Beta Impressions

So apparently Crystal Dynamics decided that there would be a beta this weekend for their new Avengers game if you had enough faith in the property, and their development of it, to pre-order.

It’s not exactly how I remember the dialogue from that level but the point stands.

Since the first E3 trailer I’ve been skeptical at best about what the end result of this game would be only sure of the fact that it would have an insane amount of marketing behind it and due to Crystal Dynamics it would probably look pretty good. As far as the actual mechanics of it I assumed it would be competent but rushed and include a lot of good ideas that were not fully realized for a myriad of factors.

While it’s not perfect I have to say… I was wrong.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. The controls are sluggish and unresponsive especially in the wake of playing something like Ghost of Tsushima which, while not as hard as something like Sekiro or Dark Souls, requires a certain amount of pinpoint timing and reflexes to master the combat. On the other hand while Avengers starts you out with the ability to perfect dodge/parry and counter the mechanic is lost in a game that seems to want to be an arcade brawler like MUA 3 but slower and more technical. Made worse by the fact that attack indicators can get muddied or lost in showers of particle effects, destructible environments and rag-dolled enemies and worse, a target lock that sits directly over top of them. In addition to that the game desperately wants you to be mashing the attack buttons but will often punish you for doing so when you try to dodge only to realize you’re stuck in a combo animation.

Now granted I have been playing on Brutal difficulty which generally forces players to eschew the “fun” way to play the game and instead requires you to think and act tactically to pick apart encounters. Which is fair, however again I feel they could have done a better job balancing the difficulty against what is admittedly a very enjoyable combat system that suffers from it’s own mixed messaging. As always your mileage may vary so don’t just take my word for it. To the games credit even at parts where I got stuck trying to solve certain encounters I had fun retrying until I managed to beat them. As frustrating as it can be it did manage to keep me engaged throughout.

On the control side the camera can be a bit of a nightmare although with third person brawlers that is sort of a given and with the myriad ways the characters move it was probably difficult to find a balance that worked for most of them. Hulk especially suffers while on indoor maps which unfortunately is a large portion of time you spend with him in the beginning of the beta. At first it’s fun to wreck rooms while throwing enemies around but soon it’s just a battle to see what is going on as you leap around claustrophobic laboratories trying to regain your bearings. To that end there are an impressive amount of options to customize things like camera snap-back, view distance, auto-aim etc that I feel most people should find success tweaking it to their liking. For the slightly pickier among us it will probably still lack some of the option granularity we normally prefer.

Lastly there are some QTE style moments as you progress through what serves as the beta’s prologue but it’s entertaining and flows well and quickly enough that I don’t think it will be too big an issue.

Monetization. I know this is the boogeyman we’ve all come to fear these days and unfortunately it is alive and well in this game with the one tiny sliver of hope that it seems to be strictly limited to cosmetics. All of which also seem to be able to be earned through the regular course of playing the game with the option to purchase currency to rapidly acquire things you may want for your favorite characters. I am notoriously against predatory monetization but unfortunately for those of us who advocate against it but still have to live in a world where it’s very prevalent, this is as good as it gets for now.

Now, for some of the good.

The combat and mechanics of each character are distinct, varied and hugely entertaining to play with. Few things in recent memory have been as fun as using Hulk to pick up an enemy to beat other enemies to death with. I also cannot stress this enough the enemy you are using as a weapon also takes damage as you hit things which means the stronger the enemy you pick up is, the longer they last. Because of my morbid curiosity I did test to see whether or not they take damage if you swing them to destroy pieces of the environment.

They do.

Even for as straight forward as the Hulk is in combat he is immensely fun to use and does pretty much all the things you expect and want him to do which should be enough to please fans of the character and people just looking to enjoy the game.

