After Star Wars in 1977, hundreds of millions of people across the world would never think of cinema in the same way ever again. Likewise, Lego Star Wars: The Video Game in 2005 started a rollercoaster that, a decade down the line, is still gathering momentum even after a series of break-neck twists and turns. Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean... the ingenuity and sheer entertainment value of these games has rolled and rolled, if not snowballed each year. And after bringing the Marvel license on board in 2013, the series rather uncannily acquired super powers of its own. A stupefying mash-up.
The Marvel universe has its own extraordinarily well developed sense of the incredible, alongside a knowing sense of humour. In the recent movies, those two elements often combine to result in fantastically orchestrated silliness that fans really appreciate. Which means that, for TT Games, the task is mainly to contain all this wild content in a way that suits the Lego universe, as opposed to adding unnecessary narrative spice. The TT Games stroke of genius in the case of Marvel has been harnessing super behaviour in wonderful set-piece scenarios and open world opportunities. Oh, and toning down the violence...
Violence is an element that the Marvel universe clearly thrives upon, and something that is almost impossible to escape from, but there are acceptable boundaries when it comes to comic-book heroes. Lego Marvel's Avengers introduces a mind-blowing roster comprising 100 new characters, among them Daredevil and Jessica Jones, both of which have been recently adapted into hit shows. Now, the Jessica Jones and Daredevil shows are bleeding edge web television content created for and distributed by Netflix. They are famous for being dark and disturbing, but in particular for their bold portrayal of violence. Naturally, Daredevil and Jessica Jones have attracted growing communities of fans. And since fan service is also a major part of Lego Marvel's Avengers' modus operandi, they became obvious choices for main roles. However, their portrayal here is more in line with the original inked pages than blood-splattered scenes from the TV screen.
After clearing up those issues for all parents that still give a damn, what the TT Games team is most excited to share is how all the characters in Lego Marvel's Avengers express their uniqueness via trademark agility and world traversal capability. Daredevil uses his Billy Clubs to swing almost like Spider-Man through the streets of Manhattan as one example.
However, it is the Lego Big Figures that provide the most startling options, notably Hulk with his phenomenal leaping powers, eating up distance across the ground, but also allowing him to slam into buildings from where he can clamber - masonry and brickwork crumbling - to reach the next best vantage point. In terms of spectacle, the introduction of space dragon Fin Fang Foom ("the most fearful menace of them all") has allowed TT Games to go even bigger, since Fin Fang Foom can grow to gigantic proportions. This was both a gameplay and technical challenge, but each area map is designed to accommodate such proportions, and showcase supersonic flying speeds alongside mass destruction. With no signs of struggle on the PlayStation 4 we'd like to add. This tech is just cruising along.
Throughout Washington, Manhattan, Johannesburg and Tony Stark's Malibu Mansion, the assembled cast have had their shackles loosened to combine forces and explore like never before. Avengers Tower is a landmark in Manhattan, above Grand Central Station, that can be inspected inside and out. The New Avengers facility is also found in upstate New York, after appearing in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Although we didn't have the opportunity to experience these for ourselves, locations from Captain America 'The First Avenger' and 'The Winter Soldier', Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World all feature in Lego Marvel's Avengers. It's an unprecedented playground for open world exploration and choreographed action, the latter often capitalising on clever team work.
During our hands-on time, the familiar obstacles presented by the need for specific abilities remained a constant. We're trained to love and accept this by now, because the pay-offs are generally worth the hassle. The mood is significantly lifted meanwhile by the addition of Avengers Initiative Moves, basically combos that require two characters to perform. TT Games describes them as a "smart bombs of sorts" as they require powering up to initiate. One example is how Hulk can swing Iron Man around in a huge arc to laser-blast all those unfortunate enough to be in range. Teamwork is big deal in this game, wonderfully explored in such partnerships as Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy. Puzzle solving in this case really coming to the fore, ideal for open world challenges.
In addition to the traversal skills offered by all the characters, cool vehicles play a valuable role too. There's Nick Fury's SUV with its on-board arsenal as seen in Marvel's The Avengers. You can ride Captain America's awesome motorbike or drive Tony Stark's coupe. But best of all, adding a new dimension to the gameplay, is the Avengers' Quinjet that can fly into space from where players then select individual missions and hub areas such as Asgard.
Remarkably, most of this experience from PlayStation 4 and Xbox One has been successfully downsized for PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS. Manhattan is 1:1 scale with no loading screens in the open world mode that has been most requested by fans. In our demo featuring Iron Man, his cluster missiles locked on and pursued their targets without a hitch. There are unique animations for each suit transformation too. Hulk leaps and climbs with equal aplomb, and unique character capabilities appear vibrant such as Dr Strange and his cool bubble shield. The only major concession is an absence of multiplayer options, but to make up for this there's a Captain America trading card collection to keep solo players in the hunt. They are hilarious sepia-coloured, Lego-style versions of the original movie props.
It almost goes without saying, but we'll say it anyhow: TT Games has apparently cooked up another irresistible marathon of Marvel-related quests, whether guided or free-wheeling. Just an absolute ton of original action-oriented puzzles to look forward to on January 29!