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Did you know you can get Marvel superhero branded reusable diapers? If you needed holiday gift giving advice. Perfect for the person in your life who worries that the time they spend rinsing infant diarrhoea out of cloth takes them away from thinking about the Incredible Hulk. I’m not saying superheroes are overexposed, or that top level entertainment media is so perversely fixated on them that you can’t even make a Scorsese-inspired gritty character piece unless you say it’s about the Joker, or that future civilizations will probably regard the Funkopop industry the same way we regard the extinct Easter Islanders who cut down all their trees to make more stone heads, or that I bet Benedict Cumberbatch insists on kissing with his eyes open – sorry, lost my train of thought there. Anyway, if you’re not quite satisfied with your superhero branded dinnerware and your superhero branded poo bags and your superhero branded gritty character pieces, now you can also enjoy superhero branded Fire Emblem Three Houses, in the form of Marvel Midnight Suns. It’s not quite as deep or pretty as Fire Emblem Three Houses but maybe if you promise to buy it for your four year old they’ll agree to start shitting in the fucking toilet again.
Well, that opening paragraph was all over the fucking place, but hey, I learned it from you, Marvel Midnight Suns. What we have here is a mission-based tactical combat game from the XCOM developers but instead of your squad being five randomly generated Scottish dudes whose names all start with Mc, they’re officially licensed Marvel superheroes. And when you get back to base, instead of sending them to training or upgrading their equipment, you take them on romantic dinner dates. And on top of that there’s this heavy theming around black magic and the occult, so the end result is a rather awkward The Punisher meets Harry Potter fan fiction mishmash in which we find ourselves thinking “Man, I should’ve taken Spider-Man mushroom picking in the haunted forest before we came out to neutralize this group of armed terrorists.” But let’s start by cherry picking the good bits. Like the core combat. It’s a card battler, so the ludonarrative dissonance might immediately throw some people when Captain Marvel and Blade dive into the thick of it and strike a pose and promptly stand around unable to move because none of them drew an attack card and Iron Man used their one shared movement point to go to the bathroom.
But I got quite into Slay the Spire recently so I was in the mood for this kind of shit. Here we most emphatically do NOT bring up Marvel Snap. Midnight Suns combat adds a very XCOM-like focus on positioning and environment. Ooh. XCOM with the X-Men. Then all home to play on the X-box and have some… X-benedict. Fuck you, I’m trying. I like the tactical depth you can employ. Use an attack card to move your dude behind a sofa so your other dude can knock an enemy into ballistic sofa range and your first dude can proceed to kick that sofa so far up the enemy’s arse that he’s spitting up throw pillows for weeks. I like how every round the game spawns in a smattering of really weak dudes who all die in one hit and are about as threatening to you as springs are to Sonic the Hedgehog and let you build combat momentum. It feels very superhero battle-y. Like these are the overconfident dudes who show up at the end of act one for the hero to kick around like the gingers at a Catholic orphanage before the serious threat shows up. I just wish there was a way to skip the fucking combat animations. Yeah, I’ve seen your fucking knee strike, Captain Marvel, it wasn’t that impressive the first time it did about enough damage to dislodge the enemy tank’s spectacles.
Also, the gamepad controls suck a big fat squirmy one, which wouldn’t be relevant on PC if it weren’t for the entire rest of the game that the combat element has to drag around like it got its cock ring trapped in the garbage disposal. Between missions you switch to a third person camera to explore your home base and interact with your Avengers harem, and using mouse and keyboard for that always feels like trying to walk a dog with the leash attached to your nose, so I found myself switching control methods as the game switched modes, which is about as good for immersion as a mischievous seal at a water birth. And while everything was fine in the combat when the camera was up high benevolently looking down on all the tonka toys fighting, when you get to ground level to start making moony eyes at them you notice the graphics are absolute knicker elastic. Blimey, I thought Gotham Knights had bland art, guess Marvel wasn’t about to be shown up by their old rival, because Midshite Bums looks like the fucking Sims. Everyone’s got unblemished skin and plasticine hairdoes. Tony Stark looks like a haunted action figure of Freddy Mercury. Which I could have gotten past if the characters had had a bit more life to them.
But when I took Blade on a fishing trip and we spent the whole time posing on the riverbank ineffectually dangling a rod like we’re at the urinal together, all I could think was “If I go in for the snog I’m going to create some kind of awkwardness singularity.” And as for the dialogue, I get the sense that off-screen Tony Stark has been knobbing his way around headquarters spreading that venereal disease that makes you try to force a quip into every single fucking line of dialogue, so it’s like being Joss Whedon at an audition, getting quipped at by tryhards at every turn while trying to figure out which one you want to sexually harass. The plot is, an evil witch lady joins up with Hydra, stock Marvel convenient bad guy factory, and they start hanging around on street corners making old people feel threatened, so the Avengers team up with a bunch of occultists in a haunted mansion to resurrect the evil witch lady’s child who is the only dude bad enough to bring her down or something, and that’s you, that’s your custom protagonist. It’s a South Park Stick of Truth sort of arrangement where you get to be the big MVP who shakes Captain America’s hand and pinches Scarlet Witch’s bum, but at the same time, it’s hard to project yourself.
‘Cos your dude is also this legendary monster slayer who’s been reverse Army of Darknessed into the present day and has an established history other characters keep talking about, so it’s yet another way in which the game feels confused and like it’s throwing too much at us at once. The whole package smacks of a corporate brainstorming session that went on too long. Hey, people like card battlers and superheroes and dating sims and Harry Potter, let’s force them all to live together, there might at the very least be a sitcom in it. Oh, but let’s also throw in live service style crafting with multiple currency number juggling because this is the triple-A sector and apparently we’ve just forgotten how to not do this bollocks. I can only assume the intended audience here is Marvel fans who want to live out their dreams of being invited to their favourite character’s birthday party but after they find themselves scouring the forest trying to pick the right flowers to craft the potion that converts attack dollars into skill dollars so they can upgrade Spider-Man’s ableist slur card for the next battle they might suddenly snap out of it and realise “Wait, how is any of this getting me closer to pegging Doctor Strange?”