George Chrysostomou on Marvel’s missing video game opportunities…
It’s no secret that Marvel is losing to DC when it comes to the realm of video games. While TV success is mixed, films have seemingly gone to Marvel, and DC is undoubtedly winning on the animation front, the medium that Marvel should perhaps be putting most of its efforts in the video game.
Although often lauded, the success of the Arkham video games cannot be ignored and should not be ignored by the House of Ideas. Not only solving an increasing issue in video games by featuring a single player, narrative-driven, open world experience, the Arkham games also deliver something that Marvel has not been able to do for a while – offer a world that fans can not only explore, but genuinely feel is part of the lore. Taking full advantage of Batman’s roster of rogues, the Arkham series gives every character ample time to be developed, whilst touching on their rich history. Of course, the Arkham games aren’t the only examples where DC are outdoing Marvel; with a great fighter mechanic, compelling campaign and bonus of character customization, DC has hit it out of the park with the Injustice games, which make Marvel vs Capcom look like a cheap arcade game made on a student budget.
The problem is not that DC is “winning”, as this sort of competition entices creativity and is good for the superhero genre as a whole. The problem is that Marvel has a lot of storytelling opportunities that are being missed. Whilst Marvel Heroes was compelling for a time and the promise of an Avengers project and the PS4 Spider-Man game look to be moving the company back in the right direction, we are still yet to experience the type of game that DC put together with the Arkham series. The Telltale Series are very functional in aiming to a demographic that is looking for a strong narrative, but there needs to be great gameplay to accompany this. One of the best Marvel video game experiences that I can still look back to with fondness is playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 on the PS2. A game that incorporated the Civil War arc to great affect, as well as having the team customisations and a huge roster, Ultimate Alliance 2 was fun, incorporated both narrative and character building and took full advantage of some the story telling opportunities Marvel has at its disposal. Whilst the game was not perfect, imagining such a game now where you could recreate the Civil War would be on many people’s must-buy lists.
The problem may be in which way can the narrative tackle the Marvel world? The Arkham games of course took one character and one location, with the ambition to perhaps eventually expand this universe. With hints to a wider world and characters such as Batgirl and Robin dropping in, as well as suggestions to characters such as Zatanna, this was an effective way in doing the DC universe justice. This could be the way to go with the Marvel series, taking the likes of Thor or a more obscure character and really developing their tiny section of the world, with links to a larger outside. However, I’m not sure this sort of model works for Marvel. Whilst Spider-man works as a solo story, there aren’t many other properties that now would work as effectively, without larger ties to other characters, stories or locations. One game I would be enticed to see for instance, would be based on the Shadowland arc, but the amount of characters involved in this alone would suggest that the Arkham-style model is not suitable for this at all.
Weirdly, a lot can be learned from the LEGO games. What LEGO Marvel Super-Heroes 2 managed to do is create a story that many found compelling, that brought together so many assets of the larger universe, paid homage to other parts of that universe, and featured many locations and obscure characters fleshing out the world further. A game like this, with the mechanics of an Arkham game, could be groundbreaking for the Marvel name. A huge crossover event in game form, with a story that people want to see, could create off the charts sales and move Marvel gaming to a new level. A concept such as this is difficult to execute but is high in rewards if it gets pulled off correctly.
The future of the Marvel games may be dependent on how audiences perceive the next few entries, such as Spider-Man and The Avengers. With very little really known about either of these titles, fans have no idea what to expect, but they seems to be a promising sign that Marvel have woken up to their gaming deficit and are prepared to put time and money into developing new concepts. Whilst it is not necessarily the highest bar to set, I am still waiting for a game that captures the same feeling I had all those years ago with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. With the online gaming world slowly dying, Marvel Heroes shutting down, and DCUO also starting to fall apart, the focus may once again return to those games that genuinely seek to tell the quality stories that people have come to expect from these properties.
What do you want to see from Marvel video games? Let us know in the comments below…