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- Marvel's Avengers
2019’s Comic-Con is in the books and the world is abuzz about caped crusaders. Natalie Portman is picking up the hammer, Harley Quinn is getting animated, and Alan Moore has moore more to get angry about. On the video game side of things, there was one other big game but it was shrouded in secrecy and only revealed via leaked footage. Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers had gameplay shown just to those in attendance, probably to avoid the negative reaction the game received at E3. This project long in the making has one major sticking point among longtime fans. While everything about this high budget action game suggests a connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the characters just don’t look the part. They’re approximations of the actors without acquiring those expensive likeness rights, making many deride the characters as stunt doubles. This is a shame, especially considering an oft-forgotten part of the game’s debut presentation, which is where the rest of the game should take inspiration from.
A Giant (Man) in Marvel history
After the trailer hit, there was a little more footage, a look at the first DLC character. This isn’t Ant-Man. This is Hank Pym and he’s completely different from the Scott Lang moviegoers know and love. Hank Pym is one of the original great minds of the Marvel universe of the comics. He has had numerous superhero identities, including Ant-Man, Goliath and even a turn as The Wasp. He also was the original inventor of Ultron, a character much more vital to the comics than the films. But the important thing is that Square Enix’s Hank Pym is different, both from the MCU incarnation of the character and from the comics. He is a wholly original take on the concept created for the video game. So why in the world isn’t that Square’s tact with the rest of the cast?
Think about the potential of Marvel’s Avengers once you look past the issues with its looks. To start, you’ve got five different iconic characters with unique moves. If done right, that blows away pretty much any other superhero action game to date. It has a full story and an online (admittedly ill-defined) service component, so it’s got something for all kinds of players. As seen above, new heroes will appear at a regular clip and they’re all free. That’s a good value proposition as long as the gameplay meets expectations. If this game didn’t carry the weight of the MCU on its shoulders, a lot more people would likely be waiting to give the final product a chance before writing off disappointing footage as the definitive proof it will be bad.
Into the Spider-Verse
We’ve even seen this strategy before from the last big Marvel game to release. Last year’s Marvel’s Spider-Man remains faithful to the comics to a point, but there are plenty of changes that establish this version of the wall-crawler as his own man. Good ol’ JJ is an evangelist for conspiracies rather than a newspaper publisher, Peter Parker has a mentor relationship with Otto Octavious, and Spidey has a much friendlier rapport with the cops than in any of his comic incarnations. All that and the in-game model of Peter Parker isn’t trying to be a knockoff of Tom Holland. Insomniac’s take on the character is enjoyable as a separate universe away from Sony’s films or Marvel’s ongoing comics.
There’s been a long tradition of Marvel characters living side by side with other versions of themselves. There are even alternate versions of every character in Marvel’s Avengers that the developers could draw from. Thor has the ’90s-tastic Thunderstrike, Bruce Banner hasn’t been the only Hulk, and there’s the obvious Iron Man/War Machine connection. There are the Ultimate versions of each character, living in a universe parallel to the main Marvel cast. The fact that Square’s heroes aren’t from the MCU isn’t the problem. The fact that this particular parallel Tony Stark just happens to look like Robert Downey Jr. put through a dozen photo filters only draws attention away from Marvel’s Avengers‘ potential.
Making Marvel’s Avengers matter
Square Enix’s dream audience for Marvel’s Avengers probably doesn’t care what Tony Stark looks like. They care that you get to play as Iron Man in a modern video game. These are characters that simply haven’t shown as much as other heavy hitters in traditional superhero games. Their time in the interactive spotlight is long overdue, and you need to do it the right way. When you free yourself from the shackles of MCU influence, you can have your cake and eat it too. You ride off the ongoing excitement surrounding the Marvel universe and you can draw from every aspect of Marvel canon. It just seems like the only move to make, but that’s not the move that Marvel’s Avengers appears to be making.
There’s probably no great “Sonic the Hedgehog movie” moment in the works for Marvel’s Avengers. For the core cast of the game, we’re going to be dealing with movie lookalikes, at least by default. Maybe cosmetic skins could help transform these characters into something more palatable and that a basic reskin doesn’t cost extra. In addition, hopefully the ongoing reaction to the game has shifted something in the development of further heroes. But Marvel fans are fans of characters first and foremost. We love to follow specific heroes over decades of adventures or years of films. Give us a unique spin on Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes and we’ll be along for the ride. Give us warmed-over references to what we’ve seen before, and we’ll jet faster than Quicksilver onto another game.