Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PS4, Xbox 360 and PS3 (Also available on WiiU and DS. This review does not apply to those.)
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Developer: TT Games
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Review code provided free of charge by the publisher
Both the Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty franchises get a lot of flack for pushing out new entries every single year that don’t particularly shake-up up the series, opting to instead alter small things and keep the familiar gameplay mechanics front and centre. Yet people still buy them, because they are nothing if not consistant, at least for the most part. It’s a vicious of people complaining, and people buying anyway. But one series constantly escapes the rage of gamers; TT Games has consistently pumped out several Lego titles every single year for quite some time now, taking the same template and draping a new license over it, perhaps altering just a few little things to make the gameplay thematically fit. I’ve taken a break from the series for a few entries now and was looking forwards to returning and at the very least experiencing the same beloved Lego style with a few alterations, but what I found was pretty much exactly the same game that I had played last time. Worse, this was the first time that I only smiled or laughed a few times playing a Lego game. Has the charm finally worn off?
It seems to have the makings of something awesome; take the Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Winter Soldier, Thor 2, Iron Man 3 and both Captain America films and jam them together in much the same way that the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings Lego games were handled. Considering humour plays a big part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe the match seemed rather perfect, and Lego Marvel Heroes proved to be very successful. And there are moments when it does all go rather well; the Hulks first transformation in the Avengers is turned into a series of slapstick events that make Banner progressively more angry. Hawkeye, meanwhile, carries around a wheelbarrow full of arrows in a brilliant parody of how he seemingly never runs out of ammo. The rest of it, though, just feels like the writers are going through the motions. Loki watching Thor and Iron-Man duke it out while eating some popcorn? I don’t know, it should elicit a bit of a smile from me but it just feels….expected. The rest of the humour feels even more random and disconnected than ever, so there’s plenty of bananas being waved about and for some reason Nick Fury slurping away at a drink for the entire opening level of The Avengers is supposed to be funny. But hey, Hulk takes some selfies with a Leviathan, so that’s cool.
A lot of the problems stem from the decision to insert original film dialogue into the game, automatically restricting the game’s humour a fair bit, especially when the dev’s are also busy attempting to replicate scenes from the movies, too. An even bigger problem is how terrible the dialogue actually sounds as whoever was in charge of mixing the audio did a pretty poor job of it. Some lines sound just fine, but others clearly stand out as not coming from the game itself, and you can audibly here the beginning of the recording kick in. It’s incredibly jarring, and sounds remarkably like it was the result of some muppet grabbing audio off the DVD version of the film using some free editing software and pasting it straight into the game. For example Captain America utters mid-game, “if you get killed…walk it off” and you can quite clearly hear the original background audio of the movie playing with it, contrasting itself against what’s going on in the game. Another scene where Thor slaps some documents into Tony Stark’s chest sounds horrendous as you can quite clearly hear the original background audio from the movie, which doesn’t correctly match up with anything on screen. Other voice work comes across as washed out and flat, the result of being put through filters and other editing tricks to muffle the background sounds. It’s very rough work.
Still, when the voice work does hit it hits hard. There are moments when the game swaps to that now famous in-helmet shot of Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr’s voice comes through the speakers, for example, that sound great. Cobie Smulders came in to record new audio for the game, too, which is a nice bonus even if she didn’t get used anywhere near as well as they she could have been. When it all comes together there’s some genuinely brilliant about hearing Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo and the rest of the cast inhabiting the body of little Lego figures running around the place.
Meanwhile the writers insists on chopping the story into a strange order, opening with the storming Baron Strucker’s castle in Age of Ultron before flashing back to the Avengers, detouring briefly into Captain America: the First Avenger to battle the Red Skull, then finishing off the entirety of The Avengers and returning to where it left off in Age of Ultron. Meanwhile The Winter Soldier, Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 are included in the game, but only as side-missions with one level apiece. It’s so muddled it’s a wonder it doesn’t trip over itself and accidentally fall into scenes from Man of Steel. Some things don’t even make sense, such as the party scene in Age of Ultron mentioning the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D, even though you were literally just aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier about an hour ago. Sure, we can probably assume that everybody and their grandmother has seen the Marvel movies and are reasonably clued up on what’s going on, but that’s not the point. It’s a jumbled mess, and a poor way to communicate numerous films. The Avengers movies could hardly be accused of having complex plots, so it’s somewhat baffling to see such simple narratives somehow get messed up, especially when you consider that TT Games previously condensed five Harry Potter films into one quite cohesive game.
