Square Enix has high hopes for Marvel’s Avengers. It licenses one of the most popular franchises in the world and is following in the webbed footsteps of the rapturously received Marvel’s Spider-Man. Yet, its unveiling earlier this year didn’t wow fans as they’d expected. The most common criticism was that the character models looked ‘off.’
I agreed with the criticism, with the heroes in the game looking vaguely like the MCU actors we know and love, but just different enough to avoid licensing issues. The result ended up squarely in the uncanny valley, giving what otherwise seems like an expensive project a veneer of cheapness. Now, however, it appears that the publisher has listened to this criticism and they’re planning to tweak the character models prior to release (and it seem there’ve been minor changes in at least the Black Widow model since the original reveal).
Here’s a quote from their spokesman about some of the changes they’re making in the late stages of development:
“By changes, we’re talking about polish. What we’re doing is we are continuing to add detail to their character models, we’re improving the lighting, we’re improving the skin shading. So, what you’re hopefully seeing is the characters continuing to look better as we get closer to launch. But in terms of changing character designs, that’s not currently what we’re looking at.”
Well, fair enough, but improved subsurface scattering on Tony Stark’s face isn’t going to make him look less like a bootleg MCU toy. Judging by the gameplay demo and trailer it appears that Square Enix wants to have their cake and eat it. And by that we mean ride off the character recognition of the MCU without paying for likeness rights. Their line is that they’re presenting their own original take on the Marvel Universe, but that’s a difficult case to make when their designs are clearly echoing the MCU ones with only minor tweaks.
The weird thing is that they don’t have to look far for an example of how to do this right. Insomniac Games’ Marvel’s Spider-Man dealt up an entirely new Spider-Man universe populated by brand new versions of the characters, and no one looked at their Peter Parker and saw a bootleg Tom Holland. Add to that the fact that while the graphics are very flashy, the gameplay in Square’s project looks to be on rails (at least in this opening mission) and fans have a right to be a bit suspicious of what’s in store.
I’m sure Marvel’s Avengers will at least be a playable and diverting experience, but Marvel’s Spider-Man (and Rocksteady’s Arkham series) proved that superhero games can be among the best the medium has to offer. So fingers crossed this turns out alright.