By now many of us have done two things: played through both Spiderman and “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” games and all but completely abandoned the failing “The Avengers” game. All three games carry the Marvel Games branding banner, with two coming by way Sony Interactive Entertainment and one from Square Enix by way of Crystal Dynamics. All three games have reputable video game creators behind them, with some even going as far as to consider them titans of their respective industry. Given that they’re all Marvel properties, marque game releases, and backed by competent game creators, the question must be asked: How did they get Spiderman so right and the Avengers so wrong?
I’ve talked about the Avengers game ad nauseam in both written and video formats, so by now it should be pretty clear of what the games’ shortcomings are. But now that I’ve had the shared experience of playing all three games and having recently finished Spiderman: Miles Morales, I have plagued with the idea that one had an inseparable effect on the other. Before we dig deeper into the cause and effects each game played in the relationship between them, I do want to clarify some obvious differences so we don’t move forward things I’m trying to compare apples to oranges.
First, I am acutely aware that by the very fabric of their gameplay that Spider-Man and The Avengers are NOT the same game. One is a single player, open world adventure game while the other (for the most part) is a Multiplayer, mission based action RPG. I recognize that these games do not function the same and aren’t meant to. Second, that both Spiderman games are console specific and The Avengers is a multi-platform release. This distinction is important because it speaks to the creative work and teams behind each game. Having a team that is singularly focused vs multi tasked does make a difference in the overall construction of the games themselves. That by no means excuses the abysmal design and emptiness of The Avengers, but it’s an important distinction to make nonetheless.
Lastly, I recognize that creating a singular character gear system and skill set is far easier than creating multiple and multi-leveled character specific moves and builds. Gear systems can be complicated, and even more so when attempting to do so for multiple in game characters that are required to interact with one another throughout the entire game. Again, this does not excuse the nonsensical gear system and limited move set of the Avengers, but I want to drive the point home that I am fully aware that these games are not the same in function, design, gameplay and even video game classification.
Now that the differences between the games is established, we can take a closer look at just HOW Spider-Man killed the Avengers. There’s probably more to this than even I think I’m capable of uncovering, but the most obvious lies with expectation. 2018’s Spider-Man set the standard for Marvel Games, garnering not only critical and fan praise alike, but numerous accolades including Game of the Year by The Verge. Any game existing in the Marvel Universe to follow THAT would have to bare the weight by default. But Square Enix was and still is a trusted game developer, so announcing the game a full year ahead of Spiderman’s original release and a trailer a year after, fans were probably put at ease that the latter half of the decade would be all Marvel, just like their feature film powerhouse series. Boy, were we wrong.
For starters, let’s talk about what BOTH Spider-Man games do well to demonstrate just how far off the mark Avengers landed. There’s a lot, so let’s boil it down to two since they’re the most glaring and biggest misses from the Avengers. First, the story is wonderfully immersive and beautifully executed. We always expected to have fun zipping and slinging around New York skylines as Peter Parker and later Miles Morales, but the story told and how its told is nothing short of masterful. Sure, there’s the same RPG tropes like side quests to find a cat (more than once actually) but the overall main story has stakes worth investing in and encompasses everything we love about both the characters. The narrative makes the game even more fun to play, and because it is open world to an extent, finishing the story does not mean finishing the game. There is a lot to do in both games, and the “collect all of these for a sweet suit reward” never loses its appeal because it stays fun and fresh and enjoyable.
Spider-Man sets the standard for storytelling, and the Avengers was given every opportunity to not only follow in its footsteps, but further it with more characters whose lore is similarly familiar and beloved by everyone wanting to throw Cap’s shield around. Story for story, this is probably the only place where Avengers comes close. The story following Kamala Khan is the BEST the game has to offer, and its final boss fight sequence and design feels unique and is perhaps the best graphics you get in the entire game. But where Spiderman excels with continued playing experiences, Avengers drops the ball.
After you complete the story, you suddenly realize there is nothing else left in the game. Where the rewards for Spider-Man feel worth the grind, there is almost nothing in Avengers that ever feels worth the time spent trying to get it. Every gear piece is a gamble, and every level is endlessly, mind numbingly repetitive. I would trade hunting down pigeons and cats for hours over any mission after the story in Avengers. Even though the games are different by design, there is still no reason one can continue to be a game you go back to and the other you wish you would stop playing. Spider-Man is a completely realized game, both in its visuals and story. Avengers is half a story with two missions over and over again as a reward for completing it. Spider-Man setting the bar here gave the blueprint to the Avengers for what fans wanted, and Avengers threw it in a drawer and forgot all about it.
The second thing the Spider-Man games get right that in turn highlights the shortcomings of the Avengers is how full both games are. I don’t just mean in terms of landscapes and mission designs, because if we’re being honestly there’s only about 4 or 5 different goons you web up over and over again. But Spider-Man fills New York to the brim with NPCs, creating bustling New York City streets everywhere you go. You would think that this wouldn’t be something that would matter, but the fullness and vibrance of every single city street in Spider-Man shows just how empty EVERYTHING in Avengers actually is. There’s nothing but what needs to be there to get through the level and collect the loot scattered around the empty cities and mountain regions.
One could argue that the explanation of needing to evacuate the cities because of A.I.M is enough, but going back to the story, everything feels empty there too. Yes, A.I.M took over major cities, but it wasn’t to eradicate humanity, merely to track and abduct inhumans. Whatever the justification for it, it doesn’t work. The game feels lifeless, and only gets worse the longer you play it. Even in the mission hubs, you can’t interact with anybody but gear and mission vendors, and there’s nothing built beyond the walls of the neutral space. Again, these are small, seemingly insignificant details that shouldn’t have any bearing on the overall enjoyment of playing the game, and yet, having played all three, it becomes an immense strength for the overall experience of the Spiderman games and an unforgivable sin of the Avengers.
Look, the Avengers doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be Spiderman, but in all the places where Spider-Man’s gameplay, level design, and vibrant worlds shine, Avengers is sorely lacking in any form, even ones that would be deemed suitable for the game type. And yes, Spider-Man has the benefit of timing on its side, being released first thus being able to set those standards that Avengers needed to live up. But that would only stand if we didn’t have that third, lingering follow up of Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Two years removed from its predecessor and two months removed from Avengers, it is the definitive stamp on just who paying attention.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales takes everything done right by Spiderman and doubles down on all of it, making it a wonderful albeit shorter follow up to the massive success. This is important because it proves that the best parts of Spider-Man CAN BE duplicated. Yes, you can say that it’s because its the same developers and they already know what to do to be successful, but as we’ve said before, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics are no slouches to game creation, so ignoring these critical components of success shows a lack of understanding of what to deliver. Avengers was already on the defensive, but now that Spider-Man has proven they can do it all over again before AND after Avenger’s existence, they are left with no choice but to be retroactive.
But by now, it’s too little too late, and Spider-Man: Miles Morales puts the nail in the coffin. The death of the Avengers can and should in part be due to the thriving success of both Spider-Man games. Is it the sole reason the game failed? No, Avengers is more than capable of failing on its own. Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales simply highlight just how MUCH the game failed. The games demonstrate what games can be, maybe even what they should be, especially when it comes to Marvel characters. With such a benchmark set twice now, it’s no wonder how Spider-Man maybe didn’t outright kill the Avengers, but certainly had a hand in its death.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to web up some pigeons.