Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!
After nearly four years since Marvel and Square Enix announced what was then known only by the cryptic codename The Avengers Project, A-Day is here at last. Marvel’s Avengers comes to consoles and PC today to introduce a different breed of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes than the group that millions of fans have come to know and love on the big screen, and SYFY WIRE was fortunate enough to spend some time with an advance copy of the game this week to assemble a nice batch of early impressions on how developer Crystal Dynamics’ ambitious new departure from the MCU’s beloved movie characters looks, feels, and — most importantly — plays.
No worries: We’re not here to spoil anything. And in the case of Marvel’s Avengers, steering clear of spoilers is actually a pretty big deal. Why? Well, one of the game’s pleasant surprises — emerging not long after the hand-holding tutorial mission that puts Kamala Khan (voiced by Sandra Saad) at the center of what’s to come — is just how much of a true Marvel story lies at its heart. Once things get up and running, Marvel’s Avengers quickly declares itself as the kind of game that’ll compel you to keep playing just to see what happens next, and — while we still have plenty story left to go — it’s safe to say there’s a lot going on.
In a warm voice performance that’ll be hard to disengage from once the MCU’s Ms. Marvel series arrives at Disney+, Saad makes Kamala Khan into the kind of plucky, determined character whose origin story (yes, there’s a big hero arc to Kamala’s key place in this game) really gets you on her side. All the screen time she shares with the rest of the cast — Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, and even Captain America — gives each character a chance to shine and convincingly set themselves apart from their A-list MCU portrayals, and Crystal Dynamics admirably resists the temptation to turn every story scene into a supercharged set piece. The gang shares plenty of quiet moments in between some epic and well-choreographed battles, giving the growing camaraderie and occasional flare-ups of character tension (hey, this is the Avengers, after all) the narrative space it all needs to breathe.
And then it’s on to the next battle; the next mission; the propulsive urge to see what’s around the next corner. Once your access to the full team opens up, all that time you’ve spent getting acquainted with Kamala’s fighting controls starts paying off. Each character has a well-defined and distinctive set of moves and skills, but the basic button setup that unleashes their abilities remains the same for all, letting you slip out of one role and into another with unblinking ease. The number of collectibles, power-ups, and ways to spend your growing pool of skill points comes with a learning curve that nods toward the studio’s goal of making Avengers an evolving, years-long experience once the story campaign is over. But what feels like a lot of menu tedium in the early going is sure to become second nature to fans who stick with the game — especially once Crystal Dynamics starts releasing some of that much-touted post-game DLC.
Visually, Marvel’s Avengers takes a page from some of the best linear third-person adventures of the past (think Uncharted) and injects it with some original Marvel-flavored cinematic juices. Controlling the camera during fights has a swoopy, almost exaggerated quality that feels at home for a game with strong emotional ties to the movies, and subtle shaky-cam moments often ease players from escalating cutscene action straight into the heart of fully playable battles (here’s as good a place as any to air one minor gripe: Give us more options for inverting the camera controls!).
Avengers is a game that wants you to look around — not just down the next path or an easily skippable corridor, but literally everywhere. Often if you’re searching for a hidden switch, or blazing through an on-rails fight sequence and you end up falling to your demise, the answer’s right in front of you — you’ve just gotta think vertically. Exploring every nook and cranny definitely rewards players with collectibles and power boosts, so much so that scarcity never really feels like an issue — though in the tradeoff, the game largely sacrifices the sense of achievement that comes with finally discovering a precious, elusive item that feels truly rare. A survival game this is not: Think of Avengers as more of a curated, story-driven brawler, one that’s generous about replenishing your frequently spent powers.
Marvel’s Avengers won’t be for everyone, though it’s obviously been designed to extend as wide an appeal as possible to as many types of players as possible. Given the Avengers’ blockbuster MCU pedigree, there’s understandably been an enormous amount of buzz leading up to the game’s arrival date. Square Enix revealed this week that players had lavished more than 6 million downloads and 27 million hours on the PS4’s early beta play period, in the process outstripping every single game that’s appeared in beta form on any Sony console … ever. With Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics pledging to roll out a steady stream of Marvel characters for years to come — including Kate Bishop, Clint Barton, and Spider-Man just in the early going — future players will likely be living in Avengers’ online multiplayer world long after the single-player tale is finished.
