Marvel's Avengers beta impressions: Existential crisis mars eminently fun yet deeply chaotic game

Friday evening saw the first of three Marvel's Avengers beta weekends kick off, with access made available exclusively to those customers who preordered the game for PlayStation 4


Marvel's Avengers was originally slated for a May release, a couple of weeks after the planned launch of CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk. However, in January, both games were pushed back to September (the latter has subsequently been postponed again by a couple of months) for vaguely similar, yet largely dissimilar reasons.

CDPR's communiqué in the wake of the decision to push back the release stated, "We are currently at a stage where the game is complete and playable, but there's still work to be done... we need more time to finish playtesting, fixing and polishing", while Crystal Dynamics' statement spoke of a commitment "to delivering an original story-driven campaign, engaging coop, and compelling content for years to come", adding, "To that end, we will spend this additional development time focusing on fine-tuning and polishing the game to the high standards our fans expect and deserve."

And although both statements spoke of the need for more polish, the nature of Cyberpunk, as a game, was somewhat known — particularly to those familiar with the Polish developer's previous body of work, there remained a number of questions surrounding just what sort of game Marvel's Avengers would actually be.

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A year ago, a gameplay trailer for Marvel's Avengers emerged — following the launch trailer unveiled at E3 2019 — and went some way in showcasing the sort of combat and variety of playable characters gamers could expect, but did little to provide much clarity about just what Crystal Dynamics was cooking (beyond something that could loosely be classified as a singleplayer/multiplayer coop action-adventure). Here then is that trailer:

Friday evening saw the first of three Marvel's Avengers beta weekends kick-off, with access made available exclusively to those customers who preordered the game for PlayStation 4. The details for the remaining beta weekends this month are as follows:

14 August: Xbox One and PC preorder beta and PlayStation 4 open beta
21 August: All platforms open beta

After a fairly sizeable download (30-something GB; so one can only imagine how massive the actual game file will be), the beta throws you in at the A-Day mission showcased in the gameplay trailer (a pre-alpha build, according to the video) above. And how much of a difference has a year made? That really depends on what you seek from Marvel's Avengers, but more on this shortly.

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The act of releasing a beta to the public at large is most certainly a gutsy move and is a far cry from giving beta access to a handful of journalists, influencers, content creators or whomever it is developers and publishers these days deem to be the right people to keep on the inside track. Nevertheless, the fact that the beta version of the game is being made available to millions of gamers worldwide is indicative of two things.

First, it demonstrates the developer's confidence about Marvel's Avengers. Although the beta is being made available first to preordering customers — who have already paid for the game, that open betas are being provided across all platforms (including to non-preorder customers) shows that Crystal Dynamics (best known for its work on the Tomb Raider franchise) and publisher Square Enix are fairly satisfied with the product at this stage.

Second, with the game set to release on 4 September, we're highly unlikely to see wholesale changes being made to the version that was made available in India at around 9 pm on Friday last week. In essence, what you see now is more or less what you'll get three weeks from now, albeit with a few tweaks and final touches here and there — which is a bit of a double-edged sword.

 Marvels Avengers beta impressions: Existential crisis mars eminently fun yet deeply chaotic game

Screengrab from Marvel's Avengers beta

So what did we learn, glean and absorb about the main course from this appetiser?

The Marvel's Avengers beta includes two single-player hero missions from the game's campaign mode, three HARM Room challenges (a fancy name for an arena mode where you take on waves of enemies in exchange for in-game currency, loot etc), four war zones (open environments for upto four players containing a variety of objectives including destruction-, rescue- and loot-based ones) and five drop zones (focussed missions with a single objective).

Drop zones and war zones allow you to play with up to three other players (human or AI-controlled ones), who each select one of the Avengers on offer — which in the beta include Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Ms Marvel aka Kamala Khan. Players can only take control of Thor and Captain America momentarily in the opening A-Day mission, after which they are unavailable in the beta.

As you'd expect, each character — despite being mapped around the same light attack, heavy attack, jump and dodge schematic on the face buttons, and shoulder buttons for modifiers — has a very different playing style. Black Widow is quick, agile and hard to hit, but boasts weak attacks and takes a lot of damage quickly. The Hulk moves slowly and can barely dodge (but strangely develops great agility in the air and while doing jump parkour), but packs a serious wallop and can take a lot of beating. Iron Man is reasonably nimble on foot, far more so in the air, capable of taking a moderate amount of damage and boasts a combination of reasonably powerful punches and repulsor blasts. And finally, Ms Marvel (who is strongly tipped to be the narrator of this piece) is normally fleet-footed, but oddly becomes slow and lumbering when she stretches to between twice and thrice her regular size. In the beta, at least, she seems to be the most overpowered character, capable of absorbing a fair bit of damage and causing massive damage with her gigantic limbs.

