Early 2017 saw quite the big announcement: Square Enix and Marvel joined together in a "multi-game partnership." It’s an important move - despite the monumental success of the Marvel movies, videogames set within its heroic universe have never much stretched beyond cash-grab mobile tie-ins and a cheap MMO. This new deal means numerous triple-A quality Marvel games from one of the world’s biggest publishers, the first of which is The Avengers Project.
Related: the biggest upcoming games on PC.
But what is The Avengers Project? In all honesty we don’t know. There’s been a trailer that reveals very little and no subsequent info from either Square Enix or Marvel. Thankfully, the Marvel universe has been going for several decades though, allowing us to draw lines and make guesses. So let’s do that. Speculators, assemble!
What is The Avengers Project release date?
Nobody knows right now when The Avengers project game will release. Square Enix and Marvel have promised to reveal more in 2018, so sometime late next year seems a sensible bet. That would match the cadence we’ve seen many big-budget games adopt recently from reveal to release. But it could easily be 2019; triple-A game development is not a speedy process and delays are common.
Why didn’t this assemble sooner?
With 14 hugely profitable films and six TV shows based on Marvel comics, it's strange we’ve had to wait this long for a big-budget Avengers game. In the time since the first Iron Man movie, we’ve had no less than five huge games based on DC comics. Why haven’t Marvel followed suit?
There is a reason. After licensing some truly bad film tie-ins based on the first Captain America and Thor films, the comics giant decided to stop making games and find a new direction.
“The Avengers game will come when we have the right partner, that has the right vision, that has the time to develop a strong, competitive triple-A title and wants to do it right,” TQ Jefferson, Marvel’s head of games, explains in an interview with IGN back in 2014.
That plan has persevered. The first new game Marvel announced was the PS4-exclusive Spider-Man game, currently in production by Ratchet and Clank developers Insomniac. At the time of the 2016 E3 announcement, Marvel’s vice president of games Jay Ong reiterated the publisher’s commitment.
"The question is, 'How we can get there?',” Ong asks, referring to the search for triple-A quality. “The thing we landed on is to be really selective with who we partner with. Extremely selective. Right now I would say that out of every ten opportunities we look at, we maybe do one."
One of those ten opportunities Marvel looked at was Square Enix. And so The Avengers project was born.
What is The Avengers Project?
The Avengers Project is a super-human team initiative first developed by the Strategic Homeland Intervention... Ah, wait, not that one. Different file.
The Avengers Project is the current moniker assigned to a currently nameless game in development at Crystal Dynamics. As the working title suggests, the game will focus around The Avengers; Marvel’s A-team of superheroes that protect the world from criminals, terrorism, and intergalactic threats.
The Avengers Project will be a "third-person cover-based action adventure game" with "stealth, player weapons and tools, cover and melee-based mechanics", according to a job advertisement from developers Crystal Dynamics. That's all we know so far, but Square Enix and Marvel will reveal more information this year. But it’s probably a safe bet to say the studios will have been picked based on the strengths of their previous work. Crystal Dynamics, lead studio on this game, are the creators of the most recent Tomb Raider games. Unsurprisingly, they are cinematic, action-heavy games with plenty of set-pieces - just like a Marvel comic or film.
On the first day of 2018, creative director of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Shawn Escayg, posted on Instagram an image of The Avengers logo, along with a message “to new Adventures.” This came just days before announcing his departure from Uncharted developers Naughty Dog after seven years working at the studio. If these two bits of information lineup as they appear to, Escayg could be joining the Avengers Project team. Considering Naughty Dog’s reputation for cinematic blockbuster-style games, his skills would certainly suit a Marvel game.
Working in collaboration with Crystal Dynamics are Eidos Montreal, who have left behind the Deus Ex series in order to work on the new Marvel games. It currently appears that Crystal Dynamics are the lead developers, so Eidos may potentially contribute less to the ideas stage of the game, but there’s always the possibility that a little of the choice and RPG systems for which the Deus Ex games are so well known could bleed over. It would certainly make sense for an upgradeable powers system to be in the game, considering the nature of Marvel characters.
Which characters are in The Avengers project?
While short, the teaser trailer offers a glimpse of who we can expect to see in The Avengers Project. Those broken glasses are clearly Bruce Banner’s, and the destroyed containment cell behind them must have been holding his alter-ego: The Hulk. The following shot is of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, meaning we can tick the Asgardian god of thunder off the register. We also get to see Iron Man’s repulsor gauntlet and Captain America’s shield.
These four characters make up the core team roster, and we’d never expect to see an Avengers game without them. Hopefully some less typical heroes will make an appearance as we learn more about the story.
What is The Avengers project story?
Every shot in the trailer depicts some kind of tragedy. Cap’s shield is buried beneath chunks of rubble, presumably in a collapsed building where a severed power line is generating those raining sparks. Iron Man’s gauntlet is stripped of its hot rod-red paintwork, the repulsor light fading away in the rain. It appears that The Hulk has been locked up in some kind of facility. Clearly something bad has happened.
The trailer is remarkably similar to a scene from The Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which Tony Stark sees a dark vision of the future where all the Avengers are dead. While unconfirmed so far, it’s believed that Tony is seeing what could happen should he fail to stop Thanos, one of the Marvel Universe’s most notorious villains. Could this be the influence for the story Crystal Dynamics plan to tell? Since Thanos’s appearance in the first Avengers movie he’s been featured far more prominently in the comics and cartoon shows, and there’s no reason why he couldn’t be a game antagonist.
Another potential influence could be The Avengers Disassembled, a story arc from the comics in 2004. It saw another of Marvel’s big bads, Doctor Doom, manipulate Scarlet Witch into destroying the Avengers in retaliation for the humiliating defeats he’d suffered at their hands. By the end of the story two heroes have been killed, the team has been wrenched apart, and a new roster of characters take on the Avengers mantle.
If I were to guess at what kind of story direction Crystal Dynamics plan to take, the clue is probably in the #reassemble hashtag that Square Enix are using. Seems like we’ll be taking on the role of a character with the aim of bringing back together the heroes who once made up the Avengers.
Who could be that hero, though? Crystal Dynamics’ expertise with strong female characters could be a great start for a Black Widow-centric game. Or perhaps they will put lesser-known women like Kate Bishop or Captain Marvel front-and-center? There’s also the chance that players could create their own superhero, with Eidos Montreal offering their RPG expertise.
Is The Avengers project part of the MCU?
The realistic style of the teaser trailer looks very similar to the visuals in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but will the game tie into the films? While unconfirmed, the answer is probably ‘no’. The original announcement said the game will introduce a universe gamers can play in "for years to come." This seems to suggest a self-contained version of the Marvel Universe akin to the one that Rocksteady created for the Batman Arkham games. Such a move would allow them significantly more creative freedom, as not everything has to line up with established canon.
The vibranium shield in the trailer is also a slightly different design to that used by Captain America in the films. That’s enough evidence, right? What do you mean, he can change his shield?
What are your predictions for Square and Marvel’s The Avengers project? Offer up your own thoughts in the comments below.