Despite missing out on the rocky launch the game had back in August 2020, the latest patch for Marvel’s Avengers—a next-gen patch for the latest consoles—makes now the perfect time to check out the title, which seemed to vanish from the zeitgeist as soon as it arrived. With this release, it seems the team at Crystal Dynamics are aiming for this to be a real second bash, with a DLC roadmap present and Hawkeye brought into the fray; but how much can you truly change a fundamentally flawed game at its core?
Starting with the next-gen patch for the PS5, it is glorious to lay your eyes upon, with the game now looking up to scratch with many of the other titles we have seen given the upgrade treatment. Again, like so many other titles, Avengers provides two graphical modes for you to select from: performance mode or quality mode. The two modes are what we have come to expect over the short few months of the new generation, with performance opting to keep things running at 60fps with a lower resolution, while quality mode opts to present a 4K resolution at 30fps with some apparent extra effects to boot. Opting (as I always do) to keep the frame rate as a priority, Avengers does look stunning at points on the new hardware, with that targeted 60fps never seeming to be an issue here. Cutscenes, as well as gameplay, look up to scratch for the PS5 name, and it allows for the game’s frantic nature to look butter smooth—there was never a point in which performance was an issue. Quality mode certainly boosts the resolution to that nice 4K target, yet the higher frame rate makes it hard to go back to the 30fps output.
With the PS5 version, you are getting some exclusive next-gen features as well thanks to the hardware potential. While I am sure the now-rapid loading times appear on both consoles, the haptic feedback of the DualSense controller is incredibly well-implemented here, with every hero you play having the exact feeling you would expect the controller to have. Iron Man’s blasters provide a heavier pull to the forced-feedback triggers, Black Widow’s gun attacks have a small clicking upon fully pushing the trigger down, and the game generally just feels fun to control, with these additions providing that extra “wow” factor that has become a staple of the PS5 controller.
So, what about the game then? Well, despite missing out at launch, it seems that things remain the same here, for better and for worse. At its core, Avengers is still a beat-em-up looter, with you controlling your chosen hero within fairly large levels with up to three other friends to accompany you on your mission. The missions are your standard affair here, with the usual defend a given spot, attack a certain enemy, destroy a specific device being the main hooks of seemingly every mission-type outside of the main campaign, with some minor distractions along the way to find even more loot. The loot you find consists largely of upgrade materials for your armour, as well as new armour pieces themselves, allowing you to enhance your heroes and take on more difficult challenges with better rewards—rinse and repeat.
Each hero you control functions the same in terms of core mechanics, with you having an offensive ability, a defensive ability and, finally, an ultimate ability, with the three having their own cool-down periods upon use. The abilities are constructed to encourage teamwork, with some abilities having more use than others, but all having their own advantages when combined. If you are mainly playing alone like me, then each hero still does enough damage to ensure you never truly feel at a loose end in terms of power.
Speaking of power, your ability to take on missions comes down to your power level, a meter that is expanded upon with the improvement of your hero’s equipment. Along with this, your character also has a more traditional level, with each step-up nabbing you a skill point to spend on new abilities and moves, as well as progressing you through your given hero’s battle pass (I wish this was a joke). Each of the controllable characters has their own set of tiers, with each tier offering a new reward, with the likes of emotes and skins being nabbed as you progress. I genuinely didn’t even notice this system was in play for several hours, only scrolling past it as I was trying to navigate the cluttered menu systems; however, the whole concept plays into the more desperate attempts the game has to squeeze some extra cash out of you. Sure, it is cosmetic only, but the game is still a full-price title that doesn’t do even close to enough to warrant such a vast amount of micro-transaction—but then, what games does?
Before you get into all that, there is that mentioned campaign here to get stuck into before you venture into the field of online play. Following the quest of a recent newcomer to the Marvel Universe, Ms. Marvel (aka Kamala Khan), an incredibly cinematic opening details her brief origin story as an inhuman before taking you on a ten or so hour adventure that begins with you mostly controlling Ms. Marvel as she attempts to bring the disbanded Avengers team back together before then having the chance to control each of the game’s given heroes.
The tale is closer in quality to the likes of Age of Ultron rather than Infinity War, but it certainly has its moments. These are mostly found in those opening few hours, in which you truly begin to connect with Kamala as you spend an extensive period just controlling her as she learns to harness the powers that her father has forced her to repress for years. The performance from Sandra Saad is genuinely spectacular, with the performance not just shining in those big moments that the character is given but, equally, in the smaller touches of her persona that come across in Kamala’s genuine passion for the Avengers she has had since her youth.
The casting is spot-on for the other heroes too, with fan favourites Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, and Nolan North bringing Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanoff, and Tony Stark to life, respectively, nailing the same characteristics that fans of the Marvel universe will be accustomed to. However, when these iconic heroes are brought into the campaign is actually when the game falls apart, as the more scripted and narrative-driven sequences found in the first few hours are pushed aside in favour of the looter mission types that are the core hook of the online aspect of the game. The game becomes more focused on getting you to grips with the endgame mechanics rather than sticking to telling a solid story, with the pace being brought to a screeching halt as you must wander the corridors of the Avengers base speaking to merchants who provide meaningless tasks to enhance your loot. Sure, this is what the game ultimately becomes, so to not enjoy these aspects is to simply not enjoy the game; yet in those opening few hours, Avengers shows that it can and is willing to commit to a more cinematic narrative yet forgoes this in an effort to extend the campaign length.
For a free upgrade, the next-gen patch is a real blessing here and it is certainly a great step for the game to take in its attempts to gain a second chance at becoming a new regular in your play cycles. Your engagement with the endgame aspects of Avengers is going to be solely down to your preferences and your tolerance for an intense, grinding style of game as seen with the emergence of the “live service” game, with even my short dip into the online field matching me up with players who out-ranked my power level a substantial amount. However, I have no desire to search for loot, to make my characters as powerful as possible, or even grind for some cosmetic skins, as ultimately the core hook just isn’t enough to keep me coming back. What is here is mechanically solid, but it never manages to be gratifying enough to keep me invested past an hour or so—and with the grind the game requires, that is just not enough time to get engrossed with the elements at play here.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]