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Marvel’s Avengers are arguably the most popular superhero troupe in the world, and for good reason. A blockbuster film franchise, countless comics and video game spinoffs have morphed the team into larger-than-life characters that we either aspire to be like or desperately wish we could step into the shoes of for even a fleeting moment.

It’s no surprise, then, that two behemoths of the gaming industry, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix, set forth to tackle a triple-A gaming spin on the Avengers with an original story to tie it all together.

Marvel’s Avengers is an impressive feat that combines both a traditional solo campaign and team-based multiplayer missions to give fans one of the most exciting installments in the world of comic-based games we’ve seen in some time. We had the chance to go hands-on with the game through a multi-phased beta preview period, and we came away extremely impressed.

Marvel’s Avengers ($59.99) launches on Sept. 4 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Ready to learn more? Gamers, assemble!

Humbling beginnings

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When Marvel’s Avengers first hit the scene for gamers and press in 2019, it wasn’t well received. It initially took heat for strange design decisions, many of which stemmed from the fact that the game didn’t include familiar likenesses for the characters we’ve come to know from their movie appearances — which means no Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans or anyone immediately recognizable.

It also received criticism for its seemingly overwhelming reliance on cut scenes or quick-time events, which were mistaken for what the glut of gameplay would be comprised of. Games are often called out for holding players’ hands or substituting lengthy theatrical scenes where gameplay would be preferred, so it’s understandable that this would have been a concern. You want to be the Avengers, not watch them.

Fast forward to 2020. With the game’s official release on the horizon, things have significantly changed. While unfortunately the “off-brand” character models for each Avenger remain (and are just as strange as ever), it’s clear that this is an ambitious and exciting project rife with things to do, secrets to uncover and a gripping narrative that anyone who loves comic books and the Marvel universe will be thrilled to enter.

Assembling the Avengers

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For many, seeing the Avengers fall from grace might be a strange change from what we’re used to from the heroes, but that narrative is exactly what makes Marvel’s Avengers feel so satisfying. This action-packed beat-’em-up takes place on A-Day, an event that would otherwise be a chipper celebration, but which is brought to its knees after a terrorist cell decides to crash the party.

The Avengers are forced to rush to the Golden Gate Bridge as civilians scurry about, abandoning their cars and running for their lives as the bridge begins to crumble. Your first brush is as Thor, who swoops in to try and take out the enemies.

You’ll get to play as all of the Avengers eventually (as well as newcomer Kamala Khan), but having Thor first on the list is a great introduction as playing with the God of Thunder is a great way to get acclimated. Swinging around Thor’s mighty hammer feels fantastic and meaty, just what you’d expect from games like Devil May Cry or God of War. Thor can knock enemies senseless, toss them into the sky, and throw his hammer and retrieve it for devastating damage. He can also leap into the sky for flight, which throws the baddies for a loop.

After giving you a quick introduction as Thor, the game immediately shifts to Iron Man, who everyone will want to play. However, even with his souped-up suit, powerful jetpack and wise-cracking lines, he’s one of the more pedestrian Avengers, with Thor overtaking him in how good it feels to decimate enemies. Iron Man is great for attacking midair, sending rockets or beams of energy hurtling into groups of bad guys, but combat feels much more visceral and meaty when you can get up and personal with your fists.

Iron Man has a brief stint saving the people on the bridge and then Bruce Banner takes a turn as he swoops in from a jet. Black Widow flies off after depositing our green friend, who transforms and Hulks out in front of the waiting enemies. Hulk is an absolute pleasure to play as, with what feels like astronomical amounts of power as you crush cars and enemies with his massive fists.

He’s the most fun to play with by far, because you feel free enough to destroy anything in your path. He’s slow, but he makes up for that with an overwhelming amount of power. When you need power, but can skip out on dexterity, Hulk is your man.

As the scene continues to deteriorate and the Avengers must work to save additional people on the bridge, Hulk ends up destroying his fair share of tanksas he works through the terrorist attack. We then zip over to see Captain America, who’s stationed in the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. It’s cool to throw Cap’s shield, and he’s a much more precise and strategic character than Hulk, so you’ll have to immediately get back into combo and butt-kicking mode instead of just, well, smashing everything.

As Captain America works to defeat the terrorists in the Helicarrier, the scene switches back to Black Widow, who ends up facing the popular villain Taskmaster. Given how Black Widow is, for us, traditionally the most uninteresting character when it comes to both her cinematic appearances and video game translations, we were shocked that she felt much more exciting to play than Iron Man.

Black Widow has pistols and the ability to dispatch enemies with a terrifying quickness. She felt sprightly and tested in terms of hand-to-hand combat, as lithe as Bayonetta and even cooler to use than Thor. We have to give Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics props for that.

Becoming the bad guys

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Following Taskmaster’s introduction, the Avengers are blamed for his nefarious plan. The Helicarrier ends up exploding (presumably with Cap on it), and with it, goes much of San Francisco. The public, as you can imagine, isn’t thrilled with this turn of events, and as a result, the Avengers are forced to disband. They’re even shunned from society, which is an intriguing direction for the story to take.

After a five-year jump, an organization called AIM emerges with the desire to eliminate the need for superheroes by way of technology and robotics. There’s something off about AIM, of course, and it feels like it could be at the heart of what caused the Avengers to fall.

Luckily, you get a chance to see the Avengers redeem themselves through the eyes of the teenage Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. She has the ability to grow parts of her body larger, which can be odd and disconcerting at first, but her segments feel the closest to titles like The Last of Us, as we get to see the Avengers through a self-proclaimed “fangirl’s” eyes. Watching her spend time with the Avengers is touching, especially when she fights enemies just like she’s seen her heroes do.

A Marvel-ous affair

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Although there are hiccups with Marvel’s Avengers, most of which involve the Avengers and their character models, as well as some of the Avengers feeling a little less interesting to play, this is an exciting new chapter for superhero gaming. DC already knocked it out of the park with Batman’s Arkham series. Now, it’s time for Marvel to do the same.

Marvel’s Avengers ($59.99) for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 lands on Sept. 4.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed prices at the time of publication.