Wot I Think: Lego Marvel’s Avengers

Something very odd is going on at Traveller’s Tales. I’m not sure how, but in Lego Marvel’s Avengers [official site] they’ve managed to release a game that actively goes out of its way to hide everything good about it. So much so that it was only after hours of snoring through its dull, phoned in story mode that I discovered, behind a completely obscure and unmentioned menu option, what was really on offer here. Here’s wot I think:

Lego Marvel Avengers ploughs its way through the two main Avengers movies in a series of charmless vignettes that lack any of the joy or imagination that has made this extraordinarily prolific series so popular for the last decade. A combination of entirely the wrong sorts of films for the treatment, and a genuinely surprising lack of glee or humour in a lacklustre collection of repetitive levels and dreary cutscenes.

There are moments of exception. Banner’s transformation into the Hulk on the Hellicarrier is splendidly reinvented as a series of slapstick events. And the running gag of Hawkeye lugging around a wheelbarrow full of arrows is exactly the sort of fun-poking I’d hoped to appear throughout. Instead it’s mostly shockingly poor rubbish about waving bananas and surprise chickens that has no bearing on the scene nor spoofs the original material.

This is made all the worse by the self-imposed constraint of primarily using the film’s dialogue audio throughout, meaning not only are the levels all over the place, but they’re ridiculously restricted to just animating the original material rather than having fun with it. Sure, you get the illusion of Downey Jr and Johansson in your video game, but at the cost of so much that made the earlier Lego games magic.

The game stumbles its way through various scenes, weirdly confining what seem like interesting moments to cutscenes, fleshing out nothingness like Age Of Ultron’s early party sequence into a dull level, seemingly with the development mantra of, “Here we go again”.

Combat is far too dominant, of course always the weakest aspect of any TT Lego game. And like the weaker Lego Indy games, this is plagued by scenes of infinitely spawning enemies who get in the way of your having fun smashing stuff and looking for secrets. Further, unlike most of the series, there’s no unique hook here. There’s nothing like Lego LOTR’s RTS sections, or Lego Batman’s investment in specific characters and their abilities, or the Lego Harry Potters’ glorious secret-packed hub. With a lot of the work already done for them via 2013’s Lego Marvel Super Heroes, with the character designs, animations, abilities, etc all in place, and even large locations re-used, you’d imagine this would have been a head-start to allow something much more novel.

It obsessively steals the camera like a kleptomaniac in Jessops, yanking away controls so ridiculously often that at one point I had to walk across the same couple of metres of bridge three times before it stopped cutting away to, I don’t know, Iron Man flying past a window.

Most peculiar is the structure of what’s on offer. Rather than chapters of story mode, interspersed by a hub, instead the game just sort of has another scripted level between each level proper, with tasks, limited characters, even cutscenes and script. The difference is there aren’t all the collectibles, I guess. As a result, it really seemed like the most minimal offering in the series yet, even more desultory than the very poor Lego Movie instalment. Except, well…

I thought, before giving up, I should check out what “Go To Space” option means in the Esc menu, tucked between “Extras” and “Quit Game”. Seriously, in between those two, never mentioned, never explained. The game actually goes out of its way to keep it hush hush, keeping you in the perpetual story mode even between the two movies. But select it and suddenly you’ve got planet Earth in front of you, and the option to visit not only chapters you’ve already completed, but all those interstitial ‘hubs’ that briefly appeared. And this is enormous stuff. Remember Manhattan in Lego Marvel Super Heroes? The entire thing’s there, with hundreds of new yellow bricks to find, mini-missions to complete, and races to flail hopelessly around (yeah, the vehicle controls remain as dreadful and internally contradictory as ever). But then there’s also the Shield Helicarrier, Malibu, Washington DC (which features a mission in which you help Bucky fight robot unicorns and President Bear), Korea, even Asgard. Each has about an extra hour or so of things to do, too. And here the game is so much more fun, letting you switch between your ever expanding roster of characters to solve simple puzzles, or even simpler quests, to get more gubbins.

It doesn’t amount to greatness, the tasks being pretty hollow, but it’s certainly a lot more fun than the dolorous story mode. And it’s quite extraordinary that it’s concealed in a menu option you might never click on.

