As a rule, Game Informer aims to hold its final critical evaluation of a game until full release, when a developer’s full vision is on display. That remains true with a big multiplayer-enabled online game like Marvel’s Avengers, in which it would be impossible to pull together a comprehensive judgment until we’ve played the full and final game. However, with a large-scale beta for Avengers rolling out this month ahead of a September 4 launch on current-gen platforms, this is likely our last opportunity to help guide purchasing decisions ahead of launch, when we will play the game alongside the community to complete our review. And after several hours in that beta, I’m seeing a lot of concerning signs.
After an early and more limited beta period, the beta is rolling out to pre-order players this week. Barring some significant changes to the nature of that content, players can expect to uncover several hours of missions and leveling to explore, including the oft-seen bridge sequence from the game’s opening, and a later story-driven sequence involving Ms. Marvel and Hulk. From there, the beta opens up into multiplayer-enabled missions, adding Iron Man and Black Widow into the mix, so that up to four players can duke it out together in their battles against Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.). As you fight through the available encounters, you also gradually improve your heroes, both through leveling to gain more skill points and combat moves, as well as with gear that increases their offensive and defensive potential.
There are several things that Avengers ably manages in those hours of play. The hero character models look good (especially in slow-motion animated loading screens), and unlockable costumes help to add some variation to their respective styles. The basics of character control and brawling mechanics feel up to the task, allowing for a familiar range of light and heavy attacks, interspersed with dodges, blocks, and special moves. And perhaps most importantly, the game offers a fantasy that many players have longed for – a chance to hop into the personas of characters like Hulk and Iron Man, and beat up some bad guys in big cooperative throwdowns. Multiplayer sequences easily support up to four friends (or strangers, through matchmaking) joining up and playing together, but also offer options to let companion A.I. characters join in on the fight, so there’s always a sense of a big team-based superhero battles. For some players, that alone will be worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately, I can’t escape a sense of plodding sameness and tedium at the center of the action. Avengers frequently reminds me of the brawling comic-book movie games of the late 2000s, in which button-mashy battles, canned animations, and too-often repeated quips failed to elicit laughter or engagement. Here, that style of action features the addition of potential other players joining in on the fight, but more often than not, those extra onscreen characters lead to exchanges that are confusing to look at, and all blur together, as an array of animated sequences fire off all at once, with little sense of reactivity between the characters I’m looking at. Even when enemies sometimes do respond to my punches, I usually feel like the battles are simply a matter of me moving from one bad guy to the next, tapping wildly on the attack buttons as I watch a health bar deplete. Recent years have given us the melee combat systems of games like God of War and Spider-Man, and by comparison, Avengers often feels archaic.
Lighter and faster characters, like Black Widow and Ms. Marvel, feel floaty as I move them around the environments. But the worse offender is the plodding Hulk, whose sprint is painfully slow and disconnected from his supposedly overwhelming athleticism. In any case, the actual fistfights lack the visceral punch I want in a comic-book-inspired exchange. Attacks don’t feel like they carry any weight behind them, and a seemingly endless series of flashing icons lead to a sense of being overwhelmed and disoriented. Flight, for characters like Iron Man, is handled relatively well, with controls that successfully allow for transitions between ground and air. But even here, I found targeting of enemies to be a notable problem, and the environments often ill-suited to the large spaces needed for freeform aerial battles.