Also, does anybody else find it mildly amusing that several of the movie series the Lego games are based on have age ratings that technically mean the audience Lego are aiming for should never have seen the movies? All the Marvel movies, for example, are rated 12+. Sorry, back on track.
Lego Marvel’s Avengers isn’t off to a very good start, then. You see, the Lego gameplay formula by this point is old hat but still enjoyable, a minor miracle, really. What’s made those truly fantastic Lego games happen is when the gameplay successfully combines with a detailed take on the license, one filled with detail and obvious passion, such as Lego Marvel Heroes, or the Harry Potter games. With the story, audio and humour all lacking anything resembling genuine effort here, though, we’re left with the typical gameplay and that’s struggling.
This is a standard Lego game through and through, having barely changed since my I began my hiatus two years ago. For anybody that has somehow never played a Lego game, though, the general gist is that you’re dumped into a level and have control over one or more iconic characters, each with certain abilities. Iron-Man, for example, can fly, use his lasers to cut through certain objects and blow up anything that’s silver using rockets, while The Hulk can use his massive strength to do things that other characters can’t and Scarlet Witch can move objects with her mind and control certain people. To advance you must use the correct abilities, so you might need to toss Captain America’s shield into a special kind of trigger and then swap over to Black Widow and use her stealth to sneak past a camera to activate a console, or charge up a….uh, thing with Thor’s lightning. If that fails and you can’t see anything obvious that needs to be done then you fall back to the standard Lego tactic of smashing the environment into pieces in order to uncover what you need to do, or so that you can build something out of the bits by holding down B. Written down it almost sounds complex, but in reality the game’s mechanics form puzzles of the simplest kind as you merely match up abilities to the task, and should you ever get stuck the game will not hesitate to spawn a helpful tooltip that reminds you of which things need which abilities. Even kids don’t struggle with this formula, which is part of its relaxing charm. It never stretches the ‘ol brain power, and there’s no fear of death either as you simply respawn and carry on like nothing happened. It’s for this very reason that both kids and adults continue to enjoy the Lego games for hours.
And there is of course the allure of Studs, the game’s currency with which you can purchase new characters. You’ll collection millions of these things on your journey, and somehow won’t become bored with doing it. It’s that wonderful sound they make as you pick them up, I think, and of course the satisfaction of watching them pour out of objects that you’re smashing into pieces. I never normally bother finding all the collectibles and things like that in games these days, but I found it hard to leave a level without gaining the True Avenger rating for snagging enough Studs.
The heavy focus on combat quickly proves to be detrimental, as fighting has always been the weakest part of the entire series. There are swarms of foes to deal with in this latest LEGO game, and they all get defeated by mashing X. It’s kid friendly, yes, but even kids are going to quickly become tired of hammering away on a single button. The developers attempt to spice things up with finishing moves for each character, but they are rather limited. There’s only so many times you can watch Captain America flip a bad guy over his should before it becomes boring. Characters can also team up to perform deadly attacks, like Thor smashing Captain America’s shield to send out a concussive wave, which is again very cool the first few times you see it. Given that the game is based upon the Avengers movies a hefty focus on combat was to be expected, but there’s too many bad guys here that only serve to become a major headache for the player as they attempt to get through the puzzles while being repeatedly punched. Look, I know it’s the Avengers and the Avengers punch/kick/smash stuff galore, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have done the license a injustice to cut down some of the baddies by a few waves.
