Game preview and interview: Marvel’s Avengers is even better than you think

No matter what you thought of the Avengers game unveil at E3 the behind closed doors footage is even more impressive…

It is odd how some companies never seem to know exactly how to handle themselves when it comes to E3. Microsoft’s conferences are almost always cheesy and boring, no matter how interesting the announcements themselves are, while whatever other problems they might have had lately Bethesda always seem to put on a good show. Square Enix also did very well with their press conference this year, although having now seen extra behind closed doors footage we do feel they undersold just how promising Marvel’s Avengers is looking.

Although the discrepancy between what they showed in public and in private was nowhere near as wide as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order – where EA seemed determined to portray their game in the worst light possible – we suspect many watching the Avengers unveiling came away somewhat unconvinced by what seemed to be mostly cut scenes and little, if any, gameplay footage. Having seen the extended cut we can confirm that a lot of the action sequences are gameplay, or at least what was presented to us as being so.

The footage showed each of the characters in turn and confirmed that Marvel’s Avengers is a third person action game with elements of 3D platformer, brawler, and in the case of Iron Man and Thor a flight game. Everything did look very linear but according to the developers all the footage was taken from what was implied to be the first story mission, from before the game properly begins.

Or at least that’s how we understood it. Just like EA’s Star Wars game, there seemed to be a strange attempt to underplay, or simply not mention, the game’s most interesting elements. We spoke to brand manager Rich Briggs and combat designer Vince Napoli but weren’t told the latter worked on the combat system for last year’s God Of War reboot until we left the interview. But that certainly explains why Thor in particular seemed to play so similarly to Kratos, including not just calling back his hammer but an impressively wide range of lightning and melee attacks.

Hulk is relatively similar, but without the lightning and flying, and instead an emphasis on jumping and using moves like clapping his hands together to cause a sonic boom. By comparison, Iron Man was probably the most unique character given his variety of laser beams and missiles, and the fact that he can fly. And while all the flying seemed very constrained in what we saw, we were assured that wouldn’t be the case later in the game.

Captain America was shown the least but naturally relies on close quarters combat and throwing his shield. Black Widow seemed to be the only one with a gun (and a cloaking device) and was shown in a boss fight with the only named villain so far: mercenary Taskmaster, who Black Widow herself points out is unlikely to be the mastermind behind what’s going.

The plot of the game was never made clear, beyond the Avengers being rebuked for failing to stop a city wide attack, but we think the Terrigen substance mentioned as a power source is what creates new Inhumans superheroes – although we don’t pretend to be experts on that side of Marvel comic book lore, and we may simply have misheard the trailer.

The footage was very impressive and while we’re sure it had been massaged to look as good as possible the combat seemed to show real depth. There are QTE sequences now and then but generally speaking the characters are portrayed just as they are in the comics, if not the movies.

As you can see in the interview below though, there was a lot of reticence in explaining the exact relationship between the solo and co-op sides of the games. Although ultimately it seems to boil down to choosing one or the other at a central hub, with not every mission being co-op compatible.

Some of the interview comments are open to interpretation though, so we’ll leave that up to you. What we can say is that while we ended the initial reveal feeling only moderately enthusiastic we were much more excited about the game after seeing the additional behind the scenes footage, and we think you will be too once it’s eventually released to the public.

Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and Stadia
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montréal
Release Date: 15th May 2020

GC: I’m surprised you didn’t show more gameplay at the reveal event, because that all looked great. I think a lot of people were upset that the unveil trailer didn’t seem to show much gameplay and it was a bit unclear how the game would actually work in practice.

RB: We wanted to show people that we’re delivering a cinematic narrative, an original story. So that’s the first thing we wanted to make sure people understood. That as much as we love the Marvel universe, with the movies and the comics, this is an original story within that universe. And then, behind closed doors, we can back it up with the awesome gameplay.

GC: One of the first things I was trying to work out is how linear the game is. What you showed seemed quite constrained.

RB: What you’re seeing in these early levels is exactly that. This is very early in the game, so we want to make sure that we’re introducing you to the heroes, to their powers, introducing you to the world and the story… and then after that the world is gonna open up in two ways.

Number one, the environments are gonna get bigger and more expansive. And number two, you’ll be able to go online, in co-op, and play even larger levels with your friends. So what you’re seeing here is a little bit more of a smaller arena, so that you can really get a feel for the characters’ powers.

VN: It’s very much one type of a very concentrated experience.

GC: So it’s a tutorial level?

RB: I wouldn’t call it a tutorial level but it is certainly early in the game, so that this is your introduction to the heroes.

GC: I think of the Iron Man sequence above the bridge in particular, is that on-rails? I’m assuming he can’t just fly off to the right or anything?

RB: Correct, you wouldn’t be able to fly off to the right on that particular level. But you will get more open environment that you’re able to fully explore.

GC: So you said you can play the whole game in single-player, right?

RB: Correct.

GC: So are you implying that they’re almost… separate games? Single-player and co-op?

RB: Well, you’re certainly playing the same levels differently, however they are very much the same game because your heroes stay the same. No matter whether you’re playing single-player or co-op you’re playing the same levelled up character, the same skills you’ve unlocked or are transferring back and forth.

You basically have a base of operations where you have a roster of heroes, and you choose what missions you are gonna go on next. So you may explore something as a single-player or you may say, ‘Hey Vince, I need a little help on this one, come in and help me out with a co-op!’ But you’re gonna be furthering the narrative regardless of whether you explore it in single-player or co-op.

