There's a reason why Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite doesn't have a four in its title, and this is because, for the first time, there will be a story mode that will tell us why these two different universes have collided. However, before we get caught up in that, we should say that we've had hands-on time with the game, and we've been looking at the most important factor: the fighting.
Capcom has promised a more "Marvelian" title with this game, driven by a plot that distinguishes the good from the evil through cutscenes and dialogue. For example, Iron Man and Mega Man aren't together just to compare laser cannons; they've come together to prevent Ultron Sigma - born of the union of their two archenemies - from infecting all organic life with its cybernetic virus.
At the moment we know 13 of the fighters that will feature in the game, and so far there's a mix of different characters from Capcom, The Avengers, and even Guardians of the Galaxy. It's clear that this list will grow as release draws closer, but we don't know by how much. We do expect to see more from the X-Men, Street Fighter, and Mega Man, though.
This game sees the return of two-on-two fights, and switching between fighters at the right time can be key. In Marvel vs. Capcom games, the developer employs all of the speed and agility that's central to its main fighting series, and adds a touch of button-mashing that wouldn't work in Street Fighter. Only a few matches into our session, we realised that taking advantage of the team play is essential.
We chose Ryu and Chun-Li for our first game, and the initial few minutes conveyed the feeling of chaotic action that we want from this series. It's easy to do combos of 12 or 15 hits once you've got a bit of experience, because they are easy to perform and defence is minimal. This completely changed in the second game, though, with Chris Redfield and Ultron getting into a scrap that was driven by ranged attacks, and where hits were chained almost by chance. In fact, there were several characters that felt better played at range.
Our hands-on session was unusually long for a fighting game, and as the minutes ticked by, we understood why. Capcom insists that this crossover has a lot of strategy in it, both in the character tag system and in the power gems, that latter of which can change the result of a match in seconds. In regards to the power gems, we tried three out of the six that come from the world of The Avengers (power, time and space) and they have a lot to offer. When the circular bar at the edge of the screen goes up a little, you can use Infinite Surge, which works very well for quick plays, but when this bar is fully charged it unleashes the Infinite Storm and you have to go all out.
The gem of power dashes enemies against walls or increases the overall strength of the character; the gem of space attracts your opponent or encloses them in a box; and time allows you to teleport without being hit. It feels amazing to control Chun-Li and draw in your rival only to then pull off a Kikosho, for example, or to throw them against the wall in the middle of a combo only to finish them off with Iron Man's cannon shot.
Special abilities follow the typical setup of loading several bars to perform simple abilities, and four for the ultra ability. They might charge quickly, but what we didn't like at all was the fact that you can run one of the hyper combos by just pressing a strong punch and kick at the same time, instead of a more complex combination of buttons. We accept that it's necessary to make fighters more accessible and it's clearly something that's optional, but a move loses that feeling of achievement when it's so easy to pull off.
Another thing that didn't impress us was the game's visual style, especially with Street Fighter V looking as good as it does. The developers have chosen a simplistic and, in our opinion, insufficiently detailed character design that we think diminishes the fighters' personalities. Some characters' eyes even look empty, and their muscles look strange as well, with Chris Redfield probably standing out as the worst for now. His square chin and swollen arms aren't great to look at, so we hope this gets fixed before release.
The quality of the visuals was somewhat better in terms of the three levels we played, with two of them being based on the Avengers (one in their tower, the other in Odin's throne room). The absence of destructible scenery, flashy dynamic elements, and the enormous distance between the action line and the background has us wondering whether Capcom is already thinking about the competitive scene.
Capcom is working on delivering a solid base, then, and the rest will follow thereafter. After failing to make a strong first impression, the gems began to prove their worth over time, and they may even end up being what sets this fighter apart from the competition, and as for the rest, we'll be following things very closely in the months ahead as Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite prepares to launch on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.