We’re liking the actual gameplay, as well as the variety that comes with wielding Thor’s hammer one minute, smashing everything in sight as Hulk the next, and then using Kamala’s versatile elastic powers to scale huge distances and wallop enemies with satisfying thunder. Yes, we think some characters are more fun to play as than others, and we definitely have our favorites — but discovering which heroes you prefer is all part of the fun (and they might not necessarily be the same ones you end up rooting for the most during the cutscenes). At the end of the day, though, it’s the story — a bona fide Marvel experience anchored by Kamala’s emerging role as a worthy Avengers hero — that gives Marvel’s Avengers the emotional grounding it needs to support all the conventional action gameplay mechanics. We haven’t finished the game, so we can’t project how long the solo campaign will last. But so far, we’re having an unexpected blast ... and we know what we'll be playing over the long holiday weekend.
The best of the rest
Mario nostalgia splashes onto Switch
The void of Nintendo classics that haven’t yet made the splash onto Nintendo’s current console is about to narrow significantly, and we have the Big N’s mustachioed mascot to thank. In commemoration of Mario’s 35th birthday (and he hasn’t aged a day), Nintendo is plumbing the depths of its back catalog to bring a trio of Mario titles from decades past to the Switch.
In this week’s all-Mario Nintendo Direct, fans were put on notice that each headlining game that set a new bar for Mario on three succeeding generations of consoles would all be hitting the Switch — but only for a limited time. The Nintendo 64’s Super Mario 64, the GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine, and the Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy all are slated to arrive beginning Sept. 18, bundled together in what Nintendo’s describing as a graphics-optimized Super Mario 3D All-Stars package.
In a move that feels a little like taking a page from the Disney Vault marketing model, Mario’s three-for-one Switch debut isn’t meant to last. Players have until March 31 of next year to snag the bundle, before Super Mario 3D All-Stars goes back into Nintendo’s deep storage (or perhaps just moves on to another castle). All three games are stone-cold classics, but Super Mario Sunshine may be the hidden gem. While Sunshine never sold as many copies as the other two titles, it broadened our hero’s platforming prowess with an innovative, muck-cleansing water backpack (think Splatoon, only in reverse) that let Mario soar higher than ever before, all in a tropical island setting that still stands out — even nearly two decades on from its 2002 GameCube debut.
Nintendo also announced a bevy of other Mario goodies this week, and we’ve rounded those up here. But if it’s multiple generations of Mario at his platforming best that you seek, hop on over to Nintendo’s landing page, where pre-orders are already live for the digital edition of Super Mario 3D All-Stars — with the boxed retail version set to follow soon.
Tony Hawk soars — once more
They could’ve just cruised on the nostalgia power alone and slapped a current-gen reskin over a pair of classics. But reviewers who’ve spent time inside Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 say Activision's newly remastered and expanded game, which reworks the first two installments in what for many marks a pair of pop culture touchstones, improves on their original predecessors in pretty much every way.
Out today for consoles and PC, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 keeps the overall structure, levels, and skater lineups from its 1999 and 2000 predecessors, adding in more recent gameplay tricks (like manuals and reverts) on top of a modern game engine from developer Vicarious Visions. The soundtrack players know and love is still there, boosted by new tunes that’ll accompany new gameplay features — including Create-A-Park mode and online multiplayer — while preserving all the cool little extras (like collecting S-K-A-T-E letters) that made the earlier games so addictive in the first place.
Plenty of critics are giving 1 + 2 near-perfect scores, grinding out praise like “an absolutely rip-roaring remake” (IGN) and “nails so much about that original Tony Hawk experience” (GameSpot). Nearly everyone who’s played the remaster reserves special love for just how vividly the current-gen graphics breathe new life into PS1 and Nintendo 64-era visuals that, as GameSpot’s Mat Paget puts it, “makes it feel like you're experiencing a brand-new level, even if the layout is the same.”
No doubt the music, the action, and even the names may be new to younger players who missed out on shredding up the malls, halfpipes, and rails two decades ago — but for anyone who grew up with the series, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 appears to deftly straddle the line between incorporating the best of current-gen technology and the just-feels-right gameplay triggers from the originals. “Muscle memory that’s been dead some 20 years will wake up in your hands, and you’ll be a slave to its undead twitching,” VG 24/7 says in its perfect-score review. “… Vicarious Visions’ interpretation of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater somehow manages to reflect your rose-tinted glasses of the originals in every facet.”
