Even going from the game name alone, it’s hard not to see Lego Marvel’s Avengers as a step down from 2013’s Lego Marvel Super Heroes. For one, there’s less characters to choose from, including many which are definite fan favourites; Spiderman has vanished, the X-men are nowhere to be seen, and the Fantastic Four have also dropped out the cast listings. In their place come many variations of the same person just in different attire, along with a bunch of characters which only die-hard fans of Marvel stand a chance of recognising. The fact that the story is just playing through the Avengers films (as well as levels from a few choices others) also feels a bit of a demotion from the unique and varied story the older game had. Finally, despite being filled with new challenges, it’s easy to spot that the open world of New York here is just the old map with a number of tweaks. It’s all a bit underwhelming to take in; especially considering the feast we have dined on before.
The game itself also gets itself off to a strangely rocky start. The first level – based on the assault on Loki’s sceptre that takes place at the start of the second Avengers film – is a fun enough introduction, but it suffers from many a camera angle that feel way too far away from the action for you to stand a chance of making sense of it all. The bigger issue, though, is the pacing of the first hour or so – it jumps from the start of the second film, to the start of the first film (with a level that is, quite frankly, rather dull), and then suddenly goes screaming through the events of the first Captain America film without warning, in the second level in a row that isn’t exactly stellar. At points both I and my girlfriend (my Lego-loving co-op partner) actively found ourselves being annoyed at the game… Which, considering how colourful and fun everything’s meant to be, is a very bad thing.
Does this mean Lego Marvel’s Avengers is a complete wash-out? As it turns out, that’s actually far from the case. The game eventually settles itself into a groove and gets steadily more entertaining as you navigate further into the story, and take your first steps out into the many free roam areas that are on offer to you. The classic gameplay of hunting for objectives throughout the world, and then puzzling out the right character to do the job and claim your reward, also remains as endearing as ever. Sure, it’s not exactly difficult, but never mind the fact it’s a game for kids – it just doesn’t need to be hard to still be fun. Later levels manage to replicate some of the joy from some of the film’s best moments as well – the hectic battle with everyone fighting over the drill in Sokovia is replicated nicely here, for one, with Lego pieces flying everywhere is dramatic fashion. Another good level takes place during the events of the first film; here, you fight Loki on Stark Tower as your partner flies around you blasting every enemy in sight, all whilst the Avengers theme blasts out your speakers with pride. There are tons of little moments like that, and it’s a great recovery straight back into that golden formula that has made the Lego games so enjoyable for so long now.
The thing is, though, is that the strict adherence to this formula has always created minor annoyances throughout many a Lego title, and personally it’s with this title that they are really starting to become much more of an issue. Each title has managed to quash some problems – skipping to a certain point in a levels to easily get the last collectable, for instance. Here, the improvements continue to be present, albeit grand in scale – you’re able to bring up area totals, for instance, allowing for an at-a-glance look of what you have left to do around you. Additionally, there’s no more waiting for a variation of a character to pop up in the one space they’re allocated any more, as now you can tap the shoulder buttons to zoom through them with ease. It’s all very subtle; but all very welcome, all the same.
Yet Lego Marvel’s Avengers has still not fixed many of the bigger problems that make the titles sometimes a pain to play. The main one of these by a mile comes from the co-op mode that is essentially the heart of the game – there are just so many actions that one player can take which completely hinder or obscure the other player’s view for way too long. Unlock a character, for instance, and a giant overlay appears over both sides of the screen, making it impossible to focus on anything. Starting a mission also removes the map for both of you, and completing certain tasks just completely shuts out the other player for a brief while without warning. It leads to many occasions where you’ll mutter “sorry” as your partner fails yet another race, merely because of your success in getting another unlock.
The fact that it’s still way, WAY too easy to glitch things and trap yourself, such as falling into a cycle of endless deaths and respawns, remains another bone of contention. While I and everyone else have yet to encounter anything game breaking, every glitch you encounter here continues to strike the fear that you won’t be able to get 100% any more into your heart – something any avid Lego game player can easily sympathise with. To be reasonable, it’s hard to see how this could be fixed – this is a big game world that allows for endless character combinations with lots of things going on, after all – but simply trying to be reasonable doesn’t stop the harsh reality that it’s possible for your enjoyable of the game to be stunted due to problems you’ve faced endless times before.
It sounds like I’m smashing the game into a thousand individual Lego pieces and calling each one rubbish, but part of the reality is I’m just being incredibly harsh; none of the criticisms I’ve noted kill your enjoyment stone dead, and indeed a lot of the irritants can be fairly easily shrugged off, or at the very least forgotten about after a couple of seconds grumbling. It’s just that the fact I love the Lego games, and the fact they’re been going for so long, makes it harder and harder with each title to just ignore the problems they have. Lego Marvel’s Avengers is a fine addition to the catalogue of titles; you’ll just find yourself wishing the whole catalogue would stop looking so frayed around the edges.