One of the things I was most looking forward to in Marvel's Avengers was smashing up enemies as the Incredible Hulk. The draw of playing as a giant green ball of muscle is that I should be able to storm in and eliminate any threat with just a few swipes. Puny humans with pathetic guns? Watch me take out eight with one clap of my huge meat hooks. Military tanks firing plasma projectiles right at me? One punch and they're out. In movies and comics, seeing the Incredible Hulk steaming towards regular humans means they're pretty much done for, but in Marvel's Avengers, they're somehow able to withstand multiple slashes from the furious gamma-guzzling brute. If the Marvel's Avengers beta has taught me anything, it's that the squad of unstoppable heroes that have assembled to protect Earth aren't all that super after all.
The beta kicks off with chaos unfolding on the Golden Gate bridge, which gave me a brief session with each hero to get a feel for their moveset. Unfortunately, even in the heavily scripted intro that limits your time with each hero and switches between what should be their most exciting and unique abilities, it's difficult to ignore how slow and generic the combat feels. While I initially had fun grabbing enemies and repeatedly smashing them into the ground as the Hulk, the novelty of this move wears off quickly.
Heading into the demo, I was hoping for an experience similar to Marvel's Spider-Man on the PS4. Taking on groups of enemies in that game feels fast and fluid. Even early on in its campaign, the combat feels deep enough to facilitate creativity. Mixing and matching Spidey's powers is fun from the beginning and there are plenty of opportunities to try new things, even when you're facing similar mobs. In comparison, Marvel's Avengers' combat feels rigid and weak. Granted, this is only a beta and a significant portion of each character's skills are locked off, but it's clear that the 'game-as-a-service' progression keeps the Avengers from feeling like the Avengers, at least at the start. My powers don't feel super at all, and knowing I'll have to grind for a long time to unlock more skills, as well as find additional gear to make them feel somewhat threatening is a real turn off.
The Avengers feel weak
Each hero has their own moveset, which largely relies on players mixing up light and heavy attacks to create strings of combos against enemies. Specific enemies such as Riotbots require a charged attack that breaks their guard, but for the most part, you can get by on a Normal difficulty by mashing just two buttons. Approaching the same types of enemies in a similar fashion quickly becomes a monotonous slog, and while each hero has their own style, it's far from feeling truly unique. Once you've learnt one character, you've essentially learnt them all. Thor's ranged attack sees him fling his hammer into an enemy, which he can then promptly recall to hit another on its return, but this isn't all that different to throwing a rock as the Hulk, or aiming and firing a projectile using Iron Man's suit.
What's worse is that all of these attacks feel disappointingly feeble. Beating up a Proto-Synthoid as Ms Marvel or Black Widow takes multiple hits, but it's the same story for the Hulk who should be kicking them aside to focus on much larger threats like robots. It's possible to parry and punish beefier opponents, and there are a few cool finisher moves to take advantage of, which occasionally break up the monotony of some of the fights. Due to the nature of the game, all heroes feel as though they've been created with a similar answer to enemies and obstacles, though. Sure, Black Widow can go invisible which lets you land some free hits here and there, but her melee abilities feel about as powerful as Iron Man's—and her specialty is supposed to be martial arts. This almost ventures into the ridiculous where The Incredible Hulk still needs to dodge shots from tiny weapons, breaking the illusion that he's, well, incredible. It doesn't feel like you can actually take advantage of the powers each hero should have because this is a game that'll launch with multiple playable heroes who all need to be able to handle everything.
There are a few exciting moments, but these are usually the result of using one of three special moves that focus on each character's Heroic abilities. This includes an Ultimate move that's good for clearing entire groups, and as you'd expect, these have long cooldowns. There are also Intrinsic Abilities, which drain an energy bar on the screen. Entering this state rewards successful attacks by inflicting more damage, but it still doesn't feel like enough of a boost to attain hard-hitting attacks that are satisfying to pull off. Even after unlocking skills that add a little more variety to the combat, it's comical when the Hulk performs an enormous slam move only to knock off a sliver of health.
In addition to unlockable skills that offer new heavy attacks, signature moves, and intrinsic abilities, Marvel's Avengers also features upgradeable gear. There are crates littered throughout missions filled with different items for each hero, and I was constantly reminded that I needed to adjust my loadout. Each slot requires different resources in order to 'boost' that piece of gear, so there's a lot of materials to juggle. Some items will also have perks, but these seem mostly negligible, so far. Having a 6.3 percent chance of my perfect evade granting a Heroic Charge for my squad doesn't feel like something to rave about.
The most annoying thing about the gear was how often I felt I needed to keep swapping it. Carefully selecting the gear that you believe is worth levelling up in an RPG isn't exactly a new concept, but spending precious resources on a vest that I'd just found for Ms Marvel only to find a better one around the corner was aggravating. The notion of scouting around for gear for characters that are supposed to have superhuman abilities just doesn't sit well with me, either. There are just too many asterisks on making these heroes fun to play. The system just feels like a way to prolong the grind, and it makes completing missions feel like chores, on top of their already repetitive structure.
The Marvel's Avengers beta offers a lot of content for its three-weekend duration. Large War Zone missions, Drop Zones and HARM Rooms give players a good idea of what to expect, but I'm disappointed that I'm now far less interested in the game after trying them. I'm already fatigued from destroying servers, capturing points, and facing the same enemies repeatedly. Crystal Dynamics has made solid improvements on the game since they first unveiled it, but I'm not convinced that its service game model is compatible with making its superheroes genuinely fun to play.