Despite one's personal feelings on the Marvel universe (or comic books in general) you cannot deny the sheer rejuvenation in popularity for the series, culminating in the recently released Avengers film. Marvel (via Wideload Games) has decided to take advantage of this popularity with its release of Avengers Initiative [$1.99], a new title for iOS. While Initiative looks stunning and models its gameplay after the incredibly successful Infinity Blade series, a distinct lack of innovation coupled with a weary reliance on IAP make it fall disappointingly short.
Avengers Initiative puts you in the role of Bruce Banner's green alter-ego as he's sent on a mission by Nick Fury to bag and tag a variety of super-villains that have escaped from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s high-tech prison. Initiative's story has some interesting facets due mostly to its Marvel underpinnings but for the most part the tale is fairly mundane with Hulk moving from location to location battling generic minions while looking for the next villain, with the occasional cutscene thrown in. Supplementals like dossiers that include additional info on the main players is a nice touch, but fan service only goes so far.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Avengers Initiative takes a large amount of inspiration from Infinity Blade. When battling an enemy, Hulk can attack and parry via swipes, while virtual buttons allow you to block and dodge. Take down a baddie and you earn experience and currency, while losing offers you the choice of restarting the battle (assuming you have a 'recharge pack' which allows you to replay a battle) or starting the game over with your upgrades, money and experience (think generations). You'll quickly learn that a large part of the gameplay revolves around restarting the game over and over in order to battle enemies and gain enough cash and experience to make a difference.
Some small additions to the formula include the addition of ranged attacks which are timed dodges that afford you the opportunity to counter-attack, and the occasional environment-based attack that can have Hulk heave his opponent through walls or over bridges. Other than these minor tweaks, you're left with a barebones battle system that most iOS gamers have already played with.
The fighting system isn't the only aspect Avengers takes from Infinity Blade. The leveling system, currency, augment (i.e. stat-enhancing gems) and upgrade system all borrow from the series. Unfortunately, while most would consider that a good thing, the features just feel off in Avengers. Experience is gained rather slowly and doesn't have any neat gimmicks like the weapon-based experience system of Infinity Blade. Meanwhile, the augment system is relatively barebones and doesn't offer much in terms of stat variety.
In addition, the currency doesn't accumulate fast enough for my taste, while the upgrade system, which lets you purchase powers and costumes (which offer different stat increases) doesn't feature nearly as many actual upgrades as it should. Even worse, what little you can purchase is way too expensive. It all leads to an experience that'll force you to replay the game repeatedly until you earn enough experience and currency to purchase the upgrades needed to advance past whatever boss is currently in your way. While there's nothing wrong with that, the inclusion of a ton of IAP, including the ability to purchase levels for actual cash makes the game feel more like a cash ploy than it really should be.
Other areas that are disappointing include unnecessarily long load times both when launching the game and while playing. As mentioned earlier, there are certain battles that feature environmental triggers that let you throw enemies out of buildings or off rails. Unfortunately, when you do activate these triggers, a loading screen will pop up for a few seconds before playing you back into the battle in the new environment. It's jarring and interrupts the experience. Even the game's 'Marvel XP' social platform seems plagued with load times, most likely due to its website-based system that's launched in-game.
Fortunately, not all is lost with Avengers Initiative as the game is one of the more graphically rich titles that I've played on iOS. Environments and character models are detailed and retina-enabled graphics for the latest devices make are extremely well-done. Even the battle animations are well-done for what are essentially scripted battle scenes repeated. I did encounter the occasional slow-down, but for the most part the Avengers ran smooth and looked great.
Alas, pretty graphics and rich fan service aren't enough to carry Avengers Initiative on its own. Granted, Initiative is a perfectly capable Infinity Blade clone for folks that are fans of the Marvel universe. However, for everyone else there's really nothing here from a gameplay perspective that hasn't been seen before or implemented better. It's unfortunately because I'm a big fan of Marvel and was looking forward to this title. Hopefully the subsequent games in the series make some improvements.
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