LOS ANGELES – The Internet at large doesn’t seem all that impressed with Square Enix’s new Avengers game, and I’m not exactly sure why. The characters don’t look exactly like their movie counterparts, and the game looks like a pretty standard third-person, action-adventure title, and apparently, these are both causes for grave concern. Having seen about half-an-hour of live gameplay from the title, I don’t think it’s going to redefine superhero games, but I also don’t think it’s the kind of B-grade tie-in material that we used to get alongside the early MCU movies. In fact — and I realize I am in the minority on this — I think it looks kind of cool.
While the game wasn’t playable at E3, I did get a live gameplay demo from a Square Enix representative, who guided the team through what appeared to be the game’s first level. The Avengers — Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and Black Widow — were in San Francisco to celebrate, well, themselves at an event called A-Day. But a supervillain attack on the Golden Gate bridge spurs them all into action, and I got a chance to see how each one of them battled enemies and traversed the environment.
The demo kicked off as Thor, who tackled enemies with both his enchanted hammer, Mjolnir, and his fists. The combat seemed like pretty standard third-person action fare, as Thor employed light, heavy and special attacks to pummel nearby enemies. Occasionally, he’d pin down a bad guy with Mjolnir while taking down adjacent foes with punches and lightning strikes.
What sold this part of the level, more so than the combat, was the banter between the Avengers, just like in the comics. When Thor summons a lightning storm to dispatch a whole group of armored goons, Iron Man offers him a grudging, “Gotta admit it: That was pretty impressive.”
Iron Man took center stage for the next part of the demo, which was an aerial chase after foes equipped with jetpacks. Here, Tony had to aim his repulsors and missiles at nimble enemies, all while dodging explosions and debris. Like the Thor section, it wasn’t so much that this kind of gameplay is something we haven’t seen before — it’s just a nice bit of variety after an on-the-ground melee section.
Next up was the Incredible Hulk, who did, indeed, begin his section with a rousing cry of “Hulk smash!” Hulk’s melee moves were a little less refined than Thor’s or Iron Man’s the green giant can simply pick up enemy soldiers and use them to batter other bad guys into submission. But the highlight of Hulk’s time in the spotlight was a platforming section, that demonstrated how the game will use jumping and wall-running to propel characters forward during intense moments.
The most refined combat in the demo came next, as the Square Enix rep took control of Captain America aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. Here, Cap used his signature melee abilities and shield throws to take down a number of armored foes. We also learned that the Helicarrier was carrying a Marvel MacGuffin known as the Terrigen Crystal. If I had to guess, I’d say the crystal winds up being at the center of some supervillain’s plot, but this also isn’t my first Marvel rodeo.
A challenging task
In the final part of the demo, we finally got a taste of the game’s first villain: Taskmaster. Marvel diehards will recognize Taskmaster as an Avengers foe dating back to the ‘80s, but more recent fans might know him as a supporting character from the recent PS4 Spider-Man game. Taskmaster’s photographic reflexes made a perfect foil for Black Widow’s martial arts mastery, gunplay and gadgetry.
At least, in theory. I thought that Taskmaster might learn Black Widow’s move set as the fight progressed, forcing her to switch up her tactics each round, much like Mr. Freeze in Batman: Arkham City — or even Taskmaster himself in Spider-Man (PS4). But I was disappointed to discover that Black Widow used pretty much the same tactics to hurt Taskmaster during every stage of their drawn-out fight. First, she’d pummel him with gunfire from afar, then dodge his close-range attacks and use her fists to attack from behind. Toward the end, she had to use his own explosives against him.
The Black Widow/Taskmaster fight was too fast-paced and varied to be boring, but it did make me feel like the game could have aimed a little bit higher. Yes, there is strength in variety and polish — and Avengers has plenty of both — but fighting Taskmaster looked like more spectacle than skill. And that’s fine for some bosses, but it’s not really what this particular villain is all about.
And that’s really Avengers in a nutshell. It looks fun and well-put-together, and frankly, that’s enough to get me interested, since it also has an intriguing story hook. (The Helicarrier goes down, taking Cap with it, leaving the Avengers broken and demoralized when the next big threat emerges.) But the criticism that the game isn’t really doing anything new seems like a valid one. Your mileage may vary on how big of a deal that is.
Square Enix has also promised plenty of free DLC, with new playable characters and scenarios, that will come out after the main game. Exactly how they’ll tie into the campaign isn’t yet clear. Will the game be episodic? Will the DLC adventure be standalone? We’ll have to wait and see. Avengers launches for PS4, Xbox One, PC and Stadia on May 15, 2020.
Be sure to follow our E3 2019 news hub all week long for the biggest reveals and impressions out of Los Angeles.