Outside of the jumbled storyline there’s once again a Lego recreation of New York city available to explore using the game’s impressively large roster of characters, many of which are just multiple variants of one person or are D-listers from Marvel’s extensive catalogue, even including characters that appeared just once in a single comic years ago. The sheer amount of damn near identical S.H.I.E.L.D. agents servers as perfect proof that there’s ample padding in the nearly 200 strong lineup of characters, but even so it’s still great to step into shoes of so many heroes and villains. You can stomp through the streets as the Hulk or hurtle through the skies as the Vision using some pretty solid flight controls that do a far better job of letting you enjoy the fantasy of being a flying superhero than a lot of official tie-ins ever did. You can play as the deadly Squirrel Girl or decide to don the metal of Ultron, or perhaps spend some quality time with Baron Strucker. The downside is that there’s no Fantastic 4, X-Men or Spider-Man this time. There’s a wealth of tasks to complete, too. They’re all hollow, simple little quests that take a few minutes apiece to complete, but the sheer amount of them is bound to keep kids and completionists playing for a long time. Indeed this is just a big game all round, boasting lots to do for people who struggle to walk away without 100% completion, including heading back to previous chapters with newly unlocked heroes and villains in order to access the hidden Lego kits or rescue Stan Lee. There’s also a few small hubs as well, each offering about an hours worth of playtime.
It’s visually actually quite impressive, too. The Lego games don’t come to mind when most people think of graphically impressive titles, but they’ve always looked pretty good and Lego Avengers steps it up a bit, most importantly lessening that vaseline smear effect on the background so that players can actually see the environments. It’s the difference between exclaiming, “Oh wow, look at that.” and “oh wow, what the hell is that?”. Lighting is more subtle, as seen straightaway in the opening snowy forest from Age of Ultron, while the level of detail has been stepped up. Meanwhile the quality of animations is rather good, although recycled sequences of attacks during some QTE battles is disappointing. The locations you do battle in are varied, and while a lot of the rest of the game feels like Traveller’s Tales at their least interested the environments clearly show a lot of love in the level of detail, even if the actually level design is considerably less consistent. These lovely looking areas from the film, however, do serve to highlight how boring the New York hub looks in comparison. It pretty much seems as though they just copy and pasted it over from Lego Marvel Heroes and never bothered to touch it up.
Pushing aside the iffy use of movie dialogue and inconsistent voice acting that plagues the game the rest of the audio work sounds great, the many explosions and punches packing plenty of satisfying oomph amid the tinkle of falling Studs and plastic Lego pieces raining down. The game also borrows the movie’s music, giving me yet another chance to admire just how awesome the main Avenger’s theme actually is while also highlighting a few subtler tracks that are easy to overlook in the films. There’s also some new material that has been produced for the game, and it’s pleasantly surprising in terms of its quality.
Co-op mode has taken a slight hit thanks to the source material. Iron Man in the Hulkbuster going up against the Hulk is a prime example; one player has to take control of Veronica, the orbiting satellite that deploys the armor, and thus has very little to actually do during the level. Other areas see the developers tossing in random characters for the second player to take control of. Happily these instances are overly frequent and so the game is a lot of fun in local co-op. And no, online co-op still isn’t a thing, so those dreams of enjoying a Lego game with your friends across the world will have to be put back on ice.
Finally I want to tackle the camera, or more specifically how the game loves to steal it like a kleptomaniac at a camera expo. The Lego games have always had a habit of taking control of the camera to guide young players through the level, but Avengers takes it too far. There was one section on a bridge where the camera was taken from me no less than three times in the space of just a few metres, including one time that was just to show Iron Man flying up. It feels like you can’t make it very far without the game wanting to show you something, and that something is commonly not something that needed any extra attention drawn to it.
It can foten feelas thought the Lego games are stuck in stasis, never changing, never aging, always remaining. In some ways it’s not bad thing as TT Games continue to pump out consistently good products with a few truly great ones in the mix, making the series a staple in the diet of children around the world, and of quite a few adults as well. There’s something incredibly safe about the Lego games, much in the same way as it is with Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty. There’s no doubt as to what you’re getting, and while there are peaks and troughs in terms of quality they are typically at least rock solid in their execution. And that’s what Lego Marvel’s Avengers is; rock-solid. It’s far from the best Lego game to date, but even in a trough TT Games are still capable of producing something fun. Despite all of my complaints, and there’s obviously quite a few, I still had enjoyed playing the game. There’s something cathartic about the Lego formula. It lulls you into a comfortable trance interspersed with small smiles at the antics of the Lego characters, allowing a dozen or so happy hours to float by unnoticed.