From movies to games. The transition between the two seems to be quite difficult to master. Even when the film is actually good, it doesn't mean that the game will also be quality. This has happened to a lot of well known characters such as Harry Potter, as well as solid movies such as Avatar. But TT Games seems to have found a fairly bulletproof formula for translating movies into games. They not only got away with reinterpreting well-known characters such as Indiana Jones, Frodo and even Luke Skywalker into video game form - they did it all by way of Lego. However, this time they've not stuck to their now traditional formula, and so the question now is whether this new approach changes the game for the better?
In the last Marvel Lego game - Marvel Super Heroes - TT Games created their own original story set in the superhero universe. It gave them the opportunity to make a story with their own personal twist, and therefore they were able to make a funny and smart caricature of the universe. The way they interpret a universe or a number of characters is one of the Lego games' greatest strengths, and it's their caricatures of the characters that can offer a slightly different angle on a universe. This time around TT Games decided to commit to the storyline of the films.
In this game the story is primarily based on The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Fortunately enough TT Games has not just blindly followed the films and recreated them in a Lego-themed universe. They interspersed the story with, for example, flashbacks or flashforwards to movies like Iron Man 3, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It provides a fresh perspective on the story, but unfortunately at times it seems as if the storyline is going way too fast. It's like we are jumping from one big, important scene to the next, and they've stuffed way too much storyline into a way too small a space. There are too few times during the game where you get to slow down and let the story sink in. Of course the younger audience, who the Lego games are mainly aimed at, prefer action and high paced stories, but they still also have to understand what the overall objective is or why a person acts the way he/she does.
Another way TT Games also tied itself to the films is by choosing to use clips from the movies instead of recording new voices for the game. We know the individual characters and heroes quite well by now, so the idea of using audio clips from the films as voices for Lego characters seems pretty smart. That way we get to listen to familiar voices and quotes, and that should give us a more authentic and familiar experience... right? No, that is sadly not the case. The background audio playing behind the voices from the movies hasn't been mixed completely with the sound of the game, which means that the voices don't always fit in. Therefore, sections of the dialogue feel awkward. On several occasions audio clips were even reused. But by using these clips TT Games has also made it much more difficult for themselves to create the same kind of delightful humour that they're known for. They do kind of save it by pulling off some visual humour, but it just isn't quite the same.
But just like humour is a familiar part of the Lego games, so is the easily accessible co-op mode. Fortunately, it's still just as easy to jump in and out of the game and to play side-by-side with a friend, as it has always been. But because TT Games has focused so much on the films' scenes and stories this time around, the great epic battles are of course also a big part of the game. And that has some rather unfortunate consequences for the co-op mode. Several times throughout the game, when we got to a boss battle, it was only one of the players who got the honour of fighting said boss, while the other player was put in a jet so he or she could mindlessly fly around outside and shoot enemies without real purpose. One player is therefore quite useless in such a situation, and we can hardly imagine that this will result in a lot of smiles on expectant young faces if they had to watch as their friend gets to fight the boss. Although halfway through the boss battle we were swapped around, it does nonetheless mean that each player only gets to participate in half of the battle.
But not all of the new features struggle. Previously, a fight in a Lego game meant that you had to pound on one button until you either got cramp in your thumb or until all the enemies were piles of blocks on the floor. Whichever came first. But they've tried to change that, and now it's now possible to perform a special attack if you hit a mini quick time event every time an icon appears above an enemy's head. There's a very generous time window, so the chances of making the desired button press are quite high. What's even more fun, though, is the combination attack between two characters, and these bring a bit more life into the fights.
TT Games has also successfully created a wide range of playable characters. Sure, there are some familiar characters (such as Spider Man, X-Men like Mystique, Magneto and Wolverine and the like) who aren't inlcuded in the roster of 200 playable characters. But TT Games does, however, make up for this by doing a good job with the characters that are included. They do this in two ways. For one they celebrate the characters' background. There is not just one version of the main heroes available in the game, it is also possible to play as Jane Foster's version of Thor, Sam Wilson as Captain America and Kate Bishop as Hawkeye. Furthermore, it's possible to play the characters in versions from both The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Another way in which they do the characters justice is by capturing their individual strengths and personalities in the battlefield. It is a pleasure to see Captain America using his shield in different ways in battle, much as it's incredibly satisfying to smash your way through enemies with Hulk's huge fists, and it's always a great feeling to fly over the heap of enemies and fire away with lasers as Iron Man. So not only are there many characters to choose from, but they're also a pleasure to play in their own individual way.
Although, at the beginning of the game, you are bound to the story, by the end freeplay is unlocked and you are able to roam around in the different areas. The hub areas we get to explore are places like Asgard, Washington DC and Manhatten. They are stuffed with puzzles waiting to be solved, characters that can be unlocked, side quests waiting to be completed, and collectibles to grab. This concept isn't new to the Lego games, but this time around they're divided into many different areas each with their own characteristics. In the long run it's much more fun being able to switch between hubs instead of having just one huge one. And we couldn't help but chuckle when we suddenly managed to stop a car, climb into the driver's seat and steal it in the middle of Manhattan' streets. Admittedly the car was nearly impossible to control, but it was still a more sober GTA-like experience (having said that, instead of being splattered with the blood of the unfortunate people we mowed down along the way, the worst we got were some annoyed grunts from the pedestrians as they struggled to recover).
After having played Lego Marvel Avengers we were left with mixed feelings. On the one hand we really missed some of the spirit that we've seen from recent offerings by TT Games (that being the wacky humour and the different perspectives on established universes when viewed through a Lego lens). We're not saying that there's no humour in the game at all - it's just delivered in a different way. We do think that TT Games has bound themselves too tightly to the storyline of the films and they have filled the game with a bigger plotline than they should have. On the other hand, we also think that it's great that TT Games is trying out some new ideas, in this case bringing more life to the combat via team combos. Lego Marvel Avengers is a good game in spite of some weaknesses, and it has a lot to offer - especially if you're (surprisingly enough) an Avengers fan or just really like the Lego games in general.