What we hope to see from Square Enix’s mysterious Marvel partnership.
Chalk it up to Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War taking all the focus away from anything else with that hero team in the name, but the last time we saw Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics’ The Avengers Project was…the first time we saw The Avengers Project.
Square Enix debuted a teaser trailer for the Marvel Games title from Crystal Dynamics, developers of the 2011 Tomb Raider reboot, back in January 2017. The original, cinematic teaser trailer flashed over what appeared to be the fallout of a fight or some other catastrophe. Bruce Banner’s glasses, the hand of Iron Man’s armor, Thor’s hammer Mjlonir, Captain America’s shield can all be seen strewn about, before ending with the hashtag “Reassemble.”
To this day, we’re still unsure what the trailer actually means for the upcoming game. Is it a sign that these referenced characters will all be playable? Or will players be taking on the role of other Marvel heroes endeavoring to put this team back together, reversing whatever ill fortune befell them, considering the trailer’s voiceover?
Unfortunately, we have yet to find out what that trailer actually means, and, given the more than gap since its reveal, it’s very possible major changes have been made to The Avengers Project since that time. However, we can piece some bits of information together that gives us a somewhat more clear picture.
In January 2018, we learned key former developers of Uncharted and Dead Space joined Crystal Dynamics to work on The Avengers Project. While not an outright confirmation, that somewhat implies we could be in for a single-player or at least narrative-focused adventure.
Before those hires, alleged job postings for The Avengers Project back in 2017 implied there would be social and shared online play, with gameplay resembling a “3rd person cover based action adventure game.”
Later in 2018, Crystal Dynamics announced a new satellite sister studio to help create technology for The Avengers Project. So, hey, at least we know it’s still in development.
And, outside of this game, we know that The Avengers Project is meant as the first in a multi-game partnership between Square Enix and Marvel Games. (Here’s hoping for a Marvel-only Kingdom Hearts spinoff. Let’s see if Thor can spam Lightning as much as Donald Duck can.)
Given its relatively mysterious development cycle, we’ll speculate based on what we have heard rumored and hope to be true. If, as those early job listings suggested, The Avengers is a third-person action game, I really hope we see Crystal focus on 4 – 5 heroes having varied, interesting mechanics. Flying around and shooting as Iron Man should be a totally different experience from Captain America.
But if online play is included, these powers should hopefully be fun to use in conjunction with each other. Not just for cool team-up moves (c’mon, bouncing an Iron Man beam off of Cap’s shield to hit a hard-to-reach enemy is too good an opportunity to pass up.) but also for environmental mechanics. I’d love to see some puzzle solving or exploration tied to the heroes moves. If there’s a narrative adventure for players to explore, every hero will ultimately need to be able to reach every destination even when alone, but so much of the fun of The Avengers is seeing them interact as a team. And I hope the gameplay can reflect that.
If that online and social play translates into something more like a shared universe a la Destiny or Anthem, well…I am personally less excited for that. (I’d really not love to see these Marvel figures broken down into class archetypes we can all choose from — the promise of an Avengers game, to me, is to play as the Avengers.) But allowing players to hop into key Marvel locations, whether real-world locales like New York or fictional ones like Genosha, that populate with daily, weekly, or monthly missions The Avengers need to tackle could be fun given the right mission variety and enemy types.
In a post-Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame world, though, the bar has been set high for emotionally affecting and engrossing Avengers stories. Should Crystal Dynamics’ game emphasize its characters and story — it’d be a crime not to in some way — I’d really like to see some aspect of the game be a dedicated campaign
Marvel’s Spider-Man really exemplified what this era of Marvel Games can do — in the right hands, with the right time and care, a truly great superhero video game can come along and delight all of us.
Crystal Dynamics has, of course, proven itself as a developer, most recently with its impressive Tomb Raider reboot adventures, and there’s so much potential to take some of entertainment’s most iconic heroes and tell interesting stories. And of course, should the gameplay nail it, getting to play as any of the heroes teased, and potentially others, is a childhood dream come true for many.
Building systems for such varied heroes as Thor, Iron Man, and The Hulk could be difficult to get right, but if Crystal does so, it could create a unique, rewarding experience that is worth revisiting from multiple angles.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s News Editor, PlayStation lead, and Beyond! host. He cried a lot during Avengers Endgame. He just thought you should know. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.