Creating a new story in an established universe is never easy, particularly when it happens to be something as iconic as Marvel. In this regard, Crystal Dynamics has been dealt an awfully rough hand, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t willingly rising to the challenge.
From what I’ve played and seen of Marvel’s Avengers, it’s a bitingly ambitious effort from the studio who has spent the better part of a generation helming the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy. Now, it’s taken the reins of something entirely different. Time will tell whether this vision pays off, but this hybrid of single and multiplayer superhero hijinks has a lot of potential.
I had a chance to catch up with the team at Crystal Dynamics in a recent interview, and wanted to see what it takes to craft a new story in a universe that spans over eight decades, and the challenges that come with such an objective.
“There’s a world of stuff to find and that’s one of the magic tricks for us,” Studio Head Scott Amos told Trusted Reviews. “Even after launch we’ll continue to add new heroes, new content and stories and we’ll just keep growing into this universe.” He was awfully coy about what new heroes and adventures we can expect after launch, but chances are it’ll be a mixture of underrated gems and fan favourites from the films, comics and beyond.
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But for launch, Marvel’s Avengers takes a morally grey stance in a similar vein to Captain America: Civil War. A catastrophic event known as A-Day has left San Francisco in ruins, unleashing a deadly energy source that has turned citizens into strange beings known as Inhumans. The iconic superhero team are now branded as villains, with a new organisation known as AIM stepping in to act as humanity’s saviour. Modok is the main villain this time around, an evil fiend who hasn’t really been around in the Marvel zeitgeist in recent years. He believes his intentions are good, which makes him all the more dangerous.
“They’ve lost Captain America and the team disbanding and this guilt surrounding A-Day has created this huge conflict within the Avengers which is what makes Modok so insidious,” explains creative director Shaun Escayg. “His argument that science and technology could offer a safer, protected world is a strong argument, even for them. So, seeing Kamala Khan as this undying hope indirectly reunite The Avengers, and that’s what we want the player to journey through and be a part of.”
In the grand scheme of Marvel, Kamala Khan is an incredibly young hero, having only joined the universe in 2013. She’s also the brand’s first major muslim character, setting a bold new standard for diversity in a brand that is largely pedestrian – so her being a sign of unity in today’s climate is surprisingly fitting, and ripe for some creative storytelling if Crystal Dynamics is willing to take such risks.
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“She’s in this new country and her only connection to it are these superheroes,” Escayg notes about Kamala Khan. “She’s a fan, she’s written fanfiction and this is her way of fitting in and participating in this new society.” Growing up with strict parents and a regimented lifestyle, Kamala’s first steps into this superhero world will be mirrored with our own, as we are introduced to and befriend such legends in our journey to save the world. It’s a compelling, fish-out-of-water scenario that Marvel’s Avengers might need to succeed.
“Kamala is able to not only unite The Avengers, but find her place in this dysfunctional family and understanding that it’s the differences that make us stronger. It’s that journey of just embracing who you are and being who you are, and knowing that’s what makes you special.” Crystal Dynamics describes the launch campaign as a “Kamala Khan origin story” that will focus on how she brings this team of legendary faces back together, presumably concluding with new threats, heroes and more being teased in updates to come.
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This original story is all well and good, but Crystal Dynamics is also aware of the fan expectations that accompany its upcoming release. Marvel has become such an iconic part of the modern pop culture, with casual and hardcore fans alike flocking in their millions to watch Avenger’s Endgame last year. I asked how they’re approaching the idea of adding something truly meaningful to this universe:
“This is a fresh take on familiar ideas, we’re putting a crystal lens on 80 years of Marvel history. We’re not the game of the movie or the show or of the comic or what anyone has been saying,” Amos told me. “It’s being able to take that entire tapestry and saying ‘great’ we’re going to add our own patch, here’s another perspective on these heroes and new twists on these characters.
“We think of it as a lifestyle. People are wearing Avengers t-shirts right now, and these could be comic book fans, movie fans or show fans. We’re aware of the sophistication we need to have in making these games. It never feels like we’re taking something and exploiting it, quite the contrary. We want to add to it.”
Marvel’s Avengers will launch for PS4, Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia on September 7th. You can check out our hands-on preview here so to see what we think of the game.