Marvel Studios has had one hell of a decade. After the monstrous success of the Avengers: Endgame film, which marked the end of a plot arc that began all the way back in 2008 with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, it makes sense that a game studio would capitalize one on of the strongest pop culture brands on the market today. Announced two years ago, Square Enix used this year’s E3 as a platform to debut Marvel’s Avengers and the reception to its first look has been...a little icy. There was some unrest the moment the world’s greatest heroes appeared on screen, there was some unrest. Memes flooded the Internet that poked fun at the quality of the character models and because they looked nothing like their on-screen MCU counterparts. I think it’s fair to think that people were expecting to see digital versions of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlet Johannson, Chris Hemsworth, and Mark Ruffalo because, hell, this is a MARVEL game. This is a studio that’s far, far better off than it was ten years ago and I think it was only natural to assume it’d share a connection with the MCU. But it doesn’t and that’s OK, Square Enix can do whatever it wants. That said, the issue surrounding character likenesses is the least of this game’s problems.
My scheduled appointment with Square Enix was largely a mystery until I reached the show floor and saw that a good chunk of their space was dedicated to an Avengers themed display that mirrored the celebratory atmosphere depicted at the start of the trailer. The faux-helicarrier was decorated with Avengers Day balloons and screen accurate costumes were contained in large glass cases begging to be photographed. After checking in, I made my way into a small theater and was given a SHIELD folder that contained dossiers on each of the members of the Avengers (I assume these were for the people living underneath a rock for the past ten years). Several folks who were working on the game were in attendance and told us that we’d be watching a hands-off presentation that showed off the entire Golden Gate Bridge battle sequence, in which a mysterious organization launched a brazen attack on San Francisco the same day the Avengers were to be honored by the city.
As I sat in an increasingly hot meeting room watching all sorts of crazy and dazzling things happen on screen, I was filled with a growing sense of absolute border as I watched what amounted to be a heavily scripted third-person character action game that, despite the presence of Iron Man, Hulk, and the rest, failed to capture my attention.
What I saw was a loud, bombastic action setpiece that switched to each character of the Avengers as the event progressed. I saw Thor launch Mojlnir into some poor sap’s rib cage, Iron Man use his repulsors to shoot armored vehicles, the Hulk grab a goon by his leg and smash him repeatedly against the concrete, and Black Widow engage in a QTE-heavy sequence in which she rides atop the villain Taskmaster as he jetted around the bridge getting his faced punched in by the red-headed super spy. At the end of all this, I watched a boss fight between the two characters that lasted way too long as Black Widow shoots her guns at Taskmaster until a Batman: Arkham-esque dodge indicator popped up to alert the player to dodge an incoming attack. She then turned around and did the same thing again in a boss fight that lasted a good five minutes.
Boredom wasn’t the only feeling I experienced with the presentation. I consider myself to be a huge fan of Nolan North. Ever since I was introduced to him as Nathan Drake in the first Uncharted, I loved every game I played with him in it. Yes, he has a distinctive voice that tends to crop up in every character he plays but he’s damn good at what he does and I respect him for that. I’m happy to hear him again as Tony Stark but I also feel really bad for him because his script was absolute garbage. The one-liners he spews out are terrible and riddled with a nearly unacceptable amount of comic book cringe. Nolan North doesn’t play the character with the same nuance as Robert Downey Jr. and, yes, I know this isn’t supposed to be connected to the MCU but Nolan North is a great voice actor and I feel that his talents are underused and at worst, wasted. And the script problems don’t just lie with Iron Man. Thor, voiced by Critical Role’s Travis Willingham, also got a really crappy script that is really hard to take seriously. With the amount of money tied up in the Marvel brand these days, what I saw had me thinking that corners were cut or that the studio couldn’t afford a better writing team. I personally don’t care that the characters don’t resemble the actors, SquareEnix is within their right to design it how they want, but my god, never have I wanted to scream “shut up!” at a bunch of digital avatars so badly until this moment.
I have no idea what shape or form Marvel’s Avengers will take when the game is done but it’s clear that the studio has a lot of work to do before shipping it out for mass consumption. A script rewrite wouldn’t hurt, nor would be cleaning up the character models so they don’t look like they’ve stepped out of a video game from 2012. But most of all, Square Enix needs to do a better job of delivering the message of what kind of game this is. The presenter alluded to certain vague buzzwords that had me wondering if this was going to be some sort of live service thing and if that’s the case, my interest goes down even more notches.
In the end, any problems stemming from public reaction to Marvel’s Avengers boils down to my belief that the studio showed the game off way too early. The game isn’t due until March 2020, so there’s still time to give it the polish it needs, however, based on what I saw behind closed doors I can’t help feeling overly concerned about its chances for success.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.