It’s worth noting that TT have finally bothered noticing that the PC has changed in the last decade, and for the time time (that I’ve noticed) there are some decent PC options in place. You can even run it in a window (after a fashion – it ignored the resolution it was set to and sat too small in the middle of the screen, but a second adjusting fixed it), and it no longer knocks Windows down to 32bit colour! It also has online options, letting you add in DLC via purchases or a season pass. Goodness me, the Lego games have reached 2009.

There appears to be some original dialogue recorded by Clark Gregg and Cobie Smulders (or at least people who sound a lot like them), but little of it is witty. The rest is inserted generics saying weakly written lines that aim for sarcasm and generally hit weary disdain. For the most part, it’s just plastic characters saying, “I’ve lost all my spanners, can you run around picking them up?” and you do, and then you do another thing, because they’re all there to do. Dip back into the story for a bit, get frustrated by the controls barely ever being yours for more than a minute or so, stare in confusion as the on-screen prompt tells you to press the wrong button, then head back to Manhattan for a bit more. Notice that the cars don’t have drivers until the moment you try to get in one, get driven crazy by how poor the flying is, and then remember that TT have made literally a dozen better Lego games than this and you’re only 43% through any of them.

There’s loads to do in Lego Marvel Avengers, but only when you’ve found it. And of course the animation is well done, the ridiculous amount to collect relatively compelling, and if your kid 100%ed Marvel Super Heroes, then this will likely give them a new fix. But it’s a despondent entry in a series that perhaps TT are finally beginning to grow tired of making. For once we don’t know what three others they’re currently working on, but I rather hope the opportunity is being taken to sit back and ponder whether there would be more to gain from a new approach to the games, or at least a return to the joy and glee that infested the likes of Lego Star Wars and Lego Harry Potter. I’m not tired of the games – even seventeen entries in I look forward to each – but I’d love to see what else they could be. Lego Marvel Avengers is very much what they’ve already been, but with most of the magic missing.

Lego Marvel’s Avengers is out now for Windows via Steam.

27 Comments

  1. xipheon says:

    Regarding the hiding of the space option, it’s only hidden while you still have story to complete. When you finish the story you’re put into that mode all the time, and ever level has numerous ways to get change levels without even using that menu option. There are space quinjets in the levels you get into to take you to other areas.

    That mode is extra content, so I understand why they decided to railroad people onto the main story until it is done. That said my favourite Lego games were the first Lego Marvel where the open world was actually part of the story so I also wished they didn’t make it so awkward.

  2. w0bbl3r says:

    One of the worst things they did with these games was change the audio dialogue from the mumbling and burbling of the lego star wars games to the terribly inserted dialogue from movies the games are based on.
    I tried playing lego jurassic world recently, and I couldn’t believe how badly the audio was implemented. It’s like listening to the movie played in another room while someone is playing a silent lego movie of the scene you can hear. And that makes them feel SO cheap and like they don’t care about making these games right any more.
    I loved star wars, even the clone wars one, and batman 3 was really good fun, but other than that I haven’t found a good lego game that has kept me interested to the end, especially lego indy and lego lotr/hobbit.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      The first Lego Marvel is pretty damn good and I think it’s partly because they were telling a 100% original story to the game so all the dialogue was made for it.

      • Heliocentric says:

        Hah, as original as any save the world plot is! But yes, LEGO Marvel SH was unreasonably good. The only peer in the series for the quality of the open world is LEGO Batman 2 (3 is an abomination).

        But, game in game out the linear sections are just BAAD, at least in Marvel/Batman 2 it was uniformly quite easy.

  3. Neurotic says:

    Hmm. I was wondering when we’d see the burnout.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      I’m very surprised it’s taken this long for reviewers to tire of the formula.

      The charm wore off very quickly for me.

      • Premium User Badge

        John Walker says:

        Yeah, but then as this review explicitly states, I haven’t tired of the format at all.

        • FurryLippedSquid says:

          Sorry, John, but that final paragraph certainly sounds like you’re tiring of it.

          • Kitsunin says:

            Perhaps tired of the same thing, but that’s just it, the Lego games have mostly never been the same thing. Yes, they’ve been similar, but they’ve always had some rather interesting hook, and they’ve rarely been just done the same thing over.

            It sounds like the core is undercooked compared to other iterations as well.

