You might think you know what you’re getting from a title featuring the world’s most iconic heroes. But following Marvel’s Avengers showing at gamescom 2019 it’s time to think again; these are unique and original versions of the characters with new powers, new abilities and, crucially for the wider storyline, a world that sees them in a new light.
Developer Crystal Dynamics is set to release a game that takes everything you think you know and expand on it past anything we’ve seen before.
“We stake our reputation on it!” Studio Head Scot Amos explains. “Just like we approached Lara Croft back in 2013, we want to show the world how we do things in a new and original way”.
If that’s the driving force behind the team, it certainly shows in the early build showcased this week. There are five studios working on the game, which sounds huge, but Scot assures works “in an almost magical way.”
“Four of the five studios have collaborated many times in the past, and the fifth is a new studio created by our people, so we know who we’re working with – if we didn’t have those relationships, it’d be tough”.
So, is there a ‘Team Thor’, a ‘Team Hulk’ and so on, each focusing on their own Avenger?
“Not quite” explains Scot. “Inside of Crystal Dynamics we have our ‘PET team’ – the Player-Enemy Team. They’re the heart and soul of all the character design, the move sets and the combat styles. Then you have the Heroic moves that you’ll have seen in the demo, which are things you’ve never seen these guys do before.
“These have been fun to invent, because people expect Thor to throw the hammer, they expect Iron Man to fly – but now he has these lasers, and rockets? What can I do with these? We may have seen versions of these throughout their history, but we’re bringing it all together in an original way.”
With a virtually unparalleled history to draw from to create these characters, distilling all of that down to say “this is our vision” is a challenge that Scot and the team have met head-on, working with Marvel to get their Avengers just right.
“Shaun Escayg, our Creative Director, along with Bill Rosemann, VP & Creative Director at Marvel Games and his team, collaborate on everything,” says Scot.
“Marvel, from the beginning have been great and pushing us to be authentic, but also original. They have 80 years of content to draw from, and it’s not just how they play, it’s how they look and interact.
“So there’s been a process where they’ll let us go in our own direction while still drawing on that history, saying, ‘Hey remember this comic, or this one panel where Hulk did X,Y,Z – what’s your take on that?’ And we love that. We’re huge fans first and foremost.”
We begin the game at A-Day – a celebration of the Avengers. But very quickly that changes, and they’re not looked at as the heroes they once were, and the whole world view changes. It wasn’t something that Scot and the team approached lightly…
“When we started on our first draft of the story, we had a lot of things to consider” Scot explains. “We wanted our game to disband the Avengers and have the player bring them back together again so you’re not just saving the world, you’re saving the Avengers. After A-Day they’re bruised and battered, they’ve lost all hope because they feel they let San Francisco be destroyed and failed their leader, Captain America.”
“Fortunately, the team at Marvel Games said, ‘We love it! You can tear them down, build them back up, rebuild the team, and show the humans behind the masks.’ That’s one way that Marvel Super Heroes have always been so brilliantly written, that you have a Super Hero with normal everyday problems that they have to deal with – and building a game around that has been a real treat.”
While no single character proved more challenging than the rest to the creative team, Scot explains that the real challenge for designing these characters was from the interplay between them.
“You look at how Thor plays, how Widow plays, how Hulk plays – we’re talking flight, or shooting and grappling, or massive strength – and they’re all so different. So, the challenge was to be able to balance those differences so they each play their role in the game without any one being overpowered or too dominant, but at the same time never feeling that you’re playing the same character in a different skin.”
And it’s that interplay that is sure to be a huge part of a newly unveiled mode: the four-player co-op Warzones, featuring Warzone Missions that let you and your friends put your own Avengers crew together from the roster that you’ve been levelling up throughout the Hero Missions of the main campaign.
“It’s a co-op experience where you’ll need to decide which role you want to play” Scot says. “For example, someone can take crowd control with Thor, while another player puts Iron Man into the air, or leads from the front with Hulk.”
“We also wanted Warzones to be versatile enough that you can play as your levelled-up characters, with all the high-level perks and upgrades that you’ve earned, but still have lower level friends join you. So we had to figure out how to dynamically scale the world so that if you have a low-level Hulk and super upgraded Thor, there’s still a way to play together and it won’t feel un-balanced.”
Our hands-on time with Marvel’s Avengers at gamescom was a relentless blast through its opening stage. Not a tutorial as such, but an introduction to each of the core Avengers, how they play their distinct role in the team, and the powers, weapons and abilities they use to face down the enemy, as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge crumbles around them.
And just as Scot and the team hopes, each character feels very distinct from the others and fully-formed as a hero in their own right – and that’s just the start. When Marvel’s Avengers launches in 15th May 2020, you’ll be free to assemble your own team and see how this unique spin on the much-loved legends has evolved.