Review: LEGO Marvel’s Avengers

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My love-hate relationship with TT Games’ LEGO series continues with LEGO Marvel’s Avengers, and unfortunately this installment ends up in the hate category. Perhaps hate is a little strong, but I really did struggle squeezing much of any enjoyment out of the game, which I find especially disheartening since many of the recent titles (Jurassic World, The Hobbit, The LEGO Movie Game, etc) have been, I would say, the best the series has had to offer.

LEGO Marvel’s Avengers follows the main plotlines of the two movies, The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, turning the superhero Hollywood blockbusters into LEGO-ized retellings by utilizing voice over samples from the big screen source material matched with cutscenes and set pieces that recreate all of the key movie magic moments with toy chests of child-like humor and additional Marvel fan service. Other references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe include single-level recaps of Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World, though unlike the main Avengers missions these stories are presented in static comic book storyboards instead of full on cutscenes. By comparison, these missions seem unfinished, like they were tacked on at the last minute without the same level of care and attention to detail.

Outside of the excellent story presentation, the same could be said of many other aspects of the game. LEGO Marvel’s Avengers sticks to the familiar LEGO-game script, consisting of the usual mix of simple combat, puzzle solving built around the licensed theme, single-player and co-op family play, story missions and end game freeplay, and immense replayability provided through optional side missions, open-world hub exploration, and mass collectible harvesting. On the surface, the chance to play as minifig versions of around 200 characters from Marvel’s immense roster of superheroes and villains, both iconic and obscure, is easy to get excited about.

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All of the characters’ unique powers and traits translate to distinct gameplay. Iron Man can fly and use his repulsor rays to cut through walls. Thor uses his hammer to smash cracked barriers and floors, and his command of lightning to charge power panels. Black Widow is the team acrobat, packs twin pistols, has a scanner to reveal hidden objects (via a scanning mini-game), and can turn on invisibility cloaking to sneak by security cameras. Hawkeye has different arrows to destroy objects and barriers made of different types of materials. Scarlet Witch telepathically manipulates LEGO bricks and uses mind control to embody NPCs in otherwise inaccessible areas. I could go on, but I think you get the point here.

Even cooler is the way the characters can combine their powers for cooperative puzzles and special team attacks, each two-hero combination resulting in a unique animation that obliterates all nearby enemies. It’s a smaller detail, but I appreciated how much care the developers took to animate each hero’s movements to match his or her powers and personality. Squirrel Girl throws squirrels and runs on all fours. Doctor Strange does a twirl in the air when jumping and at full sprint enters a gliding animation with star sparkle trails streaming from his hands. Instead of double-jumping, Daredevil swings from a grappling hook. Changing to other characters from Iron Man enters the inside-the-helmet view made famous by the movies. You can attempt to fly as Pepper Potts wearing the MK42 suit, but doing so results in her face planting straight into the ground. The Hulk can now literally climb up buildings. This time there are even larger big-figs than Hulk, including the likes of Black Goliath, Ms. Marvel, and Devil Dinosaur (not to mention Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor and Squirrel Girl’s mecha suit). The power of fan service is almost enough to mask the game’s glaring problems. Almost…

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For me, the thing that completely wrecks the experience is the overemphasis on combat. Now this is a superhero game so a lot of combat is too be expected, but the shallow mechanics of the LEGO combat system has never been the series’ strong point, and it shows here more than ever. For starters, many of the clashes between heroes and other boss-type encounters are dumbed down to QTE sequences where you simply mash a button and watch the battle unfold, which removes all impact and magnitude from the fight. But the main issue is the unrelenting distraction of endless enemy respawning. Throughout every level, as soon as you clear an area of enemies, more immediately drop in to take their place, and the cycle never seems to stop. Beyond just turning the gameplay into an endless exercise in mindless, increasingly tedious button pounding, the constant presence of enemies directly interferes with puzzle-solving interactions and makes it so difficult to explore the environments as much as you want to. I can’t even count the number of times I intended to interact with a contextual prompt only to have the input interrupted by my character instead reacting to or targeting a nearby enemy. Any puzzle that involves targeting an object with a projectile is mucked up by extreme enemy clutter. There’s rarely any chance to breath and simply enjoy the set pieces at your own pace, which makes free playing story missions to search for hidden collectibles more trouble than it’s worth.

Another consistent problem throughout is poor objective clarity. This is hardly my first LEGO rodeo, and yet at least once in every level I would get stuck, clueless about what the game wanted me to do in order to progress a particular scene. There’s so much wasted time spent roaming around in confusion because an objective is obscured by poor visibility (either from a bad camera angle or the constant enemy clutter) or a tutorial tooltip failing to immediately appear and explain a required ability from a new hero that just joined the team. Some broken design logic further complicates things. For example, in one level there was a switch to open a door. I tried the switch three times to no avail, spent a few minutes searching around for what to do, went back to the switch and it decided to finally open the door. Beating an especially annoying mission and not get the corresponding level completion trophy (yep, some of those are bugged) was like the game spitting in my face to add insult to injury. I haven’t been this frustrated with a game in a long time.

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Once the story missions are complete, a lot of these flaws become less intrusive when you get to dive into freeplay. In addition to a full open-world Manhattan environment in which you can drive or fly around in vehicles (though the vehicle controls are dreadful so don’t bother), take to the skies as flying heroes like Iron Man and Vision, or scale skyscrapers King Kong style as the Hulk, the game offers eight smaller hub worlds set in key movie settings, including Barton’s farm, the Helicarrier, S.H.I.E.L.D. base, South Africa, Sokovia, Washington DC, Malibu, and Asgard. These hubs are set up with a variety of side missions to unlock new characters, ground and airborne races to unlock additional vehicles, environmental puzzles hiding golden bricks, and other activities like random crimes and Stan Lee rescue jobs. (Speaking of which, this game is overloaded with Stan Lee cameos and sight gags, to the point it becomes nauseatingly unfunny.) Busy work though it may be, there is a ton of content here. Finishing the story missions takes around eight hours and is no more than a quarter of the game’s total makeup. Currently I’m sitting on 14 hours played with 38% completion.

For a fleeting few hours, after I had completed the story missions and started to sink into the sandbox freeplay, I felt the game growing on me little by little. The open world Manhattan and the other hubs are fun to fly, stomp, and run around in for a short while, and the fan service allure of unlocking all of the playable superheroes is quite strong. I honestly even began to think about going for the Platinum trophy, until the menial, grindy nature of the side tasks and collectible harvesting set in, while return visits to free play the story missions revealed even further the deep flaws in many of TT’s design decisions. Trying to explore the environments and find all of the secrets is too annoying to bear when you become bogged down in mashing through the swarms of endlessly respawning baddies, and playing through the story to get to the freeplay to begin with ultimately isn’t worth the hassle-filled effort. I hate to say it, but I can’t think of a LEGO game I’ve liked less than this one. If you need a Marvel game fix amidst the Civil War hype, you’re better off just replaying the original (and far superior) LEGO Marvel Super Heroes.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Packed full of unlockable characters and Marvel fan service
+ Avengers movie storylines and set pieces recreated with signature LEGO toy humor
+ End game hub freeplay and collectible hunting is fun for a bit

Cons:
– Endless enemy respawn becomes an ever-present distraction
– Too much emphasis on dull, button-mashy combat in general
– Confusing level design and puzzle/progression logic
– Single level recaps of the other MCU movies treated as an afterthought
– Enough with the Stan Lee gags already!

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also on 3DS, PC, PS3, Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Developer: TT Games
Release Date: 1/26/2016
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2

Source: Review copy provided by publisher

Buy From: Amazon

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!