Firaxis' unique take on the Marvel brand is here, and we've been putting it through the ringer.
Marvel's Midnight Suns is an adventure filled with superpowers, immortal icons and heroes many of us have loved since childhood. The premise is based on the fact that Hydra, a secret organisation that usually fights against the superheroes in the universe, has succeeded in awakening Lilith, a slightly more unknown character. She is said to be the mother of all demons. This is where our protagonist comes into the picture. Your name is only the Hunter and your mission in life is to stop or destroy your mother, Lilith.
This makes for an interesting new side to a strategy game like this. Unlike previous works by the developer, Firaxis, such as the reboot of XCOM, there is a more elaborate story here. You can also steer your character around in third person between missions, where you can solve puzzles, upgrade heroes, and have pleasant educational conversations. This is what I consider to be the least interesting part of the experience. It's rarely really that engaging, the characters look lifeless and I don't feel motivated to search treasure chests for costumes.
Thankfully, all side activities are not mandatory and you can focus on the missions themselves, which work a little differently to XCOM. You can build cards in a deck that generate attacks and other things for the heroes you bring into battle and are drawn randomly from a deck of cards. Originally I thought it would be a boring gimmick but it works really well as you don't always know what you have to work with. When you perform an attack, you accumulate points that allow you to make attacks with traps and objects in the wild. However, you can only use three cards at a time which creates tactical decisions.
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As you might have guessed, this is an extremely aggressive strategy game. You have to be in the bad guys' faces knocking out several at a time to survive. The enemies are rarely "pushovers" and get reinforcements every round, and it will be a struggle to knock out more than the amount that are added. I love the dynamic between the cards, the scoring system for traps, and other less violent attacks. I don't really find it as interesting as XCOM but for someone like me who doesn't like card games it's surprisingly deep and fun.
Unfortunately, I don't feel like the story manages to entertain to the same degree. The characters are interesting but the voice acting is of mixed quality. The story has its moments but it feels more like a normal Sunday for the characters, I never felt that there was any danger or anything to lose. It is very clear that the game's biggest strength is its battles, as if you can overlook the flaws, there's a really rewarding strategy game here. The music and aesthetics are usually top-notch even if the graphics don't always deliver. It unfortunately looks a bit old and the problems from XCOM remain, with one of the biggest issues that still infuriates me being the lag between pressing an attack and the character actually performing it. That is here again, but I don't see quite as many problems otherwise with characters walking through and cutting through walls. There are clear improvements from previous works.
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Without revealing too much, I like the character selection. It helps the battles become more interesting. Whether you choose Iron Man, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Blade or Ghost Rider or from the collection of others, there is a large assortment, and all the characters play very differently from each other, and finding the symmetry between the three heroes you bring to the battles is a real pleasure. The story also allows you to battle in generic missions that are randomised, which works well to test out new abilities.
As you can probably tell, I love the battle system. It is far beyond expectations and elevates the whole experience. I couldn't care less about buying furniture for an old church as a side activity, I just want to constantly get out there and use the superpowers. The first time I knocked out five villains with a big super beam from Captain Marvel, or when Blade made a giant leap and used a sharp piece of wood to stab an enemy in the heart, it gave me nostalgia for the movies and comics, and I couldn't help but grin from cheek to cheek . There is an incredible amount of fan service, and it is clear how passionate Firaxis is about the brand.
On the technical side, it flows well, and works well. I've had almost no problems playing whatsoever. It's lightning quick to load and everything I've tested works as it should. The options menu is robust and it plays well with both controller as well as with a mouse and keyboard. The sound and music do their job and I never stopped to think these pieces are poorly executed. On the contrary, it is noticeable that it is a big-budget game that has been properly polished. It may not look quite as good as I wanted, but on the other hand it is very fun to play. If you're like me and can overlook a slightly weaker narrative and side activities, you can find a lot of joy in the tactical and strategic depth.
I think the developers missed a chance to anchor the battles with what happens outside a bit more than they have. Although you upgrade cards, create new ones, open chests and other things, I unfortunately care less about this than I did in XCOM. Designing the base and naming the soldiers felt more personal, and that has disappeared here as a consequence of the brand and that everything is established from the get-go. However, you do get some control over your character. Ultimately, I like what we're offered here. It plays well, challenges, offers fan-service, and lets us step into the shoes of favourite iconic superheroes and anti-heroes.
8 / 10
Fun battles. Good choice of characters. Great mechanics.