Sure this past weekend’s PlayStation Experience had huge cinematic driven games from Sony’s 1st party developers like Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4, or the over the top brawling of 3rd party partners like Capcom’s Street Fighter V, but one game stood above all others in the eyes of this comic book fan as the best time… Lego Marvel’s Avengers.
Yes. It’s aimed at children, but we in comics fandom know that it really means all-ages. Over the course of several Batman games and the previous Lego Marvel Superheroes, developer TT Games has crafted something here that appeals to both hardcore gamers and die-hard Marvel comics fans.
When you first play through Lego Marvel Avengers you’ll miss about 70% of all the game’s nuances, easter eggs, and hidden treasures. Our hands on time with the game was spent on the Sakovia mission which expands the opening from the Avengers: Age of Ultron film. Opening with Hawkeye and Black Widow, the gameplay brings back everything that makes Lego series titles great. It’s welcoming and simple for anyone to pickup as all you have to do is button mash destroy a battlefiled full of HYDRA thugs. The game has more mechanically under the hood than a lot of titles catered to mature audiences, you just have to look for it. Combat has been upgraded to include the use of environmental weapons. Playing as Black Widow, I took control of a machine gun to wipe the floor with HYDRA. As all these thugs burst into little Lego Bricks, I noticed a new meter next to the character. It didn’t come into play for me until the level shifted to taking control of the Hulk and Iron Man.
At one point the circle icon appears when you stand near your partner character. Hitting the button executes one of the new Avengers team-up attacks. They’re spectacular! As Hulk, the character will pick up Iron Man and shake him like a can of spray paint and then release a laser wave from Iron Man’s head. Depending on which Avenger you play and partner with, different attacks will be unleashed. As Captain America and Thor, Cap has the thunder god bat his shield all over the scene using his mighty hammer. I can’t wait to try every possible combination.
On PlayStation 4, the technical prowess of the game shines through. Those who played Lego Batman 3 will remember hitting the button to bring up a wheel of batsuits your character could change into. One simple flash later you were sonar Batman, or stealth Batman, etc. Here TT Games have taken it a step further. While playing as Iron Man gamers can bring up what’s called the Jarvis Wheel; a HUD display menu featuring fully rendered 3D models of Tony’s various armors as a sort of selection screen. When you make the switch from the Mark 25 to Hulkbuster or a construction armor; each have a unique animations and they’re all fun to watch. For example when Tony called on the Mark V from Iron Man 2 he steps into the armor using a suitcase just like the film. One of my favorites was Tony changing into the original armor from Avengers. TT Games really puts visual hyperbole on the smallest details and you’ll be in for a ton of LOL moments.
Every character from Thor to the heinous agent Sitwell have a tremendous level of care. How deep? Every character in Lego Marvel’s Avengers has a run, walk, or idle animation specifically tailored to them. Cottonmouth (Yes, he’s in the game) will eat a surfboard for some reason if he’s just standing there. If you leave Quicksilver alone he’ll run off screen and come back with and ice cream or luggage from a trip he took.
It’s the little things that allow Lego Marvel’s Avengers to show some muscle on PS4. While playing as Captain America the character would switch shield hands depending on location of enemies or puzzles. It’s not something casual gamers and kids would notice, but it demonstrates the level of detail the development team is committed to. Textured grass, high resolution characters, seamless loading/transition all make the experience of the game more enjoyable.
Now lets talk about who you’ll see in the game.
Lego Marvel’s Avengers story follows that of the MCU through phase 2. You’ll see all the usual suspects from Marvel film and TV; Cap, Iron Man, Black Widow and the rest of the Avengers, Coulson, Nick Fury, Ant-Man, Aldrich Killian, and the various iterations of Ultron. But the roster doesn’t stop there. With over 200 characters pulled from Marvel comics you’ll see favorites like Doctor Strange, Thanos, Red Skull to name a few. In addition the genuine love TT has for the source material is packed in this game. Fans will be able to play as Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan, Squirrel Girl, Devil Dinosaur, and a lot of other characters you wouldn’t expect. Squirrel Girl even gets her own Squirelbuster armor, because well she beat Galactus so she should get something, right? One of the newest additions shown to us was security guard Lou Ferrigno from the Incredible Hulk film. He transforms into his 70’s television version of the Hulk and when he has to transform back he gets doused in water to wash off the body paint. Genius!