Next up is Iron Man and I have to say I cannot believe it took this long to get a game which actually makes him fun to play. I spent a decent amount of time with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 because I enjoyed the previous games and mechanically Iron Man was about as boring as it got. For some reason most if not all his iterations lack melee moves or worse lack the sort of integrated combat style he’s known for. Iron Man is at his most entertaining when he combines brawling with the use of his repulsor blasts, smoothly alternating from one to the other. In this game, for me at least, they finally have the mix right where Tony can mix it up in close combat before transitioning into some brutal juggling with his repulsors. I was completely ready to ignore Iron Man for the majority of this game but he very quickly shot to the top of my Will Use As Much As Possible list.

Well done, Crystal Dynamics.

Good old Captain America is in the lineup and again the combat is incredibly fun, so far where I am at I’ve only gotten the chance to use him once but he is very well realized. Mixing acrobatics with his aptly named super, Brooklyn Brawler he represents the Cap we’ve come to all know and love as played by Chris Evans. What I find surprising is that for as much as I liked Cap I think he’s probably middle to low on my list of favorites so far. It’s a shame since usually he’s the one I settle on in Marvel team up games because he’s generally one of the more balanced in melee and ranged but not as much the case here.

Black Widow has the honor of being the character to take you through your first boss fight which I wont spoil although I believe they appeared in a trailer already, but just in case. Her arsenal of skills is much as we remember sporting a pair of pistols, electrified tonfa and a dizzying array of acrobatic moves to keep your enemies off-balance. One thing I want to mention in particular here is how familiar a couple of the boss encounters are to the duels in Ghost of Tsushima where you go one on one in a battle of moves, parries and, counters looking for openings to get in for damage. Sometimes they are designed that way and other times you simply work to clear battlefields of low level trash so you can go mano-a-mano with a bruiser. Either way I am a huge fan of how they turned out.

The God of Thunder makes an appearance of course and much like the others he’s in fine form throwing Mjolnir to and fro through enemies here and there. He’s the first character you get your hands on and then sadly for the last little while I haven’t had a chance to play him again so my impressions of him were pretty brief. He seems fun and also had one of the more enjoyable audio cues when you hear Mjolnir clang off of enemy skulls. I look forward to trying him out a bit more in depth and getting a better feel. For the moment at least I’m intrigued, we’ll see where it goes if he’s available to play anymore in the beta at all.

Last but absolutely not least is someone I wasn’t expecting to see in this game but am absolutely delighted she’s in it, Kamala Khan a.ka. Ms. Marvel. She was probably one of the wackiest superpowers but that in no way diminishes what a riot she is in this game. Basically it’s Elastigirl from The Incredibles gone serious, although not too serious since she’s a teenager and newly minted member of The Avengers. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is that you’re getting into with her character but she is just plainly a joy to play and not only that but she packs one of the only healing abilities I’ve seen thus far in the game. Definitely one of my top characters to use going forward after release.

Overall there is still much more to cover including gear loot, rarity, skill customization, the story, multiplayer (Which I have no tried properly yet.) and probably a few things I haven’t even seen yet. For now my overall impressions are very positive in spite of my disagreement with some of their mechanical implementation. I hope that some of that might get smoothed out at the final release but since we’re a little less than a month away I’m fairly sure this build is as close to the final one as we can get save for a few bug fixes here and there. I don’t think that I can recommend for sure that people should pre-order the game but if you’re on the fence I definitely think you should keep an eye on it and look for further reviews from sources you trust.

One of mine tends to be Skill Up and he had this to say today–

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While I am disappointed that his first impressions of it were so negative it just goes to show that even people you trust may not always know what you will and wont enjoy. I look forward to his video on it because I always like to hear opinions that differ from my own but personally, I actually am looking forward to the release of this game. I think it will be a title that will entertain me for a while, warts and all, and sometimes that’s all I need in a game.

I hope your weekend is going well and you’re getting plenty of time to relax. Until next time take care of yourselves and I’ll talk to you soon.

  • Anthony

The Mysterious Atari VCS

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Beautiful isn’t it? Conceptually this is about as slick a promo pic will ever look and the hype video wasn’t bad either, unfortunately digging any deeper is an exercise in insanity.

