Beyond the MCU: Future Marvel Games
"You have an army? We have a Hulk."
It’s here. Spider-Man has made his solo debut has an official part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Spider-Man: Homecoming has already been greeted with positive receptions from critics, and I’ve seen it twice, plus the credits a third time during an overlap at the drive-in. Yet, leaving Spider-Man, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. Not because the movie wasn’t stellar (it was), but because it’s gonna make me hungry to play a Marvel game.
Gamers may be aware that Square Enix now holds the keys to the kingdom when it comes to future Marvel games. In the next few years they’ll be releasing new Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy titles, starting the with the Avenger’s Project that’s been teased in this video. The deal looks a lot like the relationship EA now has with Star Wars, and the parallels between the two franchises continue from there. In the past couple years, Marvel hasn’t really released a high quality triple-A game, at least, one that wasn’t Lego or the recent Guardians of the Galaxy Telltale game. Even the upcoming Marvel vs. Capcom seems to be inspiring more “meh” than “h*ck yeah.” Those looking for an immediate fix might try Marvel Heroes on PC, PS4, and soon Xbox One. The map clearing, loot finding, Diablo-esque gameplay is fine, but it’s nothing that really pulls you in – nothing to sink your teeth into.
You’d have to catch me on a pretty bad day to say anything negative about the Lego game franchise, other than a bugged trophy in Lego Batman 3 that sits between me and the platinum trophy, but let’s go beyond bricks and mini-figures. It’s time to translate the massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to all of our favorite platforms. So, much like we did for Star Wars a while back, let’s take a look at four ingredients for making a great Marvel game.
Free flow Combat
I’m a big fan of Rock Steady’s Arkham franchise, even the oft-maligned Arkham Origins from sister studio WB Montreal. Square Enix can take a whole lotta pages out of the book that Rock Steady wrote. The first entry in the franchise is obviously the most limited, yet Arkham Asylum managed to capture the iconic feel of being the Dark Knight. As the series continued, that sense of ownership over the title of “The Batman” only grew. The gliding mechanics were simple and fun, and the combat really made you feel like a spandex-clad, bad ass ninja.
The free flow combat system in Arkham has been explored by Rock Steady in several DLC’s for Arkham Knight that showed its application in slightly different combatant’s hands. You could play as Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, or Red Hood with his twin pistols. All of them used a version of Batman’s combat mechanics that felt just different enough to be interesting. WB Montreal’s Shadow of Mordor, underrated Mad Max, and upcoming Shadow of War also use the free flow mechanics.
It’s a satisfying combat system that could help unify the huge Marvel roster with core mechanics that adjust for each character. It’s easy to imagine Iron Man boosting between bad guys, punching them in the face or quick firing a rocket. The ever-acrobatic Captain America doesn’t need to play much different with his handy shield and super human strength. Even adding characters that wouldn’t fit this model as easy would feel even more satisfying to switch to. You have an army? We have a Hulk.
Big Apple, Big Universe
Stan Lee has a story he tells about a group of tourists asking him where to find the Baxter Building, the fictional headquarters of the Fantastic Four. This is an opportunity to make those places exist in the way only a video game can. Lego Marvel did the right thing by letting players use New York City as a hub world, and the highly praised Spider-Man 2 gave us the same opportunity.
Not only is New York City the home base of many Marvel superheroes like Daredevil or Luke Cage, but it’s also an iconic city in the world we live in. When I visited New York a few years ago, I spent a stupid amount of time picking out buildings I had seen Spider-Man swing from. I loved it. I’d love to play a game with a global setting, to explore Wakanda or Hong Kong in the Iron Man suit is complete fantasy fulfillment, but New York has to have a presence, to feel like a character on it’s own.
We aren’t just dealing with Marvel though. We’re dealing with a Marvel UNIVERSE. The Square Enix deal includes Guardians of the Galaxy, so it’s safe to say we as gamers will get to go beyond the stars. The galaxy can be a diverse, colorful place in the right hands. Keeping New York as a center piece would help ground the series in a familiar place, making the fantastic science fiction aspects even more appealing.
This one is almost hard for me to say, but a multiplayer experience would elevate any Marvel game. Arkham Knight allowed players to have limited team up sequences, where Batman would be joined by Nightwing, Robin, or Catwoman. It was a great mechanic that showed the potential for cooperative gameplay. This alone would be a necessity in a game about a team like the Avengers. But it can be taken a step further.
I like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. It came with my Xbox 360, but it wasn’t a terribly great game. My favorite take away was the opportunity to play with three other friends and punch our way through Marvel Villains’ All Star Roster. We each got to argue over who would get to play what hero, or try to team up as a pre-established group like the X-Men. Damn that was fun. People coming together, especially misfits like the Guardians of the Galaxy, has always been a central theme in the Marvel Universes. Providing a multiplayer experience is a way to create that dynamic on screen and off.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a huge nerd. Perhaps it’s because I grew up with all these characters. I go through a gauntlet of emotions watching most Marvel movies. Dude, don’t tell me the end of Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t have you feeling feelings (spoiler clip).
There’s also a ton of jokes. Marvel has room to be funny. Crafting a story that balances humor with emotional impact can be difficult, but it’s going to be necessary for a good game. Let’s also keep in mind that the Marvel movies have maintained a PG-13 rating since Iron Man. I don’t want a gritty experience from an Iron Man game. While grit is appropriate for the serial killers and hulking, vicious criminals of Gotham City, it shouldn’t overwhelm the bright colors and massive personalities of the Marvel franchise.
That’s what I got, a few items on the wish list for upcoming Marvel games. Thankfully we won’t have to wait that long to get our hands on the new Spider-Man game, unfortunately a PS4 exclusive. This title isn’t wrapped up in the Square Enix deal; regardless it will be met with the same expectations. According to a recent interiew, Marvel Games vice president Mike Jones is a big fan of the Arkham Franchise, and has platinumed three of the four games. The gameplay shown off at E3 certainly shows some influence in the dynamic combat sequences.
Playstation owners can check out Marvel Heroes for free, a top down action game reminiscent of Diablo and Ultimate Alliance just making its way from PC. I also note with sadness that as of now there are no clear plans for bringing the X-Men back to gaming in a big way. In the meantime, it looks like 2017 will have plenty of games to keep us busy while we wait to see what Square Enix has to offer.
But we want to know what you think! What are you hoping for from a Marvel video game? What characters do you want to see take center stage? Will Yondu be in a game and will he have a Mary Poppins skin? We can only hope. Let Handsome Phantom know your thoughts and you could get a shout out on Adventure Mode!
Kevin Lukacs is a historian, writer, occasional playwright, and a total console pleb. Find him on Twitter @kclukacs
Author: Kevin Lukacs
Kevin enjoys writing plays, short stories, comedy, history, and of course opinion pieces and listicles about video games. His dad could totally beat up your dad. You can find him in DC getting his M.A. in history, should you ever feel the need to fight about weebs and whether or not Knights of the Old Republic is the best game ever made.