  4. whexican says:

    I’m amazed by how horrible the integration is. It took me a couple of tries to figure out how the heck to 1) get to the free roam Manhattan and 2) enable free character select.

    The story is meh and I really only care about unlocking new superheroes in an open environment. Even then, the missions and puzzles are not very challenging and I was disappointed to learn that Spider-man, X-men, FF, and all their related characters were cut from the game. Disappointing, but at least we got Squirrel girl in Power Armor which is the greatest thing ever.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      I was disappointed to learn that Spider-man, X-men, FF, and all their related characters were cut from the game

      That’s probably because of the Fox/Marvel/Sony rights dispute.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Spider-man, X-men, FF, and all their related characters were cut from the game.
      ———–
      Wow, I’m out, that’s a deal breaker. Storm is my daughters favourite, and New York without Spider Man? What’s the point.

  5. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Pretty shocking that the umpteenth iteration of cynical licensing candy turned out to be a mediocre game.

  6. emineem says:

    At least you had a chance to play it in order to see how mediocre it is. After installing it and pressing “play” the program pops up in my processes for about half a second before it seems to magically close itself. Knowing TT’s past track record of tech support, I’m guessing they’ll never get back to me about what might be causing that.

  7. Scurra says:

    I’m not quite as negative, but it’s true that this has now become that worst sort of “franchise” game where they slap the license on it and rake in the money. It’s just a testament to the lacklustre competition (especially on the PC) that they are still among the best games of their type around. There are certainly vanishingly few games that I can play (co-op) with my nephew and we’re both having a good time.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Chariot and ‘ibb and obb’ are two excellent low violence entry level coop games that get much more complicated as time presses on. Portal 2 and the Trine games (#1 has a remaster that is free with it’s original release) as two others that have somewhat more peril which might not suit a sensitive child.

  8. Pizzacheeks McFroogleburgher says:

    O-kayyyy. Well, on topic:
    link to apsforpc.com

  9. Jay Load says:

    Totally agree. I can’t believe this has been made by the same people as did the first Marvel game.

    It’s so utterly joyless. Illogical. Tired. By the numbers. Like a Clown at a kids birthday party forced to be jolly for the ungrateful little bastards but who just wants to go home and put a gun barrel in his mouth and blast his brains out.

    So very disappointing, and really kind of sad considering I’ve now given up on the comics as well after 30 years, for many of the same reasons but mostly because of the way they’re treating the X-Men and Fantastic Four, the X-Manse in this game having been replaced by a featureless Shield/Avengers storage facility. Says it all, really.

    • Jay Load says:

      Oh, I will disagree on one point, though – the flying is actually decent for the first time ever, controlled by both analogue sticks on a pad. Left steers, Right does altitude. I’ve found myself pulling off some deft manoeuvres with it.

      • Urthman says:

        I honestly don’t understand the beef people have with the flying in the first Marvel game. Superman in LEGO Batman 2 was terrible, but swooping around with the flying characters in LEGO Marvel and the open-areas of LEGO Batman 3 feels pretty great to me.

        • iainl says:

          The flying controls when you’re at speed are fine. The hover controls when you’re not aren’t bad, either. It’s the transition between the two that’s a killer, particularly on the on-foot race sections in Manhattan; there’s no easy way to slow down in the air without coming to a stop – at which point you charge off in entirely the wrong direction.

  10. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    OK other writers, you can all go home – John has won this week with ‘It obsessively steals the camera like a kleptomaniac in Jessops’

    Pity about the game, I love Lego Batman PC, and have Lego Batman 2 on 3DS, and that’s awesome as well. Lego Indiana Jones DS isn’t bad either, although it took a while to find out where the microphone was so I can blow on it to extinguish torches.

  11. haldolium says:

    “It’s worth noting that TT have finally bothered noticing that the PC has changed in the last decade, and for the time time (that I’ve noticed) there are some decent PC options in place. ”

    Well to be fair though, the LEGO series is among the very few local coop games on PC that actually supports dual monitor splitscreen for most of their titles. It’s very rare but highly appreciated by myself and my LEGO play partners.

    Who plays LEGO alone anyways? I tried once, it’s so utterly boring that way and the game constantly reminds you that you’re missing a second person…

  12. PenguinJim says:

    Hopefully Lego Breaking Bad will get the games back on track. No more half measures.