LEGO Marvel Avengers Preview

Now if they can add the rest of the Great Lakes Avengers, that'd be something else. 

Franchise properties are a precious thing in the gaming world. Trying to make a game that hews too close to the source material inevitably ends in failure. We've all seen the mediocre film tie-ins that force you to rigidly play through the same scenario as a film, book, or television show. So it's real interesting to watch TT Games with their LEGO properties; they've managed to carve out a comedy niche where they don't have to be too precious with their source material, since the games are essentially parodies. LEGO Marvel Avengers is no exception, splitting the difference between the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the TV shows, and the comics.

On the face of it, LEGO Marvel Avengers is an Avengers: Age of Ultron LEGO game. You start at the beginning of Age of Ultron, then track back from the assault on Baron Von Strucker's stronghold to play through curated content from other Marvel "phase two" titles like Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Iron Man 3, with added content from Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, and current comic book favorites to fill in the gaps and flesh out the story. In practice, this ends up being a more expansive version of LEGO Marvel Superheroes, one of the best games that TT Games has produced.

The focus of the preview build I was shown was the expansive hub environments, all pulled from the same Marvel phase-two properties, with the largest being an expanded version of Manhattan from LEGO Marvel Superheroes. Gone are non-Avengers affiliated characters that appeared in the prior games, like Spidey, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Mutants. This doesn't mean their abilities are missing, with Daredevil's abilities aping Spider-Man's, Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel morphogenic abilities filling in for Mr. Fantastic, and the original golden-age robotic Human Torch having the same skills as Johnny Storm. Other Marvel fan favorites like Squirrel Girl and Moon Knight are there, along with some lesser known surprises like Fin Fang Foom, Beta Ray Bill, and infamous vehicles like the Thanoscopter, with over 100 new characters to play. 

It makes for an impressive playground, especially with the other game hubs. None are quite so large as Manhattan, but they hold a lot more depth than prior iterations. In the Washington DC hub, I got to see one of the hidden areas of the game. It's possible to find SHIELD terminals around the game hubs, but what isn't immediately clear is if these also double as Hydra secret unlocks. Using a character like Red Skull at one of these, for instance, opens up a secret Hydra base beneath the Washington Monument that can be explored for more unlocks and challenges. 

Challenges in these areas can be fun too. In the DC area, you can play a brief challenge from The Winter Soldier, where you have to defeat a series of bizarre enemies from Bucky's fractured dreams/memories, like a presidential bear. During this section I got to see some of the Marvel Team-up special abilities. While all the Marvel characters can team up, the Avengers themselves have over 100 different special team-up moves, where two characters can work together for a special attack (Iron Man provokes Hulk into a rage, etc.) that are charming and show a clear adoration on the part of the game-makers for the Marvel Universe.

As with every LEGO game, the graphics have gotten better with each iteration. The stylization of the franchise lends itself to a simplified look, but the small details matter, as the series has increased polish. On the PS4 and Xbox One, they can actually model the holes in the character legs now, whereas before, those had been textures. The environments have added degrees of visual fidelity, and the particle effects have become downright beautiful (and are also occasionally rendered in loving brick-form). 

While LEGO Dimensions has shown TT Games and LEGO entering the toys-to-life market, it's great to see that their traditional LEGO titles still have legs and are being pursued just as intensely as they always have been (if not more so, from the look of things). With multiple expansive hubs and a ton of Marvel content (film, television, and comics) to play with, LEGO Marvel Avengers looks like it may surpass the excellent LEGO Marvel Superheroes when it releases on January 26th, 2016.