After the unprecedented success of The Avengers: Endgame at the box office, Marvel's upcoming video game take on the franchise has some big boots to fill.
On show at the E3 video games expo in Los Angeles, Marvel's Avengers is in development at Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal — subsidiaries of publisher Square Enix — as well as several support studios, who all worked closely with Marvel Games on the project.
It's a massive undertaking; an action adventure game that tells an original Avengers story and lets you play as multiple heroes, but also allows you to team up with friends online so you can be a different Avenger each and play together with a growing number of stories, quests, areas and new heroes as free updates arrive regularly.
The characters featured here look and sound quite different to those recently seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Scot Amos, studio head at Crystal Dynamics, says he understands that some people might take time to adjust to the new takes on the heroes, but that it was essentially no different from a new run in a comic book, or a new actor playing James Bond, and that the new versions were no less true to the source material than the MCU.
“Those guys have had an incredible journey, that beautiful 10 year arc; actors and story just end-capped brilliantly a few months ago. But this is what's next for The Avengers. Marvel's keeping us honest and true to the DNA. Who are the right characters? What are the right stories? How do we take you on a new adventure with these heroes that you may already be in love with, or that you can fall in love with all over again? Because we're doing them in a unique way. They are the true north in all of this.”
Of course with dozens of potential Avengers to choose from, the game could easily become overwhelming for players, or fail to differentiate the heroes enough to make each interesting. That's why, Amos says, the game begins with just the five most recognisable members — Captain America, The Hulk, Black Widow, Iron Man and Thor— with more unlocked along the way.
"Start with the core five, give it an original story that is influenced by this 80 years of history, but make it so I can constantly see it expanding, adding more places to go, adding more characters to that roster,” he says.
"Everything we add, be it a new mission, new regions, new heroes, new gear, any of this stuff, has to have a story reason behind it that fits the bigger narrative.”
The development has assembled something of an elite team for themselves too. Between the various studios working on the game, new hires have included luminaries of the God of War, Uncharted and Call of Duty franchises, as well as of course theTomb Raider games that have long been closely associated with Crystal and Eidos.
Marvel's Avengers shares some DNA with Lara Croft's adventures, as a third-person adventure game with a cinematic look, but there also appears to be a much bigger emphasis on action rather than puzzles.
The game’s characters, voiced by an all-star cast of video game actors, don’t look much like the Hollywood versions.
A section of the game showed behind closed doors at E3 has the Avengers defending against a violent attack from The Taskmaster, timed to disrupt the opening of the team's new San Francisco HQ. The sequence shifts the player between the different team members, in scenarios specifically built to suit the skills of each. There's God of War style melee combat with Thor, quicker and more agile fighting with Black Widow, aerial blasting with Iron Man, slamming and platforming with Hulk. Cap's fighting style revolves around his shield, which you can even throw out to hit multiple enemies and kick when it comes back to send it off for more.
There is a core campaign for players to progress through, but beyond that they will be able to travel from their home base to a growing number of regions, with a growing roster of Avengers and customisable gear and abilities. At this point they'll also be able to join up with their friends online for co-operative multiplayer. But Amos says this is not your standard online multiplayer game. Not only can "99 per cent" of the content be played solo, but it all stays true to Crystal's pedigree in adventure games.
"If you want to keep playing with these new stories and these new heroes that show up, by yourself, we got you covered. But guess what happens when you assemble online with your buddies; you can go to these even bigger areas, and you have these different things to do."
Asked whether the game had any narrative connection to last year's Marvel’s Spider-man, which was made by a completely different team but which appeared to be Marvel's attempt to kick off a consistent video game universe, Amos appears to be in the dark about the comic company's larger plans for the medium.
"They [Marvel Games] have plans within plans of how these worlds work. They keep everybody at the right corners, they're very good at helping us understand where the boundaries are, for who we are. We are The Avengers. So our job is to make sure and deliver on that core experience, of who these characters are," he says.
Marvel's Avengers is set for a May 15, 2020 release on consoles, PC and Google Stadia.
The author travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Microsoft.
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