The PR for Atari’s latest venture is just an ouroboros of generic groomed statements and metaphorical comparisons to other industry staples. It’s hard to even wrap your head around all of it considering how much of it is wishy-washy nonsense. Before we get started talking about the message itself lets set the stage for what they are stepping into.

First off I want to talk very briefly about a collection of games that came out many years ago on Steam called Atari! 80 Classic Games in One. The second I saw that sandwiched between DEFCON and some neon Tron looking tank game that for the life of me I can’t remember the name of. I bought without hesitation and enjoyed the hell out of that fresh influx of nostalgia. Back then I probably had barely double digit games in my Steam library, now ~500 games down the road and I haven’t looked at that Atari collection again. That isn’t to say those games aren’t worth playing or mean any less to me than what they did back when I bought the collection but it’s by way of saying that the gaming industry is a constantly raging run of rapids that hasn’t slowed in decades. In fact it’s only picked up speed to the point that things change weekly if not daily in a lot of areas. Hardware in PCs changes so quickly it’s nearly impossible to stay up to date unless you dedicate a good portion of your free time to staying informed.

I think it’s important for context that this is the game industry that Atari is re-entering with it’s newest hardware offering. They haven’t been entirely out of it as they’ve stuck around as a fairly large publisher and developer but the hardware game left them behind long ago. Hell, even the major hardware platforms we have in this current generation were running behind on the day of their release, not far but enough that the rest of the hardware industry zoomed right by in no time. The first stop on our tour of the available information on this started back up at the top of this article with the hype video for the system. If you take a moment to check around you’ll notice that in 9 months that is literally the only video on that channel with the description pointing you to their website. Not that it means much but it strikes me as suspect that for Atari’s grand return to the hardware scene that the channel isn’t stuffed full of videos for people to gorge themselves on. Every company has their own style of building interest in their gear, I respect that, but it bears noticing I think.

So, when you hop over to their website you see a cheeky 80’s retro styled advertisement for the VCS or Video Computer System which is a name that sounds like it’s straight out of the early game industry.  Apparently you should also “Hurry” because pre-orders are coming soon. Below that we see an advertisement with a few nicely coiffed photos and this statement,

Game. Stream. Connect. Like Never Before.

Killer Atari Classic Games. Hot New Indie Titles. Open Linux OS.

Join the Revolution

Nice, quippy and to the point but just beneath that there is a second identical place to enter your email so you can join the waitlist for this system. To say that after a 9 month lead up for a system that has been “Years in the making” that this website is thin on information would be generous. Below the place where I can add my second email address so I’m really sure I don’t miss out on this mystery box with a logo I recognize there are some testimonials that I feel are… well, odd to be honest.

“Sharp and Modern”

“This design is so sharp and modern! I am super excited about the release. Thank you Atari for completely revisiting my childhood.

Monty E.

So generic so as to be meaningless. Their hype video for this system garnered almost 1.76 million views and this is one of the best pull quotes you could find? Who is Monty E? Is he a critic of some kind? Is an intern at the office? The barista at your local Starbucks? I’m not saying you have to be somebody to have your quote pasted on a product page, look at me I’m a nobody and I talk about all sorts of things. For a system like this with the history of Atari I have to think this could be far more substantial.

“Amazing”

5 years from today people are going to say come over my house so I can show them this new Atari game… this console is going to be amazing.

Markus S.

Alright, listen, I really am a reasonable person and like I said above there is no reason you have to be a name in order to have a say but what is this? Either the mistakes make it seem more genuine or it comes off like whoever wrote it didn’t care, nor did the people who asked for it. Also, what exactly is this quote based off of? What evidence does this person have to support this quote? Everything I have seen thus far suggests to me that in 5 years this system will be a small paragraph on their Wikipedia page. I desperately hope that I am wrong but again, all evidence points otherwise.

