For Marvel, it feels like the worlds it has left to conquer are growing fewer by the day, so it might just have to do the same with video games.
Avengers: Endgame shattered box office records in 2019 and provided a satisfying conclusion to a decade of storytelling across 20 films. Black Panther and Shang-Chi are both groundbreaking and truly important moments in representation in Hollywood blockbusters. The first trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home set the record for most views in its initial 24 hours in YouTube history with a staggering 355 million plays.
On the television and streaming front, it feels like Marvel’s Disney+ shows are some of the few pieces of genre monoculture we have left, quickly joining the pantheon of water-cooler shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, and The Mandalorian. And it’s clear from the events of WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and even currently with What If…? that these series will directly tie into the upcoming films, creating a feedback loop throughout the next few phases of Marvel’s cinematic storytelling.
So with all of this, it makes sense that the next frontier for Marvel to conquer is video games. I mean, hell, what else does it have left? And despite a few bumps along the way, it feels like Disney, Marvel, and the developers themselves realize that the potential is there to leave as big of a footprint on this medium as they did on comics, film, and streaming television.
In the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), we got a handful of movie tie-ins, including an Iron Man game written by Matt Fraction and a Captain America game that was a pretty solid Arkham Asylum clone. But once Disney took the wheel of the whole MCU, those became few and far between. For that period, Marvel games existed mostly as mobile cash-grabs and the occasional one-off like Marvel’s Iron Man VR on PSVR and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, which is somehow still a Nintendo Switch exclusive.
Of course, all of this changed last year when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics entered the story. Let’s address the elephant in the room right away — Marvel’s Avengers has not gone the way that all parties involved wanted it to, fans included. And I absolutely consider myself to be one of those fans, having put well over 100 hours into the game from its rocky launch up to its much more enjoyable War for Wakanda expansion.
While I’d recommend Marvel’s Avengers now in its current state, there’s no doubt that the game has failed to live up to the potential of its source material. Much of that has to do with Crystal Dynamics moving away from the single-player action adventure formula it’d perfected in the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy and instead being tasked with building a money-printing live-service game that would live on for years to come.
One thing that Marvel’s Avengers lacks is focus. By trying to accommodate the play styles, personalities, and individual stories of over a half-dozen heroes, it fails to dig beneath the surface of any of them. There’s no room to breathe before you’re whisked away to the next character.
But at the opposite end of the spectrum is Insomniac, who knocked it out of the park with Marvel’s Spider-Man in 2018, was purchased by Sony in 2019, and then delivered a rich and compelling side story at the launch of PlayStation 5 with Miles Morales.
This exceptional work culminated in its pair of announcements at the recent PlayStation Showcase, with not only the expected first trailer of the Venom-infused Spider-Man 2, but also the surprise reveal of its Wolverine project, which is being written by Walt Williams, best known for penning the excellent Spec Ops: The Line. By handing them the keys to an iconic character completely removed from the Spider-verse, it’s clear that all parties involved have the utmost faith in Insomniac.
We also have another pair of high-profile Marvel games closer on the horizon in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Midnight Suns. With the second attempt at a Guardians game after Telltale’s interactive story, the team at Eidos Montreal has wisely decided to keep its take on the Guardians as a single-player, story-focused game. Some may scoff at the idea that you can only directly control Star-Lord (arguably the least interesting member of the team when it comes to abilities and mechanics), but I’m personally happy that they’re taking a more focused approach to this adventure.
Meanwhile, Midnight Suns is a tactical RPG from the folks at Firaxis, best known for its work on the excellent Civilization and XCOM franchises. Taking the Marvel heroes we know and exploring their stories through the lens of a different genre is an excellent proposition, especially considering the talented team behind the project. It’s one of those games that I didn’t know I wanted until it was revealed last month, and now I can’t wait to get my hands on it early next year.
Given that Midnight Suns was just announced despite being this far along in development, it should come as no surprise that there are several more Marvel games from a wide swath of studios at various points in production. What I hope Marvel takes from the success of Insomniac, as well as the level of interest in a project like Midnight Suns, is that finding the right team and pairing it with the right topic is crucial. There are so many talented developers out there who would absolutely crush a Marvel game — and not just massive AAA studios, but smaller indie teams who could create a smart and refreshing take on beloved characters.
It’s interesting to see what’s on the horizon and compare it to Disney’s other massive property, Star Wars. A remake of the beloved Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was just officially revealed, we know Ubisoft Massive is working on an open-world Star Wars game, and Respawn is almost certainly well into production on a follow-up to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. But what happens after that, especially considering that EA no longer has exclusive rights to the franchise, is all going to depend on finding the right team with the right vision.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to have it together on the movies and streaming front, so seeing the various stumbles towards getting its footing in video games has been enlightening to say the least. It’s been a bumpy road, but between exciting new projects like Midnight Suns and Insomniac’s massive success with Spidey, it feels like Marvel video games are currently pointed in the absolute right direction.