Developer: Wideload Games
If you are like me, you have probably spent the better part of the year salivating over the plethora of comic book movies that have been released in cinema. Earlier this year, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ have put a darker spin on a comic book hero’s journey. But for me, the most astoundingly entertaining release this year was ‘The Avengers’ – a movie so breathtakingly exciting and witty it reminded me of an older superhero tradition which Avengers Initiative seeks to continue.
Off the back of DVD/Blu-Ray release, Avengers Initiative is the first episode in a series of games from Marvel on the iOS system. You play as the Hulk in a swipe-to-fight style of play as he smashes his was through a myriad of enemies from the Marvel Universe. Counter to the movies portraying Hulk simply as a beast, the story characterises Hulk closer to comic books showcasing a deeper and wittier side to the most unpredictable of the Avengers. Because of this, the story initially shows some potential.
A cosmic event has struck Earth and disabled a S.H.I.E.L.D. prison, allowing a group of supervillains to escape and cause havoc. The Hulk’s mission is to do what he does best: smash. You simply work your way through individual fights pounding down anything from Skrulls to Zzzax, allowing for them to be collected by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The game features a graphically brilliant world that, while restricting in its ability to interact or explore, offers an appropriate setting for a Hulk fight. Destruction meets Hulk everywhere, but he leaves even more destruction in his wake.
The fighting system is similar to Infinity Blade – making use of swipe combos, deflections, sidesteps and rage abilities to defeat enemies. At the end of fights, you gain experience allowing you to level up certain abilities and stats. You also gain ISO-8 – an in-game currency that allows you to buy medi-paks, items and costumes for the Hulk. There is also an in game option to buy ISO-8 using real-world currency, which is almost a necessity since you receive such little reward for each fight that buying a costume is almost insurmountable.
Fights also allow you to interact with the environment around you – eg throwing a villain through a wall – but the use of this function usually leads to a loading screen, which fractures the fight experience and becomes increasingly annoying as your gaming session goes on. Some more features that fracture the experience is an enemy stepping away from a fight to shake off a hit and the screens being snail-like in speed. While the stepbacks are initially surprising and different, it soon becomes tedious as a huge part of the game is replaying from the start to gain enough experience to beat the Super Villains – meaning it takes much longer to defeat an enemy than it should.
The fights themselves require a lot of skill and timing, so you’ll find yourself taking a beating earlier on – but don’t fret. The game offers a lot of advice as your progress and although the enemies get harder to read, it prepares you in a way that feels organic. At first, the villains follow simple fighting patterns that are easy to predict (as they often repeat), but the combos quickly become complex which forces the fight to become quicker and a harder, yet thrilling strain on your reflexes. As your power increases, your enemies scale up – meaning (to my disappointment) you never really get to pound a low-level Skrull into the dirt.
A brutally amusing aspect of the game came from the finishing moves cut scenes: wherein Kronons have their skulls crushed, Skrulls were suplexed into the ground and Wendigo got punched into the stratosphere. It adds an engaging reward, especially at the end of a hard fight you may have had to replay several times.
The dialogue in the game is often unexpectedly funny. For example, when I was making notes and just left the Hulk standing, he commented “hmmm, quiet introspection is getting me nowhere.” But the characters’ witty interactions only made me notice the lack of depth in the story rather than contributing to the games as a whole.
The iOS system is still restrictive in its deliverance of swipe-to-fight style games – or at least hasn’t been utilised in a wholly comfortable way. The most difficult thing I find with these games is actually gripping the touch screen. I found it hard to position my hands while playing this game so that I could fully interact with all the functions in a skilled way, often switching the placement of my hands and dropping my iPad on my bed for an awkward swiping movement.
While on average this game is fun and challenging, it is not an immersive experience. The sub-par story line as well as the slow-loading screens make for a sometimes repetitive gameplay. But seeing as this is the first feature in an attempt at episodic storytelling, it could be developed as the releases continue. The storylines could be extended and have more depth, as you gain the ability to play as Iron Man, Captain America and Thor.
Because of the above, I would recommend the game to anyone interested in the swipe-to-fight genre – not only because you will receive each episode for free after buying this one, but also because the battles require enough skill to be an engaging experience. And seriously, who doesn’t want to see how they integrate a Captain America shield throw or Iron Man’s full arsenal into the swipe-to-fight gameplay? For the time being, I’ll have to settle with making the Hulk angry – and trust me, I do like when he’s angry.