowing her to swing like Lara Croft.
The same can be said of Black Widow, who's also a bit of a swinger, as well as being fun in a fight thanks to her penchant for acrobatics. Though one of her special kills leaves something to be desired. Like something more combative.
Regardless of which characters you're playing as, though, Marvel's Avengers does a good job of keeping you on your toes. Fights get pretty frantic, with enemies attacking from all sides, as well as both up close and from afar. Every character also has their own unique combos, as well as special attacks that, unlike in many games, don't take forever to recharge.
Things also get clever, and challenging, when traveling from fist fight to fist fight, and there's a good bit of exploring to do if you'd like to find boxes of better gear. Though it doesn't overdo it; this is decidedly closer to Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order in that regard than any of Lara Croft's adventures.
It also helps that Marvel's Avengers action is driven by an epic and often cinematic story, one that has the same kind of pop culture quips as the movies. Sure, it's not the most original of stories, but it does put a different spin on the "disillusioned hero is redeemed" trope by catalyst be a hero fangirl and up-and-coming hero herself.
Structurally, while Marvel's Avengers starts out being linear, and there are times when it is again, much of the game has a more open approach, thanks to having a couple central hubs from you which you can engage in story missions, side quests, and skill challenges. Some of these engagements also take place in open areas, while others are linear, though both have their fair share of collectibles and optional side objectives.
Who gets to engage in these missions is also varied. While some are single-player only, and others are co-op only, still other give you a choice. And the same goes for the characters, with some going on missions on their own, while others have one or more of your teammates tagging along. And while you sometimes get to choose which Avenger to be and which to be your sidekick, you better chose carefully, as you sadly can't switch mid-mission. You can't even do cool co-op moves like you did when the Avengers went on one of their LEGO missions.
This, sadly, is not the only problem with Marvel's Avengers. Though, admittedly, most of its issues are minor, and won't bother everyone. And some are just silly, like how you can upgrade a character's gear, and that weirdly includes The Hulk's (and no, we don't mean his cargo shorts). Or how Kamala Khan sounds more like Mandy Moore when she was Quagmire's daughter on Family Guy than a Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey.
Some of this game's issues are actually irritating, though. For instance, enemies will often make a bee line for you during fights, even if it means running right past The Hulk or Black Widow or someone else they should be fighting.
Even more annoying, while you can hit a button to locate your next objective, the marker doesn't stay active for long, so you have to keep hitting the button.
It's also odd that the game doesn't have optional aim assist. Given that Iron Man and his super friends aren't new to the superhero game, you'd think they'd be better shots. Especially since, when punching people, you automatically jump to nearby enemies like their old pal Batman did in the Arkham games. You can also, by hitting a button, turn your attention to the nearest enemy.
Though having said that, kudos for whoever it was on the programming side that made so shooting people in the shins makes enemies fall over like they've been, well, shot in the shin.
Marvel's Avengers also has some Xbox- and PlayStation-specific issues. For starters, some of the text is so small that you'll have trouble reading the menus, your mission objectives, and the captions if you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV. The menus are also annoying to navigate, since they have you moving a cursor around with the right thumb stick like someone forgot that game consoles don't use mouse and keyboard controls.
There's also some small technical issues, most notably how the load times are super long, and some of the cutscenes have hair-related graphical glitches. Thankfully, though, none of them are game-breaking.
In the end, Marvel's Avengers isn't as exciting as the movies or as engaging as Spider-Man. But it's still a lot of button mashy fun. The fights are furious, and you have plenty of ways to engage in them; getting from one fight to the next is also entertaining, especially when you're one of the ladies; and the story takes a rather interesting approach to the whole disillusioned hero trope, one that gives you a reason to keep fighting and jumping. Which, of course, makes our expectations for Marvel's Avengers 2: Electro Boogaloo unrealistically high, but we'll deal with that later.
Paul Semel has been writing about video games (and books, and music, and movies...) for more than twenty-five years. For more of his video game reviews, please visit his website, paulsemel.com.
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