Fans will get a lot of Marvel media in its various forms here, but you won’t see Netflix versions of Jessica Jones or Daredevil. While the TT Games group loves what they’ve seen from those shows, it didn’t quite fit the family friendly target of Lego Marvel’s Avengers. You’ll see DD and Jessica Jones, but only the comic book versions and after playing with them both; we’re totally fine with that. In addition we got some bad news about those wanting to see Spider-Man, but when you hear why it’ll all make sense.
After playing playing the game and getting a full run down of the features we got to chat with Lego Marvel’s Avengers director Arthur Parsons from TT Games. One thing you’ll learn after talking to him; the man knows his comics:
Comics Beat: With all the unique models and intricate touches how much more can these games keep growing to where you can’t put Lego Avengers or Lego Batman on previous gen systems like Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii? Cause these games feel like they take a tech leap each time.
Arthur Parsons: [laughs] Only just. Yeah it’s a challenge it’s a technical challenge but what you’ll find in order to get things like this working [Jarvis wheel] you’ll see these are actual models. That’s loading in and rendering all the models. On [previous] gen they’re just 2D textures. There are shortcuts we can take like lowering the resolution of the characters or this grass won’t be there on last gen consoles. There are savings we can do to still get it working, but for how much longer I don’t know. It’s a lot of work to get all the Lego into the game with all the seamless loading and interaction, but that’s why we have a lot of clever programmers on the team. Thankfully I don’t have to do that stuff. I just come up with silly ideas. Those are the guys that facilitate em.
CB: I noticed asetetically Quicksilver’s animations [speed lines when running] are completely different from Flash in Lego Batman. I know they’re two different worlds but was not reusing those assets for this game an artistic choice by the team or mandate?
AP: Sometimes when we’re in the early stages of development we’ll reuse stuff just to get characters up and running. But this time what I said to the team was this time let’s make sure every characters got a unique walk, unique run, or a unique idle animation. Something that makes that character different. Like Lady Sif, she’s incredibly cool cause she’s got a whole combat setup and system that’s unique to her. She’s what I would consider in the game to be a peripheral or fringe character compared to some of the other ones and yet we’ve made sure to give every character the love and attention they deserve.
Every single one of these [Iron Man] animations is unique. You calling in the mark 25 is different from the mark 42. As people find these characters around the universe in these locations they’ll go “well what does he do? what’s Cottonmouth’s finishing move?” It’s great it keeps people excited about the game.
Comics Beat: Was moving the game into 2016 to make room for dimensions or out of necessity?
AP: A bit of both really. We didn’t want this to come out not being the game it was meant to be. Sure we could have rushed it out in time for Christmas but it wouldn’t have had all those layers of polish. It wouldn’t have had the extra hub worlds, it wouldn’t have had random crimes in Manhattan. So why get the game out when it’s not the game you want it to be.
CB: It’s always better to wait for the finished product.
Arthur Parsons: Absolutely. It’s not too much of a wait. It comes out January so hopefully everyone that’s just gotten that new console for christmas picks up Lego Marvel’s Avengers.
Comics Beat: Okay, so I gotta ask… Marvel or DC?
Bare in mind my employ also in DC Comics. I can’t actually comment… I can actually… I love Marvel. But I love both really and this is the great thing about comics. There are comics on both sides of the fence that are amazing. I saw the Batman/ Superman trailer and I was super pumped the second time I wathed it because there were things I missed. I saw the Civil War trailer and was really excited about that. Me, I just love comic books, but I grew up on comics you guys don’t get over here; Eagle, Dan Dare, The Mekons, 2000A.D stuff like that. I came into Marvel and DC later in life, sort of my late teens. I’ve got Comixology, I’ve got Marvel Unlimited pretty much when I’m on a plane or on a journey I read all sorts of stuff I’ve never read before.