Not that we needed more incentive, but that kind of love has us stoked to drop in all over again. There hasn’t been a new Tony Hawk game since 2015’s less-than-stellar Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, and if the reviewers are right, 1 + 2 feels like the best kind of course correction: the kind that lets us go back and master all those moves that wiped us out back when we were first starting to find our gaming groove. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 sticks the landing starting today for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
- While we’re still grinding with Tony Hawk, look for the skate titan to join Cyberpunk board game creator Mike Pondsmith as the dual hosts of this year’s PAX Online event. The nine-day games fest is going all-digital instead of risking public health concerns with its typical on-site celebration in Seattle, and kicks off on Sept. 12. Visit the PAX Online schedule page for a full rundown of what’s in store.
- July’s first Ubisoft Forward game showcase put its spotlight on the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but the next Forward installment set for next week may shine a light on the game formerly known as Gods & Monsters. Ubisoft revealed this week that the upcoming mythology-steeped title has been rebranded as Immortals Fenyx Rising, teasing more details in the days ahead. Also expect new updates on Watch Dogs: Legion, Hyper Scape, Rainbow Six Siege, The Division 2, and more. Check out Ubisoft’s event page for more of what’s on tap when Forward returns with its next 3-day showcase, beginning Sept. 10.
- Did you know that Jon Favreau — yes, Iron Man and The Mandalorian mastermind Jon Favreau — has been working for five years on a VR game, and that it’s coming out this month? It’s called Gnomes & Goblins, and, according to publisher Wevr, it’s “a dream-like journey” where you’ll “[e]ncounter goblin inhabitants, become part of their society, and save them from their foe” in an enchanted magic forest. Watch for Gnomes & Goblins to hit Steam for Oculus and Viveport starting Sept. 23, and check out a recent deep dive with VentureBeat for more on the game’s fascinating backstory.
- Obsidian Entertainment’s Nebula Award-winning sci-fi RPG The Outer Worlds is getting its first round of DLC this week, and the studio has a new 11-minute preview. The Outer Worlds: Peril on Gorgon arrives Sept. 9 as an expansion for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, with an undated Nintendo Switch version planned sometime down the road.
- No Man’s Sky maker Hello Games is at it again, teasing a mysterious new game that sounds as far-reaching as its predecessor. Studio founder Sean Murray told Polygon this week that his team is working on “a huge, ambitious game like No Man’s Sky,” but offered no additional details. He did add that the small 26-person studio had learned a lot from smoothing all the rough edges (and reversing early fan criticism) in the wake of No Man’s Sky’s initially rocky 2016 launch, so consider us interested until there’s more to tell.
- Dead by Daylight developer Behaviour Interactive is cooking up a next-gen upgrade for the 2016 survival horror game, including a visually overhauled PS5 and Xbox Series X version. Coming even sooner to all platforms is a quality-of-life upgrade called The Realm Beyond, which aims to improve Dead by Daylight’s look and playability in a series of patches set to begin dropping on Sept. 8, and continuing (via VG 24/7) through fall of next year.
- We admit, this one’s sneaking up as one of those wild, off-kilter games that’s lurked under our radar for too long. The next game in the Serious Sam franchise arrives this month from developer Croteam and publisher Devolver Digital, and all you need is one look at the new “Popemobile” gameplay trailer above to see why our interest is suddenly piqued. Watch for Serious Sam 4 for PC and Stadia starting Sept. 24, with PlayStation and Xbox versions expected to follow sometime next year.
- If taking command of a five-story Popemobile isn’t wild enough, there’s always the actual wilderness. Navigate “your own personal nature documentary” as a sugar glider — you know, one of those cute little marsupials that Mother Nature somehow equipped for short-range flight — in Away: The Survival Series, a truly unique-looking action-adventure game from indie developer Breaking Walls set to hit PlayStation and PC early next year. Sitting at the bottom of the food chain means you won’t just be listening to some dulcet-voiced narrator docu-drone about the marvels of the great outdoors; you’ll actually have to “develop the sugar glider’s fighting skills.” A survival game with a fightin' sugar glider … where do we sign up?
- Humble’s annual summer sale is live at the Humble Store, though the window’s closing fast for digital deals on a wide variety of popular games, including steep discounts on Bethesda titles like Fallout 4, DOOM Eternal, and The Elder Scrolls Online. A portion of each sale goes to global hunger nonprofit Heifer International, Humble’s spotlighted charity for August, so check out the store before the deals expire on Sept. 10.