LEGO Marvel’s Avengers

One thing I remarked on back when I reviewed LEGO Marvel Super Heroes was how impressed I was that it managed to both utilise the imagery and ideas of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while still retaining a clear sense of unique identity. Largely that was helped along by the game taking a wonderfully healthy attitude towards its usage of the MCU; namely that it cherry-picked bits of it in order to be familiar focal points for the parts of its audience that might not have experienced Marvel except as the current crop of films, but had it all mixed in with a ton of Marvel material sourced from other places, such as the comics. It also had a very LEGO game approach to its humour, avoiding the kind of Joss Whedon-esque wry wisecracking that typifies the MCU, and it made sure to have an entirely freshly-made story for its game, very clearly separating it from the film’s universe. Despite how good it was, I’m somehow expressly unsurprised to see LEGO Marvel’s Avengers pop up; it seems almost inevitable that eventually LEGO would have to adapt at least some of the films more closely.

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LEGO Marvel’s Avengers (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)

Released Jan 2016 | Developed: Traveller’s Tales | Published: Warner Bros.

Genre: Platformer | HLTB: 8.5 hours

If you’ve somehow missed the utter media dominance of the MCU – first of all, how? Tell me where you live, I’d love to be there, the silence and solitude sound heavenly. For the uninitiated – I’m convinced there’s at least one or two of you – in 2008 Marvel’s film division embarked on what was undoubtedly the most ambitious movie project in existence. With the release of Iron Man in that year, Marvel’s plan kicked off in a big way. It’s hard to express just how mindblowing – not to mention, impossible – the whole thing seemed back then; film franchises that went on a bit were not a particular novelty, but Marvel’s designs were grander than that, built around producing separate mini-franchises of films before unifying them, both in broad terms as being set in the same universe, and also in practice, with the entire thing promising a huge crossover film that would mimic the scale and furor of the comics on which it was all based.

When Avengers Assemble dropped in 2012, the hype was unbelievable. Not only had it been preceded by 5 films, the majority of which were good (we don’t talk about Iron Man 2), but it itself built its own mythology even further than its constituent movies, concluding with a huge promise for its own franchise, a kind of super-series that all other MCU films were subordinate to. While the earlier movies were popular, it wasn’t until it all came together in that first Avengers title that the MCU was made a bonafide success. After all, if it hadn’t happened, we’d just be left with a small suite of good films but overshadowed by their inability to effectively realise their huge crossover goals. Writing now in 2023 we know that the success of the first Avengers film and the legacy it would beget would be nothing short of exceptional. To describe the MCU as dominant doesn’t do justice to the sheer stifling, all-encompassing control it held over mainstream Americentric culture.

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All of this preamble is to say that I’m frankly flabbergasted it took as long as it did to get to an officially branded LEGO and MCU crossover game. In some respects I think it makes LEGO Marvel Super Heroes more impressive given that it also came out in a post-Avengers world; I respect it all the more for not capitulating to what I can only assume must have been serious pressure from Marvel executives. It would take until 2016 for that eventuality to happen. By this point the MCU had concluded its second Phase, culminating in the 2nd Avengers movie, Age of Ultron (well, to be correct it ends with Ant-Man but whatever).

The levels then in LEGO Marvel’s Avengers are primarily based off the two main Avengers films – Avengers Assemble (or whatever name it ran under in your region), and Age of Ultron. There are a smattering of levels based on the other Phase 1 and 2 films, but not actually as many as I think would have liked. During the Avengers half of the game we get only 1 measly flashback level set during the events of Captain America: The First Avenger, and in the Age of Ultron half Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor 2: The Dark World each only get a single level to try and shine – and these are bloody optional to boot! While I’m not against the time spent across the two Avengers films, the fact that only single, rushed levels are thrown in as nods to the other movies feels like a slap in the face. It could very easily have been so much more expansive than what we ended up getting, and I can’t help but feel that might have been a better way of doing it.