CB: My earliest 2000A.D were the Brian Bolland ones.
AP: Right. Mainly I was Eagle. I loved Eagle but saddly the UK Comic industry died. Thankfully the American comic industry didn’t.
Comics Beat: You were talking about watching the BvS and Civil War trailers. Do you watch things like that now and just think about how you can Lego them?
Arthur Parsons: Sometimes. Yeah, when you look in the Civil War trailer there’s a section where it looks like Scarlett Witch is taking off like she’s flying. We’re obviously still putting the finishing touches on this game and I turned to Steven my assistant director and I said should we make her fly? He said she doesn’t fly in the movies and then I said but look at that. Should we make her fly? That’s a decision we still haven’t decided on by the way. That’s one of those things you look at as a fan and think that’s awesome and it would be cool if we could make them do this but at the same time you’re not sure what the other thing has done till you see their finished product.
CB: Who was left on the cutting room floor that you really wanted?
AP: In this game I actually promised my lead character artist Neil that I wouldn’t go over 150 characters. We’re over 200 at the minute and there’s actually more characters that are going be coming in through DLC we haven’t tallked about. So I actually lied to him and I think I overshot by a hundred characters. So no one got left on the cutting room floor.
CB: I noticed you have less generic models as characters like “ Hydra Thug” or “Henchman 2” as playables this time around.
AP: That was my decision based on learning from the first game. We wanted to go from having 150 characters on the grid to 200 but we didn’t want to just have World War II goon number 3 filling it out. Everyone is actually someone, even if it’s Agent Sitwell, god love him. We’ve tried our best to make characters unique and as cool as they can be.
Comics Beat: How many Spider-Men in the game?
Arthur Parsons: [Laugh] There’s none. It’s not something we’re going to shy away from. What we’re covering is phase two MCU and he’s not there, so why do that and again it’s not something we necessarily want to go to. But hey you can swing around with Daredevil and his billyclubs.
CB: I know you’ve talked incorporating things from the comics to the game as well and people wanted to see a character like Miles Morales make an appearance.
AP: It’s one of those things that I think just because of [the circumstances] everyone’s aware of with those characters it’s not somewhere we can go.
Comics Beat: I think after people see the game we can just say hey you got Kamala Khan and you got Squirrel Girl. Shut up!
Arthur Parsons: Yeah. There’s a few other characters people won’t be expecting that are going to be in there. I think once people see the full roster no one is going to care. It’s like… we did that [Spider-Man] with Lego Marvel Super Heroes, why go there again? We’re trying to give people an awesome NEW experience. Yes, we’re bringing Thanos over when he hasn’t fully made his appearance in the MCU yet, but you kind of have to because he’s so important to the Avengers storyline so far.
CB: I’m always curious with comic fans who are creators in other industries; what was your first experience with comics?
AP: My first experience. That goes way back to when I use to go and buy Dandy and Beano which they don’t really classify as comics any more… well I guess they do.
CB: They totally do.
AP: But yeah no one really knows who they are over here. For me Dan Dare and The Mekons are something I absolutely adored. When I got into American comics I was always a Fantastic Four guy. I grew up on reruns of the old 70’s cartoon. Now, I just sleep and breathe comics and anything comics related. The whole team is like that. My lead animator is a huge comic book nerd. Joe who’s the guy who writes a lot of the dialogue is a massive geek. Finally it’s cool to be geeky cause when I was in school it definitely wasn’t cool to read comics, but it is now [Laughs] maybe 25 years too late.
Lego Marvel’s Avengers comes out on January 26, 2016 just a few weeks after the holidays for every major gaming console. If you really want the full power experience from the game; pick it up on the PlayStation 4.