Marvel’s Avengers are arguably the most popular superhero troupe in the world, and for good reason. A blockbuster film franchise, countless comics, and video game spinoffs have morphed the team into larger-than-life characters that we either aspire to be like or desperately wish we could step into the shoes of for even a fleeting moment.

It’s no surprise, then, that two behemoths of the game industry, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix, set forth to tackle the massive undertaking that is a triple-A gaming spin on the Avengers with an original story to tie it all together.

Marvel’s Avengers is an impressive feat that combines both a traditional solo campaign and team-based multiplayer missions to bring fans one of the most exciting installments in the world of comic-based games we’ve seen in some time. We had the chance to go hands-on with the game through a multi-phased beta preview period, and we came away extremely impressed with what we played. Marvel’s Avengers launches on September 4 on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for $59.99.

Ready to learn more? Gamers, assemble!

Humbling beginnings

PHOTO: Amazon

When Marvel’s Avengers first hit the scene for gamers and press to tackle in 2019, it wasn’t as well-received as it could have been. It initially took heat for strange design decisions, many of which stemmed from the fact that the game didn’t include familiar likenesses for the characters we’ve come to know from their Marvel movie appearances – no Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, or anyone immediately recognizable.

It also received criticism for its seemingly overwhelming reliance on cut-scenes as well as quick-time events, which were mistaken for what the glut of gameplay would be comprised of. In an industry where games are often called out for holding players’ hands or substituting lengthy theatrical scenes where gameplay would be preferred, it’s understandable that this would have been an early concern. You want to be the Avengers, not watch them.

Fast forward to 2020, with the game’s official release on the horizon, and things have changed significantly. While unfortunately the “off-brand” character models for each Avenger do remain (and are just as strange as ever), it’s become clear that this is both an ambitious and exciting project rife with things to do, secrets to uncover, and a gripping narrative that anyone who loves comic books and the Marvel universe will be thrilled to enter.

Assembling the Avengers

PHOTO: Amazon

For many, seeing the Avengers fall from grace might be a strange change from what we’re used to from the heroes, but that narrative is exactly what makes Marvel’s Avengers feel so satisfying. This action-packed beat-’em-up takes place on A-Day, an event that would otherwise be a chipper celebration, which is brought to its knees after a terrorist cell decides to crash the party.

The Avengers are forced to rush over to the Golden Gate Bridge in sunny San Francisco as civilians scurry about, abandoning their cars and running for their lives as an attack is mounted on the bridge and it begins to crumble to pieces. Your first brush with the action-packed scenario is as Thor, who swoops in to try and take out some of the enemies harassing the citizens on the bridge.

You’ll get to play as all of the Avengers eventually (as well as newcomer Kamala Khan), but having Thor first on the list is a great introduction as playing with the God of Thunder is a great way to get acclimated. Swinging around Thor’s mighty hammer feels fantastic and meaty, just in the way you’d expect from games like Devil May Cry or God of War. Thor can knock enemies senseless, toss them into the sky, and throw his hammer and retrieve it for some devastating damage. He can also leap into the sky for flight, which really throws the baddies for a loop.

After giving you a quick introduction as Thor, the game immediately shifts to Iron Man, who everyone will immediately be chomping at the bit to play. However, with his souped-up suit, powerful jetpack, and wise-cracking lines, he ended up being one of the more pedestrian Avengers to play as, with Thor overtaking him in how good it felt to absolutely decimate enemies. Iron Man’s great for attacking mid-air or sending rockets or beams of energy hurtling into groups of bad guys, but combat feels much more visceral and meaty when you can get up and personal to do it with your fists.

Iron Man has a brief stint saving the people on the bridge, and then Bruce Banner takes a turn as he swoops in from a jet high in the air. Black Widow flies off after depositing our green friend as he transforms and Hulks out right in front of the waiting enemies. Hulk is an absolute pleasure to play as, with what feels like astronomical amounts of power as you crush cars and enemies with his massive fists.

He’s the most fun to play out of the Avengers by far, because you feel free enough to destroy anything in your path. He may be slow, but he makes up for that failing with overwhelming amount of power. When you need power but can skip out on dexterity, Hulk is your man.

As the scene continues to deteriorate and the Avengers must work to save additional people from the bridge scene, Hulk ends up destroying his fair share of tanks where he’s working through the terrorist attack and we get to zip over to see what Captain America is up to, who’s stationed in the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. Cap’s shield is cool enough to toss around, and he’s a much more precise and strategic character than Hulk, so you’ll have to immediately get back into combo and butt-kicking mode instead of just, well, smashing everything.

As Captain America works to defeat the terrorists in the Helicarrier, the scene changed back to Black Widow, who ends up facing off against the popular Marvel villain Taskmaster. Given how Black Widow is, for us, traditionally the most uninteresting character when it comes to both her cinematic appearances and video game translations, we were shocked that she felt much more exciting to play as than Iron Man. Widow has pistols at her disposal and the ability to dispatch enemies with a terrifying quickness. She felt sprightly and tested in terms of hand-to-hand combat, as lithe as Bayonetta and even cooler to use than Thor. We have to give Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics props for that.

Becoming the bad guys

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Following Taskmaster’s introduction, the Avengers are blamed for the nefarious plan the villain has cooked up. The Helicarrier ends up exploding (presumably with Cap on it), for all the Avengers’ hard work, and with it goes much of San Francisco as well as innocent lives. The public, as you can imagine, isn’t thrilled with this turn of events, and as a result the Avengers are forced to disband. They’re even shunned from society, which is an intriguing direction for the story to take.

There’s a five-year jump following this turn of events, where an organization called AIM has emerged in the hopes to eliminate the need for superheroes by way of technology and robotics. There’s something off about them, of course, and it feels like they could be at the heart of what caused the Avengers to fall five years before.

Luckily, you do get a chance to see the Avengers redeem themselves through the eyes of the teenage Ms. Marvel herself, Kamala Khan. Kamala has the ability to grow parts of her body larger, which can be a bit odd and disconcerting at first, but her segments of the game feel the closest to titles like The Last of Us, as we get to see the Avengers through a self-proclaimed “fangirl’s” eyes. Watching her get to spend time with the Avengers, her heroes, is touching, especially when she gets to fight off enemies just like the heroes she’s watched from afar all her life do.

A Marvel-ous affair

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Though there are a few small hiccups with Marvel’s Avengers, most of which involve the actual Avengers themselves and their character models, as well as some of the Avengers feeling a little less interesting to play, overall this is an exciting new chapter for superhero gaming. DC already knocked it out of the park with Batman’s Arkham series. Now, it’s time for Marvel to do the same.

Marvel’s Avengers lands on September 4 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for $59.99.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed prices at the time of publication.