Thor and Captain America aren't playable long enough to properly assess their gameplay styles. In any case, while the first mission (A-Day) is extremely overwhelming — and not always in a good way — in the manner in which it throws you into the action and switches from character to character, barely giving you a moment to breathe and appreciate the nuances (a word that shall be elaborated upon very shortly) of controlling each Avenger. As the game wears on, however, the control mechanics, pinch of combos and gameplay styles for each character become clearer and are actually a lot of fun.

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I personally enjoyed playing as the Hulk most, with the jump parkour and ability to beat seven shades of the proverbial out of the environment — which to its credit handles damage in a rather satisfying manner — growing on me, as the rough-and-ready gameplay grab below shows. There's also a fairly feature-rich — nowhere near as much as the one in Ghost of Tsushima, mind you — photo mode that is briefly played around with in the video.

As enjoyable as all that was, over the course of the hours spent on the beta, a couple of lingering doubts began to grow into far more formidable concerns: Is this it? And is this it?

Let's address the first one first and in doing so, let's compare the merits of the gameplay to those of an alcopop. Both are fun, refreshing and extremely easy to pick up. But there's only so much you can have before you begin to ask serious questions relating to why you're consuming them. And eventually, you are likely to get bored and seek out something with a bit more substance, possibly some whisky and a game with deeper gameplay.

In programming half a dozen — and that's before Spider-Man (PS4 only) and Hawkeye (upcoming DLC) are added to the mix — very different playable characters, each with her/his own dynamics, what you are left with is six quite basic and shallow gameplay styles. There's very little of the nuance (there's that word) of either the Arkham games or Insomniac's excellent Spider-Man from two years ago. Even traversal (something these two executed perfectly in terms of effectiveness and style) eventually gets a bit samey at best and tiresome at worst. Flying around as Iron Man, for instance, should have been an utter delight and Crystal Dynamics would have done well to seek inspiration from BioWare's Anthem, which for all its flaws (and we're talking massive flaws here), nailed the flight aspect.

Of course, this is a beta that is being discussed and so, opinion should be tempered until the final version is released. However, it's hard to imagine very much changing from a gameplay standpoint. Another area that is unlikely to be worked on is the streamlining of the game and its set pieces. At several points in the beta and even after the A-Day mission, it's feels much too chaotic with entirely too much happening at once. This complaint isn't limited to in-game onscreen action. A look at the menus and the marketplace, gear screen, character customisation options, skill tree etc gives the impression that there's a lot going on even when you aren't mashing out the same two- or three-button combos again and again.

Whether or not this impression of being overly busy is a way of compensating for the very limited gameplay remains to be seen.

The Communication Nexus in Marvel's Avengers, which serves as a staging ground for War Zone missions

The Communication Nexus in Marvel's Avengers, which serves as a staging ground for War Zone missions

Having examined the first concern, let's look at the second pertaining to whether this is it. The developer's commitment to "original story-driven campaign, engaging coop, and compelling content for years to come" for Marvel's Avengers did raise some questions of just what the game was going to be like. And having played through the beta, it's most certainly a hybrid comprising a story-driven campaign, coop missions and scope for numerous new maps and equally basic characters to be added 'for years to come'. The latter is aspect is great, or acceptable at the very least, if it's a beat 'em up game in which new characters and levels are a great addition. Just look at the Smash Brothers franchise on Nintendo consoles or the Mortal Kombat and Injustice series that are available more widely.

But for a game like this – ... it's here that we arrive at a bit of an impasse. What exactly does the game seek to be? We already know that the story-driven campaign will not be the biggest aspect of the game and from the looks of things so far, it's little more than a case of 'jump over this, beat up these guys, find this object, break that' and then go to the next open and admittedly very beautiful environment and do more of the same. At the same time, when it comes to multiplayer coop, it lacks the strategy and tactics seen in most games of this nature that allow teams to organise themselves, flank and ultimately outwit the opposition (whether humans or AI). After all, aside from possibly using the forthcoming Hawkeye as a sniper, it's hard to see players not all rushing in at once to obliterate as many enemy goons as they can — just as they've seen in the movies.

Of course, we'll have a much clearer idea about what the game will be like when it releases. But at the moment Marvel's Avengers (or the beta, at any rate) feels like a brief story-based campaign tacked onto a very basic coop mode or vice versa — making all in all, for a very hollow and jumbled experience. What's for certain, though, is that the game will sell incredibly well, not least because in present times, anything with a Marvel or Avengers sticker clumsily pasted on it sells. Even if it's a notebook missing half its pages, but bearing the visage of a suave and clean-shaven Mexican gentleman in a purple suit of armour who looks more like Robert Rodriguez than Robert Downey Jr, and has the words 'Ironic Man' emblazoned below in the font traditionally used for the Hulk, it will still sell.


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