As a COVID consequence, a couple college buddies and I were seeking for a way to virtually hang out in the absence of our yearly voyages to our alma mater. For many, a casual Zoom or Google Meet call fits the bill, but being men of a certain sort of action, we decided to get a little bit more aggressive.
Enter the virtual 'game night'. For a couple hours every week, we'd get together and play something together. The question then became, what something?
While avenues, like Board Game Arena and Tabletop Simulator, exist to bring board games into the virtual sphere, we veered towards the already virtual video game. Bouncing between the options that give multiple folks a chance to work together towards an objective, and that had enough life to sustain multiple weekly sessions, and accounting for one of us that gets motion sick when first person perspectives are employed (e.g. no call of duty nonsense), we settled on a game appropriate for a year without superhero movies:
Marvel's The Avengers.
As you might expect, the game involves taking on the roles of the superheroes and traipsing about the planet laying waste to evil-doing hordes. Black Widow, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk all tearing it up together? Sounds like a good way, beer in hand, to start the week.
And indeed, despite the double-take looks that arise when you realize the game didn't license the movies, making the characters look similar-but-different, Avengers hits its core well. Every hero brings with them unique powers that work with others in fun ways: Black Widow could turn invisible, allowing for a stunning blow that would set up some poor robot for a monstrous Hulk smash.
If you caught the word robot in that last sentence, that wasn't a typo: by far, most of the enemies fought in Avengers are robots, courtesy of an effective single-player story that delivers an enthusiastic emotional arc through Ms. Marvel (not Captain Marvel, but Kamala Khan, a kind of bizzaro version of Mr. Fantastic or Elastigirl from The Incredibles).
What starts out as an enjoyable romp through beautiful scenery smashing these metallic monsters with friends, hunting down chests for ever-stronger gear meant to make your heroes more indestructible soon starts to sour. While the combat's fun, bashing in the thousandth robot wears thin. Finding treasure, unlike a fantasy setting where some enchanted sword or mystical armor makes a dramatic change, here only adjusts numbers on the back-end.
Worse, mission types continually recycle the same environments and often pull the same encounters from a thin grab bag. We'd know, approaching a marker on the map, that here there'd be switches that need triggering, here we need to defend control points from enemies, and here there'd be some stronger version of the same robots we'd need to beat.
While all this felt repetitive, it was still fun enough to see us through our weekly rendezvous, if only because the combat was so satisfying. The final killer for me, though, became the load screens and requisite downtime. While we're all rocking old playstations, the minutes lost transitioning between settings killed momentum. It meant we had to fill dead air with actual conversation, and that, my friends, is a rough state indeed.
Altogether, I'd give Avengers a super slap on the back for trying hard and nearly nailing it. The heroes feel great, the graphics look sharp, and it's super fun with super friends. Now all they need is a better backbone to graft all those systems onto. More villains, more enemy types, and better progression that feels meaningful.
Oh, and those load times. Ouch.