Marvel's Midnight Suns, the upcoming Marvel RPG from Firaxis, is based on the occult 'Midnight Sons' run of comics from the '90s. It's heavy on magic, ghosts, and demons, which creative director Jake Solomon thought would set it apart from the shows and movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, given that the Avengers typically busy themselves with space aliens rather than ancient tomes of evil magic. What Solomon did not know was that the world's foremost fan of evil magic tomes was going to direct a Doctor Strange movie.
Solomon didn't get a heads up that Sam Raimi's Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, which released in theaters on May 6, was going to include the evil Darkhold spellbook, a plot device which also features in Midnight Suns. There was "no collaboration," he tells me. (I spoke to Solomon recently for a hands-on preview and feature in the next issue of PC Gamer magazine). The overlap doesn't end there, either.
"Hero or villain? Is she a hero or villain?" Solomon asks as he flips between slides of the good and evil versions of Scarlet Witch that appear in Midnight Suns. "Someone should make a movie out of that!"
He's joking—mostly. I think Solomon legitimately wanted to be the first to dip back into Marvel's occult material. The Midnight Suns tagline is "explore the darker side of Marvel." That line could now be confused as a tagline for the Raimi movie, which some felt was too gruesome and scary for its PG-13 rating. But Solomon never believed that he and his team at Firaxis were the only creative people in the world who thought it would be cool to revisit Marvel's ghost stories and Elder Gods.
"[The overlap] was a total surprise, but it was both a surprise and not a surprise to me," says Solomon. "There was no collaboration at all, but there are some powerful ideas in Marvel, and so even when we were coming up with our story, we were like, 'Eh, are they really not going to use the Darkhold at some point?' It was just a matter of time before some of these ideas were going to come out."
Marvel's shows and movies haven't used every idea Solomon and team put into Midnight Suns. Solomon says he'd sometimes text the game's narrative director after watching an episode of WandaVison, saying something like, "We're good, we're good for a little bit longer, they didn't mention [an aspect of Midnight Suns]."
Still, Midnight Suns has started to look as if it's part of some big Marvel mysticism initiative, even though it's not. There's now a Moon Knight show and a Morbius movie—both characters who were part of the original Midnight Sons—and there's a new Blade movie coming next year.
After playing a bit of Midnight Suns for my preview, I can say that it does feel distinct from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Its story and characters are based on Solomon and co's favorite moments from those old comics. The Midnight Suns version of Doctor Strange is "fussier" and "showier" than the Benedict Cumberbatch movie version, for example.
"In the Midnight Sons run of comics that this game is inspired by, Doctor Strange would always show up and have this amazing cape," says Solomon, "and he'd be like, 'I could stop her, but if I did, the force of my energies would rip the universe apart. Good luck!' And then he'd fly off, and you're like, 'OK, Doctor Strange.'"
Strange delivers a version of that line early in Midnight Suns when Tony Stark asks him to tell the demon which heats their forge (I know as much as you) to increase the temperature a few hundred Kelvin.
"I could," Doctor Strange says. "However, it might shatter the containment spell preventing him from incinerating this facility."
Although the Midnight Suns characters unavoidably look somewhat similar to the movie actors they've become associated with, I didn't find the situation as uncanny as it is in the Crystal Dynamics Avengers game, probably because Firaxis doesn't strive for quite such a cinematic look. The trade-off is that, when they're talking to each other, the Firaxis versions sometimes look a little like action figures that have come to life. The anime-inspired combat animations in Midnight Suns are great, though.
Midnight Suns will be out October 7. You can read about how the tactical combat feels in my hands-on preview, and more about the characters and story in the next issue of PC Gamer magazine.