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As part of Square Enix's E3 2019 press conference, a brand new big-budget video game based on Marvel's legendary cast of superheroes, the Avengers, was revealed with a big flashy trailer. Developed by the studio behind the modern Tomb Raider games, Marvel's Avengers seems like it's finally going to give a bunch of the world's best-known superheroes a video game adaptation with as much money and talent behind it as the past decade of MCU movies.
However, as exciting as the prospect of a flashy dramatic Avengers game should be, I must be honest that my thoughts on the game as it was revealed at E3 were a little bit mixed. The reveal focused heavily on heroes like Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain America, heroes we have spent the past decade being shown stories of on the big screen already. These photorealistic designs for the characters are not based on their movie designs, and as such there was something uncanny about them. It felt a little bit like we were seeing knock-off versions of characters whose stories we already kind of knew. Add onto that the fact that the game's plot was going to focus on a world where superheroes are seen as potentially dangerous to the public good, reminiscent of the plotline of Civil War, and it felt like for all the game's flash and polish, it might be treading ground that the Marvel movies had pretty well covered.
However, confirmation of which character would be the driving force of the game's single-player story got me a lot more excited to play. This isn't just a story about the Marvel heroes we already know inside and out; this is first and foremost a game about Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel. Or, at the very least, she's a major driving force in the plot.
As a little bit of background for anyone whose main knowledge of Marvel superheroes is the MCU movies, Ms. Marvel is a totally separate character from Captain Marvel, but a hero who does take inspiration from Captain Marvel's acts of heroism.
Kamala Khan is a Pakistani Muslim teenage girl from New Jersey, who was not born with any particular superpowers. She gets her powers as a result of the Inhumans event, a comic plot where gas is released that activates dormant superpowers in a portion of the population. Think of it a bit like X-Men mutant powers, but needing external stimuli to activate. In trailers for Marvel's Avengers, it's highly implied that the Inhumans event is the same one that kills off Captain America, and results in superheroes being labeled dangerous to society.
After becoming Ms. Marvel, Khan has the ability to morph her body in any way she likes, getting bigger or smaller, disguising herself, or healing from injury by morphing back to her uninjured state. While there's still a lot we don't know about how Ms. Marvel will be incorporated into Marvel's Avengers, there's a lot of really interesting explanation given for her role in the plot, and how she's drawn into the main conflict.
In the game's world, Inhumans are labeled as less than human, dangerous, and people to be feared. There's a lot of parallels between Khan's treatment as an inhuman, as well as a Muslim American in modern society, assumed to be "dangerous" because of a group she was born into, and she seems to be driven by that negative perception to prove that she has something positive to offer the world.
Khan embraces the fact that she's already used to being thought of as "dangerous" to keep fighting, even when things seem hopeless, finding evidence to prove the Avengers were set up for the Inhumans event, and inspiring the Avengers to get back in the fight. That willingness to fight not to be seen as a dangerous monster is vital in getting the Avengers to stand up for themselves.
But, perhaps more importantly, Ms. Marvel is just a really fun modern Marvel superhero who we have not already seen stories over and over again. Having grown up inspired by and admiring our established heroes, she blends her religious beliefs with her perceptions of how superheroes should act, as a basis for a moral code about putting others first and helping others the way you would want to be treated. A really early adventure in the comics sees her save another person while thinking about a quote from the Quran, "Whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind."
Much like heroes like Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel is a young, funny, and occasionally emotionally driven hero, in contrast to the stoic and end-of-the-world fixated heroes we often see run the Avengers. She has interesting moral dilemmas about respecting her family values and offers a unique take on moral debates based on her background. She sees things in a very different way to the rest of the Avengers, which in many stories shakes up the way many of those established characters act as a result.
Also, she just has really fun powers we've never really seen used in a video game before. Her ability to make parts of herself bigger, smaller or stretch creates some really cool combat potential, with big heavy fists for smashing attacks, stretching to dodge moves, and mobility options that are really fun to play around with.
A couple of weeks ago, I was given the chance to play a beta build of Marvel's Avengers a little ahead of its release. The build was several hours long, and while I didn't get to see a lot of the game's story, I was able to experience playing as Ms. Marvel in-game for myself. From the way she shakes out her limbs when idling, causing them to stretch, to her expressive style of movement, there's a huge amount of character to Khan's playstyle. She can leap huge distances by stretching her legs and taking larger than average strides, stretch her arms to pull herself up to high areas in a move that's very reminiscent of Spider Man's web traversal, and briefly increase her size drastically to deal extra damage — all while dealing melee damage in a wide arc, at a distance. She's just as fun to play as I had hoped.
All too often, it's easy to forget that there are heroes out there with cool powers outside of those with big-name recognition. At the end of the day, I'm just really excited that we are getting to see a story about a superhero from a different background, with new cool powers, who isn't too overly serious, taking center stage in such a big-budget video game. It would have been so easy for Square Enix to just give everyone all the heroes they knew, in stories the audience already knew they liked, but this shake-up of protagonists really makes me care a lot more about playing through the story of Marvel's Avengers.