One of the main issues I had with Eidos Montreal’s Tomb Raider reboot was the disconnect between her cut-scene vulnerabilities and her mad-cap superheroics in gameplay. Getting hands on with Marvel’s Avengers at Gamescom this year, I discovered that a lot of Lara’s core gameplay movements have been translated to the world’s most popular gang of superheroes — albeit with a few tweaks and evolutions. It’s a perfect fit that has dashed a fair few of my concerns since Avengers’ E3 reveal.
While we only got to play the same A-Day prologue sequence that was shown off at E3, the demo allowed us to play as each of the five Avengers shown so far — Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Black Widow. It seems that even in the space between E3 and Gamescom some work has been done to improve the looks of the core heroes, Black Widow especially — though it’s hard to pin down exactly what’s changed. It may just be a case of better lighting and smoothed animations, but thankfully Natalya has edged away from the depths of the uncanny valley.
Yet the sense that I was playing an evolution of the Tomb Raider reboot formula wasn’t limited to Black Widow. In fact, it was The Hulk’s ridiculous stomping run through the wreckage of the Golden Gate Bridge that caused the comparisons to click in my mind. The collapse of the Bridge is a classic catastrophic set-piece that Shadow of the Tomb Raider in particular was fond to throw in Lara’s direction, and that set-piece style action is undeniably well suited to this gang of heroes who have bludgeoned their way through similar disasters in the last decade of cinema. Hulk’s animated leaping and wall running through bad guys, overturned trucks and snapping bridge supports feels wild, fun and totally appropriate to the character. The heroes’ near-invulnerability strips away that awkward clash in Tomb Raider between the Lara that leaps 40 feet and lands perfectly, and the Lara who gets brutally destroyed by spikes and rocks. Instead we’re free to just enjoy the spectacular unabashed heroics of gods and monsters, iron-clad rocket men and… OK, one inexplicably invulnerable lady assassin.
That’s not to say that some of the vulnerabilities already present in Lara’s stories aren’t present in Marvel’s Avengers. In fact, one of the key themes of Shadow of the Tomb Raider — the damaging psychology behind believing you are the only one who can save the world — is present all over the premise of Marvel’s Avengers as the heroes face a world in which they have failed. Even in the few clips we have seen so far of the events following A-Day, the former Avengers are clearly struggling with a similar destruction of ego that was so compelling throughout Lara’s journey. Anyone concerned that Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal wouldn’t be able to translate their craft to multiple protagonists shouldn’t worry either — even in a brief session with each of the core heroes, it’s clear that each will have a unique and dramatic story to tell.
The structure of the game itself will play nicely into this idea. Each new story mission in Hero Mode will focus on particular heroes — the levels will tap into each hero’s gameplay styles and their stories to maximum effect. The multiplayer stuff happens separately in Warzone missions — these are more open-form quests in which players can pick their heroes going in. That’s not to say that Warzone missions are generic; apparently, the exact composition of those missions will dynamically alter depending on the squad that ends up taking it on. It’s impossible to comment on how this will work in practice without playing those segments of the game, but it certainly seems like a logical way to separate the game’s structured narrative from the fun of rolling out with your friends wearing your favourite capes.
In terms of what we played, the biggest surprise was just how smooth it felt to switch between each hero and start using their movesets. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal have clearly studied various superheroic competitors and found a way to cherry-pick the best aspects of different toolsets — God of War’s Leviathan Axe for Thor, Arkham’s combo-heavy pummeling for Captain America — into a stable central design philosophy. What remains to be seen is whether that careful balance of variety with consistency can carry on throughout the game as more heroes, and more complex scenarios, are added to the table.
Whatever the end result, getting hands-on with Avengers was surprisingly exciting and engaging. We’ll be eager to try out the Beta when it eventually hits Xbox One — sadly, the first pass will go to PlayStation 4 players.
Marvel’s Avengers launches on May 15th 2020 on Xbox One.