Not every movie needs a tie-in game, yet for the most part the market endures one with the release of every major action-friendly film. By and large, the games are rushed to market to meet a film’s release date and lack the polish players deserve. Most recently, The Dark Knight avoided that fate even though a game had supposedly been in the works, but the Marvel universe of late has not been spared from the dreadful movie game curse. Of the releases preceding this summer’s blockbuster hit, The Avengers, all five – Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger – received game counterparts from SEGA. One by one, each game disappointed comic book and gaming fans with poor production and weak mechanics.
So when The Avengers released without an obvious cash-in game title, fans thought the market would be saved from such an abomination, and we all let out a sigh of relief. I was certainly pleased to see that the movie’s monetary haul did not have to be supplemented by a mediocre game. Having seen the film three times, I’m still perfectly content to have only the film to experience, but there’s no denying anything with the Avengers title will make a decent chunk of change at the moment. Enter the upcoming release, The Avengers: Battle for Earth.
Before assuming this game’s fate, it’s worth looking at the heights this franchise has failed to reach. Though the original Iron Man film began one of the more ambitious cinematic schemes in recent history, the game version failed to ignite the same fervor. Each console version, Wii, PS3 and 360, hovers in the mid to low 40s of a Metacritic score. Critics bashed the game for its repetitive gameplay, poor presentation, and failure to make players truly feel like Iron Man. It did, however, allow for some truly biting vitriol, including the game’s IGN review, which began, “I have good news for folks who are fans of cutting themselves and/or rolling around in broken glass; Iron Man has been released for your console of choice and offers a completely new way to self-mutilate.” What could be higher praise than that?
The next Tony Stark starring vehicle, Iron Man 2, fell below its predecessor’s scores on the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3. In between these two came the adaption of The Incredible Hulk, which fared slightly better in the reviews. Still, it could not compare to the 2005 title, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, one of my personal favorite comic book releases. The story for the movie tie-in was weak – much like the film itself – and it largely retreaded old ground, failing to be more than a bit of dumb fun that gamers had already experienced with Ultimate Destruction. Throw in outdated graphics, and there proved to be little reason to pick up this Marvel release.
While Thor was perhaps the biggest gamble for the film franchise, as it introduced magic into the Marvel movie universe, its interactive complement, Thor: God of Thunder, clearly had less ambitious goals. Instead of making players feel like the all-powerful son of Odin, the combat system was poorly constructed, texture work was muddled and Thor could not even fly. Stripped of his powers, the game also stripped players of an enjoyable experience on the 360 and PS3, with motion controls only marginally improving the title on the Wii.
Captain America fared perhaps the best in his movie-to-game release, with Captain America: Super Soldier. Though hardly an impressive title, the combat was surprisingly decent thanks to the inclusion of Steve Rogers’ signature shield. It still had its faults to be sure, but the uninspired level design and the running theme of poor graphics and audio sadly plagued the fifth Avengers outing as well.
Yet Super Soldier dared to change things up at least somewhat, aping the design of Batman: Arkham Asylum instead of offering level after level of repetitive combat scenarios. And maybe that initiative is what The Avengers: Battle for Earth needs – and a little more development time too. Releasing for the Wii U and Kinect, it’s hard to even guess how exactly the game will play, as both platforms present a unique set of challenges – one employs a tablet-like controller while the other requires no physical controller at all. With the lack of an analog stick it’s difficult to imagine a traditional style game can be easily ported to the Kinect control scheme, so these prior games give us little indication of what the game’s quality will be. But there is still hope.
There is precedence for games based on movies to impress. One of the more recent superhero examples includes X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Rather than following the film’s plot and PG-13 rating, the game earned its “Mature” rating by refusing to hold back from the gore. The game embraced Logan’s signature claws and allowed players to dismember and decimate foes in scenarios that made gamers truly feel like Wolverine. Capturing the essence of the character proved the key to success, and critics and gamers rewarded the effort to stay true to the character and not the film with plenty of praise.
It’s also good to see SEGA not given control of the game after largely botching the five previous Marvel outings. At the very least, we can hope it’s nothing like that first-person Avengers game THQ had in the works. The developer is Ubisoft Quebec, who helped most recently on Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, but the developer’s most recent solo project was the movie tie-in that wasn’t a tie-in, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. The game released only about a week after the Prince of Persia film, but it did not follw the movie’s story, instead hoping to capitalize on the franchise’s notoriety and continued the story of the original Prince of Persia trilogy. Ubisoft Quebec worked on the Wii version of the game, which received a 77 on Metacritic, which bodes well for the production of at least the Wii U version.
Perhaps more so than the previous Marvel games, this title will indicate what the Avengers game has in store. Not tied to the film’s release, the studio does not need to worry about meeting Hollywood’s deadline, and will hopefully not sully the good will the film has earned with fans will allow Ubisoft Quebec to make the Avengers game players deserve, and not the one marketers think they need.