GC: But, for example, the boss fight with Black Widow. If you played that in co-op couldn’t the Hulk just come in and one-shot Taskmaster?

RB: [laughs] That’s a great question. Not every experience, or every level, can be played in co-op. So there are gonna be some areas where you have to play as a certain hero, in order to further the narrative. There will be other areas where you can choose which hero from your roster you want to play as and whether or not you want to play it as co-op.

GC: So…. there’s a single-player adventure, where you see everything, and you’re taking levels out of that and adapting them for co-op, a bit like Destiny? Is that accurate?

VN: Not necessarily. There’s a single-player campaign where we introduce you to the characters and make you play as certain characters, and we really wanted to focus on their individual stories. So if there’s a particular story beat that we want to hit with Thor there’ll be a Thor focused level that you have to play, but there are tons of other story focused co-operative levels as well, that lets you pick the heroes and lets you tell the story in a more group setting.

Because we wanted to tell both an Avengers story of a team assembling, but also a Captain America story, a Black Widow story, and so on. It’s definitely not the single-player levels turned into multiplayer levels, it’s really a combination of unique multiplayer missions and story levels, as well as the single character-focused levels.

GC: Okay, right so you’re picking single or co-op levels as you please from the hub you mentioned?

VN: We weave them together into one experience.

RB: And the flexibility comes in that if you want to you could play the whole game single-player. You could go through those levels that can also be played with co-op. You could play those just as single-player if you wanted to.

GC: Hulk is already much more powerful than Black Widow, so what happens when someone like Captain Marvel is added, who is even more powerful again? How do you balance that? Is that by tweaking who is actually available in a level?

RB: Well, the heroes that we’re talking about today are Captain America, Iron Man…

GC: Well, yes I know. But you see my point? It’s not about any specific character it’s how you balance co-op with superheroes, and ordinary humans, that have wildly different power levels.

RB: And that gets to Vince’s point about balancing the levels to tell those stories.

VN: You can select any of the characters for the levels. We want you to select any four that you want. The great thing about these characters is they have a lot of unique abilities that compliment each other. You saw that Black Widow can initiate stealth, which is a very support, sneaky style of ability that gives her a very unique way of handling things. But the Hulk is absolutely on the other side of the spectrum. So, there’s a balancing factor in the sense that these characters are as asymmetrical as you can possibly get.

GC: I’m guessing the replayability comes from playing through the game with different characters and their unique powers? You’ve already hinted that Ant-Man is in the game.

RB: Yes, so we’ve shown Ant-Man is in the game. We haven’t announced exactly what his part in the game will be, however you’re absolutely right that different heroes will play different ways and you could go back and say, ‘Okay, today I want to play this level with a maxed-out Hulk’.

VN: Every hero has their own unique traversal mechanics, they have their own unique defensive mechanics, combat mechanics… We looked at every character and tried to build them out as if it was their own game. So everyone is fully-featured with full upgrade trees and progression trees.

GC: The combat did seem very involved, Thor in particular seemed to have an impressive number of different moves.

VN: Even with the moves we’ve shown off for Thor, with his alternate combos and optional move-sets, there’s a lot of depth to the heroes. The goal we’re striving for is that we want you to feel that when you pick up the character it’s very easy to get into the feeling of what they’re about. But there’s a lot of mastery behind it… especially when you start to get into the alternate move-sets, the additional move-sets. It gets pretty involved because we want you to come back to these characters and play them for a long time.

RB: It’s no small feat because you have to start from the very beginning feeling heroic. You have to feel like an Avenger and a superhero from the start. But we also have to make sure that you have a progression and what I love about this is it’s your chance to make your own version, your ideal version of Earth’s mightiest heroes. So you’re saying, ‘Okay, what skills am I gonna add? What different gear am I gonna combine so that I’m customising… plus with things like the outfits I’m making my version of the heroes.

GC: So my final question is one I’m sure you’ve been enjoying all day…

RB: [laughs]

GC: You were very particular about saying there are no loot boxes or pay-to-win elements in the game. You obviously knew that’s what everyone wanted to hear.

RB: There were will be no random loot boxes or pay-to-win scenarios, but we will allow people to customise their heroes if they want to.

GC: You have to pay for the game going forward somehow, I think everyone accepts that.

RB: Sure.

GC: So that’s through cosmetic extras?

RB: Correct. So, if you want to, you have the option of customising your hero further by purchasing outfits and other cosmetic items.

GC: Purchasing them directly or via loot boxes?

RB: We’ll have more details on how that works in the future. But the idea here is that we’re making sure there’s no pay-to-win scenarios, there’s no random loot boxes… so if you say, ‘I want that outfit!’, I know I’m getting that outfit.

And you can sometimes earn an outfit through gameplay, while other outfits have to be purchased. But the idea here is full transparency. You’re not saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m getting in this thing’ or ‘I don’t know what outfit I’m picking up’. You’ll always know what you’re getting.

GC: So does that rule out loot boxes for cosmetic extras?

RB: We’re gonna have more details on how it works. But the key thing is there’s no random loot boxes and there’s no pay-to-win. And that’s why we’re saying that all the superheroes that we release, and whenever we release a new region, that is at no additional charge, because that means that the community can come along with us on this journey for several years.

GC: And can you confirm Squirrel Girl is definitely going to be in it?

RB: [laughs]

GC: I bet you haven’t had that question today!

NV: [laughs] That is true.

GC: She’s got at least three outfits, I’d buy those!

RB: [laughs] Well there you go!

GC: Okay, thanks for your time.

RB: Thank you.

NV: Thanks.

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