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Speaking of things thrown in, it’s hard to hide the sense of frustration that comes with realising that the Manhattan overworld is lifted all but wholesale from LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. It suggests a rush job in development; I know New York is an important and iconic part of Marvel’s sense of identity but given the years between this game and the one that came before it I don’t think it’s unfair to expect a little more than a lazy rehashing of the same area. In fairness to LEGO Marvel’s Avengers there are a few more hub areas to visit, such as Asgard, Washington D.C., Sokovia, and Hawkeye’s farm, to name but a handful. Each of these is a smaller mini-hub compared to the main overworld of Manhattan, but they still at least have the regular collection of stuff to gather up that we can come to expect by this point; namely, gold bricks, vehicles, and new characters to add to our ever-expanding roster.

Things being how we expect them to be is basically the name of the game here, really. The gameplay isn’t just familiar, but flatly the same as before; the powers, the varying utility of each character, heck even much of the roster we’ve already seen. As always, we take control of a wodge of various LEGO-ified characters through a series of levels rife with basic platforming challenges, some light puzzles, and a garrison of tiny plastic enemies to beat up. Along the way various hazards pop up to impede our progress, and we need to utilize each of our characters’ special abilities to overcome them, such as Captain America smothering fires with his shield, Iron Man deploying explosives and lasers to destroy silver and gold bricks respectively, or Thor charging electric panels with Mjolnir. If this is your first LEGO game then this is all probably terribly exciting, and I certainly wouldn’t underestimate the draw that can come with getting to play a proper Avengers game, but for franchise regulars it’s easy to see how little this entry adds to the series.

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I didn’t even find it particularly funny, which feels like a harsh loss for a LEGO game. Normally these games have a pretty well-formed sense of humour, relying on a combination of slapstick, meta jokes, and the occasional jab at the absurdity of these little LEGO figures getting themselves into these scrapes. It’s a fairly simple brand of funny, but it’s usually at least a little effective; it’s kid-friendly, but in a way that isn’t eye-rolling to an adult audience. Unfortunately, LEGO Marvel’s Avengers has a lot of jokes that fall flat; why, for example, is it a running gag that the SHIELD agents are always eating? Like, I get it might be a recurring thing in the games but it isn’t in and of itself especially amusing. A couple of jokes got actual laughs out of me, thankfully; Loki getting sucker-punched by Phil Coulson’s huge gun launching a comedy boxing glove out of nowhere genuinely caught me off-guard, and Iron Man’s big suit-up sequence getting interrupted by a classic blue screen error was worth it for a giggle.

I’m also not a fan of the voice clips lifted from the movies that are used throughout the campaign. This isn’t a grumble about voice acting in the LEGO games – that’s its own controversy, and not one I care to share in – but more a specific complaint that the clips lifted from the movies sound really bad in this game. I don’t really know why that would be, either; it sounds a little like they couldn’t be lifted in isolation properly, and it’s a problem exacerbated by the fact that these lines were not delivered by voice actors but by regular screen actors in that context. That means there’s a lot of semi-mumbled or whispered lines which work in their places in the films, but don’t translate to this form cleanly. It’s telling that outside of the principal cast the roles are largely filled by the usual stable of proper voice talent and these often are delivered far more cleanly and clearly.

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I suppose I just don’t know who this game is for, or why it exists. Well, I know why it exists – because Traveller’s Tales like making money, and fair enough – but that doesn’t make it a worthwhile way to spend your time. Sequels that don’t need to exist are a bugbear of mine, and LEGO Avengers is a picture-perfect example of one; from the recycled areas, to the lazy one-note levels that coast over entire films, to the predictable character roster and the lame jokes, it all smacks of a game cranked out to meet a contractual obligation. It’s telling that it sits in between the 2 LEGO Marvel Super Heroes games, the first of which is a huge and bombastic game, and the second of which I’m yet to review, but promises a bevy of wild time-and-universe hopping shenanigans. They both get to exult in a sense of freedom and creativity, while LEGO Marvel’s Avengers remains trapped by its source material.

2/7 – POOR.
A disappointment. Best not to bother with this unless you’re desperate for a naff time.

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