Yesterday Marvel Studios threw their cards on the table and showed the world their planned film slate until the end of the decade and while I’m ecstatic that there’s going to be a Captain Marvel film and the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel has been moved up, I’m still disappointed that Marvel doesn’t have a firm plan in place for their video game department. Marvel Studios has a strategy in place that has an astounding amount of moving pieces and we still don’t even have so much a piece of concept art for an Avengers video game, keeping in mind that as of this May, the first Avengers film will be three years old.
I can’t fault Disney or Marvel for dragging their heels on spearheading an Avengers video game project, and I’m not talking about puzzle, free-to-play and Facebook games here, I’m talking a full-fledged console/PC game. How do you make a game that has so many unique characters and personalities and make it fun? Developers have had a hard enough time making good solo super hero games that make us feel like we’re in the suit of our favorite hero, let alone a half a dozen or more. Take Black Widow for example as a character in Disney Infinity 2.0. Her super power is to turn invisible, a skill that is absolutely pointless in a game where the sole goal of every mission is combat, making her a real choice only if you just want to use that character but not ideally when you could use a more powerful character like Thor or Iron Man. A character like Black Widow with the ability for stealth would be best suited for a sneaking machine where Hulk would stand out like a sore thumb.
The closest we’ve perhaps come to a real Marvel Universe game, not including things like Lego Marvel Super Heroes and the more recent Disney Infinity, is the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series and I don’t really think that quite worked, but not for a lack of trying. It’s incredibly hard to plant, say, Daredevil next to a character like Thor and not make one either like inferior or superior and I think that’s why the X-Men: Legends game from Raven, the people behind the first MUA, worked so well. Sure, the X-Men is a group full of super powered mutants who can heal fast and fire concussive blasts from their eyes, but by and large they’re still people. There’s no God amongst their ranks or an indestructible rage monster that you need to compensate for; With a few exceptions of course, all the X-Men are vulnerable and can die.
This isn’t unique to Marvel or the Avengers though, but DC’s camp as well. In 2006, the same year MUA was released, WB Games gave us Justice League Heroes, a game where in the first level Superman is teamed with Batman and both are just as effective at fighting and destroying giant robots. It’s awfully fun mind you to fight waves of killer robots as either Batman or Superman, but it’s a disservice to the strengths of each hero to just have them both doing the same task. Superman is more of a front line fighting character whereas Batman is better suited to the shadows.
A great example of a game that took characters with a lot of unique abilities and made them incredibly fun to play in the licensed arena was in 2012’s Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, and it’s a template that any future Avengers game developers should look to. The game was second in a series from developer High Moon Studios, those that brought us the underrated Deadpool. An issue with their first game, War for Cybertron was outside of something like a healing gun, it didn’t really matter what character you played as. This was remedied in an interesting way for the sequel.
Each of the levels starred a different Autobot or Decepticon and offered a new mechanic for the player to experiment with. Certain characters flew, others had a grappling hook for reaching high areas, another had a device that let them cloak themselves for a basic stealth mission and each faction had a larger than normal giant character that shifted the gameplay from shooting to devestating melee attacks.
This chapter by chapter switch would fit an Avengers game near perfectly: One chapter would feature sneaking around as Black Widow, another could showcase Hawkeye’s sharp shooting skills perhaps with a cover base mechanic, moving on to the Hulk rampaging through foes and flying around as Iron Man or Thor. Structuring the game like this does take away from the team playing together, but the reason why a group like the Avengers functions so well is that they play off of each others skills, look no further than the final with the Chitauri in the Avengers. Not every member of the team was taking down the flying space worm monster, that was left to the heavy hitters.
Marvel Studios continues its dominance of the film space and based on their schedule, they’re here to stay until at least the turn of the decade. It may be wishful thinking, as Disney seems content to release games in the mobile space, but I would love to be browsing my favorite web site and come across a headline that reads “Marvel Plans Video Game Universe.” Licensed games are picking up steam in a good way, look at Alien: isolation, Shadow of Mordor and of course Batman: Arkham Knight as examples of this. It’s time Marvel and Disney to step up their game and learn from the examples of how a mega game like this could change the way we look at super hero games, the same way they did in the film space.