Monday, March 14, 2016
For quite a while I ignored the fact that the biggest name in entertainment had its own super-sized MMO online. If you ask me, Marvel's gotten a little bit over-extended, and at this point I'm kind of just annoyed whenever I see their logo or hear talk of a new movie or TV show they're putting out. The lineup of upcoming Marvel films extends to 2020, for cryin' out loud. Nevertheless, I can't say I haven't been a little intrigued by the Marvel Heroes MMO. After a friend specifically recommended I give it a shot, I did just that.
What I found in the game (which is now technically called Marvel Heroes 2016, and which is free-to-play) was a surprisingly engaging experience. It's very much a Marvel product, in that everything from side characters to settings comes straight out of the comics and/or films. That means this isn't an inventive, new platform in which popular superheroes are exploring newly designed fantasy realms. But I have to say even as someone who's grown a little bit tired of it all, the Marvel-ness of it is presented in an appealing fashion. By that I mean the graphics are sharp, the characters are immediately recognizable, and even the passing scenarios—Magneto floating through a crowd of opposition, the Hulk being surrounded by anonymous bad guys, etc.—noticeably ring true as Marvel scenes.
As with most good MMO experiences, I've found there's some fluidity to this game's structure and story. But the basic idea is that Dr. Doom, one of the most iconic Marvel villains, has made off with the "Cosmic Cube," and in doing so set off a massive, sprawling showdown in which the good guys are tracking down the bad to eliminate them, recapture precious items, and (let's be honest) just gain a little more XP. But what it's really all about, or at least where I've enjoyed myself most thus far, is collecting different heroes to piece together on my team. The 2016 version of Marvel Heroes boasts over 50 playable characters with dozens more available for team-up purposes and still more kind of just hanging around in the background.
Character progression is fun (my Wolverine is really starting to kick ass), but it's the depth of inclusion that will hook a lot of Marvel fans. This is a game that understands that what makes Marvel intriguing isn't always just its signature heroes but also the supporting characters that surround them—and unfortunately this has only been understood by a few select Marvel games in the past.
The Marvel: Contest Of Champions mobile game comes to mind as one that's been about as inclusive as Marvel Heroes in roping in side characters. Additionally, this site boasts a Iron Man 2 slot game that sets a nice example for Marvel games to follow. While it's situated on a bingo site and designed as an arcade slot reel, the game looks beyond the titular character to include animations of Black Widow and War Machine. In fact, Whiplash even occupies a spot on the reel (and he's not included in Marvel Heroes 2016 yet!). Compared to most Marvel attempts at console games, or even some other mobile apps, this model of full cast integration is unique. And Marvel Heroes 2016 probably does it best.
Similarly, Marvel Heroes 2016 probably does the best job of any existing Marvel game at incorporating familiar settings. This is a concept that the Contest Of Champions app embraces, though in that game familiar settings are reduced to very limited backgrounds, given that the game is a one-on-one brawler. In Marvel Heroes 2016, these popular settings—Hell's Kitchen, Mutant Town, and many others that fans will know—can be more thoroughly explored. There's a certain feeling to each setting that comes to life not only through visuals but through the characters you can find there, the action that takes place, and the general atmosphere drawn up by the developers.
Strictly as an MMORPG, I'd say Marvel Heroes 2016 is slightly better than expected, if perhaps not at the top of the list. I've heard the game was an absolute disaster when it first launched in 2013 and if that's true, the team at Gazillion deserves a lot of credit for rebuilding it into a pretty enjoyable experience for any MMO fan. I will specify that this is an action-RPG (this review compared the style to Diablo, which is fair). But I'll also note that there's something that feels very individual at times in this game, which may be a positive to some and a negative to others. There's certainly a lot of social interaction with other players, and you can team up for raids with up to 10 people at a time. But I suppose I feel more like I'm playing a PC game on my own when I delve into Marvel Heroes than with some other games in the genre.
All in all, I had to begrudgingly admit that this is a pretty fun game. I'm still sick of Marvel, but rather than furthering my fatigue with the comic superpower, this game seemed to show a different side of it. There are so many characters that are either not in the films or are only featured marginally that it feels a little bit fresh. It won't be my favorite MMORPG, but it's certainly worth playing around with.