“Retro Revival”

I think that this is definitely what the market needs – something new and fresh with a slice of retro.

Jonathan R.

Again, it’s nice to be optimistic but realistically is this actually true? Every system has embraced in some fashion downloadable indie games, every system has a slice of retro that plays like new. Nintendo nailed their retro offerings with the NES and SNES Classic systems and the Switch Nindies are booming. So far I can’t see an unblocked or unoccupied avenue for the VCS to drive in on.

Also, just to top this section off if you scroll just a tiny bit below the three testimonials you will see a third place to enter your email for the waitlist. I don’t sign up for a lot of these so maybe this is S.O.P. of the stench of desperation is a bit overwhelming. Now moving away from this website let’s check on some of their latest press and see what has been revealed.

We’ll start real quickly with the guts of this new set-top box and Atari originally told us that it would be housing some custom AMD tech which was very cool given this has been a very strong couple of years for the folks in red and black. Nintendo scored huge partnering with the green giant nVidia on the hardware for their Switch, an endeavor that was touted to have taken “500 man years of development time”. Plus the modern consoles also use AMD hardware so it’s not a bad place for Atari to start. However a bit worryingly it’s an APU and not a particularly powerful one either which makes their claims of it also being able to handle more modern games a statement in desperate need of specifics. It carries a Linux OS which is great, it’s modifiable and open source with a lot of potential for industrious go-getters in the modding community plus a lot of room for developers to work in as long as they want to.

Actually… this entire setup is starting to feel a little familiar, almost like a Steam powered machine from our past. The reality is that for every aspect of this system that seems unique or interesting has generally been done better elsewhere or at the very least the concept exists after a fashion. That isn’t necessarily a reason to not try something new but it definitely means that a profit seeking enterprise should think twice before moving ahead in a crowded marketplace. On the subject of the Steam Machine comparison Atari Connect COO Michael Arzt had this to say, “I don’t think it’s as ambitious as a Steam Machine.” You can’t help but appreciate the honesty but again it raises the question, what is it? He also helpfully described it as, “A good laptop without a keyboard.” which is looking to be priced somewhere between $250-300. It may seem snobbish of me to say but I’m not sure a laptop in that price range can really be considered “good” for things like gaming above a certain basic tier. Artz also commented that, “It’s a much more casual device.” which again is great but Atari’s description about wanting moms to be able to turn on the VCS to easily get into their Netflix or other entertainment services isn’t as complicated on modern devices as Atari seems to think.

Back at the beginning of this I talked a little bit about how the industry isn’t in the 70s anymore and is in fact moving away from its roots at lightspeed. Everything I’ve read about this new venture makes me think this device and the company making it are about a decade late to the show. The optimistic side of me says that they can’t possibly be that out of touch in the industry which they help birth but it still leaves me scratching my head. What do they have up their sleeve that sets them apart from the pack? Not to mention there are a variety of other questions like what sort of third-party support is possible for this system? Are they planning to carry it solely on the strength of their own catalog and licenses?  Whats the lifespan of this console they have branded a PC? What app support can we expect beyond Netflix and Hulu?

9 months at least since the teaser. Vague promises, fuzzy details and broad descriptions on this devices future and it’s purpose. I want so badly to be excited for this, for a new player in the market to light a spark under the incumbents and get them really pushing to innovate again. It was one of the biggest tragedies when Sega exited after the Dreamcast because for all the things that system did wrong it did a lot of things right and did them before anyone else. If Atari can turn this bizarro experiment into a true contender I’ll be ecstatic but I can’t help but feel like they’re coming unprepared to a new and much changed game.

Thanks for listening to me ramble a bit about this while I try to figure out exactly what it is that Atari is up to. I’ll be back later this weekend with another post and hopefully some gameplay videos up on YouTube for MTG: Arena and Ni No Kuni: Revenant Kingdom which I’m looking forward to playing some of tonight.

Have a great one, folks!

  • Non-Washable