Marvel’s Avengers is one mysterious, slightly underwhelming spectacle

Marvel’s Avengers has a lot to live up to. The specter of Endgame’s success looms in the background as well as Insomniac’s amazing Spider-Man game from last year. This team-based cooperative action game had to make an explosive entrance and prove that it could bear the prestigious Avengers name. Square opted to show it behind closed doors instead of at its press conference and while the spectacle and bombast of the game is impressive, its mechanics and the general haze surrounding everything were not quite as promising.

The live demo was an extended peek at the trailer where the Avengers assembled for a day of celebration called A-Day in San Francisco, California. This real-life Comic Con gets interrupted by a mysterious force and was where the actual playable parts kicked off.

Marvel’s Avengers Preview | The wise Asgardian and the wise ass

marvel's avengers preview

Thor and Iron Man jetted off together to investigate the disturbances right before the perspective shifted to the Asgardian. Dropping to the ground, he utilized his trusty hammer Mjölnir to pound the soldiers like he would in a brawler or third-person action game. Judging by the minimal HUD, he had a few special abilities as well as an ultimate attack.

And these attacks were pretty basic Thor-centric moves that involved Mjölnir and the occasional lightning strike but with a touch of the most recent God of War. While Sony Santa Monica was obviously inspired by how Thor recalls his hammer, the inspiration has come full circle and it’s impossible not to think of Kratos’ Leviathan Axe as the hammer flies away and comes barreling back. For example, he was able to throw his hammer to pin a character to a vehicle while wailing on his buddies with his bare fists. He then summoned the hammer again before charging it up and chucking it at another unfortunate soul and sending him dozens of yards away.

Thor’s gameplay didn’t quite move with the grace it should have as it looked a little derivative and mashy. There didn’t seem to be much strategy or potential for juggles or thoughtful combos, despite the harder enemies that eventually started showing up. Instead of looking like something in the vein of a combo-heavy game like Devil May Cry or something with more heft and nuance like Sekiro, it was more dependent on watching cooldowns as you repeatedly pummel dudes with your fist and hammer.

The small scope of the demo and Square’s unwillingness to share more about the game made it difficult to see how it will play in the long run and avoid being monotonous. If this is supposed to be a living game, it needs to have a core loop that’s both repeatable and deep. And the demo appeared to be a bit more mindless than it should have been as Thor seemed to just be hacking through hordes. Hopefully, there could be some depth and some more tactile mechanics that the demo didn’t or couldn’t get to.

This mentality spreads to the other heroes as well but with varying degrees of severity. Since Thor and Iron Man flew off together, the camera panned up to show Stark before giving the player full control of him. His sequence propelled him forward like some sort of rail shooter where he blasted airborne enemies while flying along a fixed path. It then dropped him on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge where he landed to shoot at regular, grounded guards.

While he did use his hands to punch some goons around, Iron Man’s gameplay revolves more around projectile that prioritize using firepower instead of fists. There were simple hand blasts, double hand blasts, lock-on rockets, and the chest beam, which appeared to be his ultimate ability. Aiming and shooting is a bit more mentally involving and choosing between Stark’s arsenal and having to manually pick your targets takes more skill and thought.

Marvel’s Avengers Preview | Hulk mash

marvel's avengers preview

The demo then took to the sky, revealing Bruce Banner jumping out of a flying vehicle only to Hulk out by the time he reached the Golden Gate Bridge. Hulk is unsurprisingly way more of a brawler. He thrashes around, picking up his tiny foes before hurling them around or using them as a meat bludgeon. Slamming around these hapless chumps and using them as impromptu weapons was funny in the way that his caveman-like brutality usually is. Hulk also doesn’t seem like a combo heavy character and may also rely on mashing, but it makes more thematic sense, given his raging personality. Ostensibly, it might be as shallow as Thor appeared to be but it is more appropriate here.

As the bridge impressively crumbled and exploded, Hulk did some light traversal and wall running on the wreckage before the camera jumped to Captain America. His iconic shield was tossed about like a Frisbee but his fisticuffs were more reminiscent of the combat in Insomniac’s Spider-Man. Cap hopped in the air for aerial combos in addition to bashing guys with his shield and bouncing it off everything in the room, which is still fun to see. The interplay between the shield and brawling has the most potential of the male heroes as it appears to strike a better balance of flash and substance even if it might not actually end up being that deep.

Black Widow also got her time to shine as she faced Taskmaster, the C-list villain most might know from his side missions from 2018’s Spider-Man. Her combat abilities were locked to her dual pistols and punches, but with a twist. While not explicitly detailed, it appeared as though she could counter and evade similar to the Batman Arkham games. Attacks with golden rings could be countered while red rings meant she had to evade similar to God of War. It gave her a different style and could work out well if it is snappy and responsive. And her ability to use her two guns looked as though she might be able to chip away at enemies at a range. She was even able to turn invisible at the end of the fight and sneak around.

Marvel’s Avengers Preview | A Marvel mystery

marvel's avengers preview

Again, it was difficult to infer how this game will play out since Square wasn’t taking questions on this highly anticipated game. And that mystery is the biggest cause for concern for not just smaller moment-to-moment actions but also the game as a whole.

We have no idea how this will all play out with four people. What will Hulk players be doing as Iron Man and Thor are devastating the ground forces? What is Iron Man’s mission when Black Widow is pummeling Taskmaster? How will it work if there are only two people? Will they have other abilities? How will the gear system work? Do only certain heroes get to go on certain missions? How is the campaign structured? How can you tell a good story with peaks and valleys while also having a heavy of an emphasis on co-op? Will the heroes be able to interact more and combo their abilities together? This demo did a decent job of setting a general tone and showed potential but its overall secrecy is initially worrying.

Marvel’s Avengers is shrouded in mystery and while it looks good in some aspects and passable in others, it raises enough questions that could possibly spell trouble in the future. Combat looked fine but didn’t always appear like it quite had the depth it should have nor is it clear how it’ll all work in the end to create an experience that this sort of game deserves and halfway hints at. The six teams working on it have almost a year to figure these things out so hopefully they do. Because Spider-Man is strong but he can’t carry all the weight for Marvel’s new gaming initiative here.