At the end of the year, the gaming industry surprises over and over again. Then Sonic Frontiers will be good beyond doubt. Then The Callisto Protocol from the executive producer of Dead Space will be a disappointment, despite high expectations. And now – a surprise! — Marvel’s Midnight Suns turned out to be almost the most interesting release of the month, which I would without hesitation add to the list of the best games of the year. Although at times the novelty seems overly ambitious, this is what attracts it, constantly surprising and impressing in scope.
Everyone should have such friends in Marvel’s Midnight Suns
The Firaxis Games team, known for XCOM in recent years, could take a working template, swap out operatives for superheroes, and cash in on Marvel fans. Instead, the studio made an unusual game. First of all, Midnight Suns wants to be compared with Persona and Fire Emblem – a series that combines a life simulator and a turn-based combat system.
In the game’s universe, the terrorist organization Hydra revived Lilith to conquer the world. Doctor Strange calls on her sister, known as Caretaker, to resurrect Hunter/Huntress (depending on your choice), Lilith’s son/daughter. This is a completely new character for the Marvel Universe, whose appearance you customize in a not very rich editor. About 300 years ago, it was the protagonist who was able to defeat his mother, so now his help is needed.
For a game from such a studio, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is surprisingly full of cutscenes and dialogue. Moreover, the production is excellent – sometimes it seems that you are watching game versions of scenes from films. The impression is slightly spoiled by weak facial animation, but otherwise it’s hard to find fault. It is interesting to follow the dreams of the protagonist, in which he communicates with Lilith, the quarrels and reconciliation of other characters, their attempts to save friends. There are 12 playable heroes, and in addition to them there are others, such as Bruce Banner, Wanda and Crossbones. They appear for a reason – Lilith is trying to lure some of them to her side.
But much more attention in the plot is paid not to moments when superheroes shoot down helicopters and in other ways demonstrate strength, but to calmer episodes. After each mission, you return to the Abbey – the castle that serves as the headquarters for the team. There, the heroes not only discuss plans to save the world, but also live their own lives. Peter Parker can go weightlifting, Tony Stark and Doctor Strange are busy researching. Someone reads a book, someone hangs out in a bar. And oddly enough, such everyday life is addictive.
Obviously inspired by Japanese games, the authors Marvel’s Midnight Suns did not make superheroes dummy that you carry with you on missions, but offer to be friends with them. Icons constantly appear above their heads, indicating their desire to talk. Niko will tell you about her mother who tried to kill her, the Ghost Rider will want to show his car closer – there are plenty of topics for discussion. Someone will ask for advice, someone will want to get closer to someone through you. There are secondary quest chains that are easy to miss if you do not respond to messages on the local social network. And in the evenings, you can choose with whom to watch a movie, play on the console or meditate.
All this, it seems, should only interfere – in the game from Firaxis you want to participate in battles, and not wag your tongue. But in fact, I did not want to leave the Abbey until I got the most out of it. The dialogue is excellently voiced, full of references to old comics and movies, plus the winning idea was the mix of superheroes that everyone knows and characters that many will hear about for the first time. Magik (Ulyana Rasputina from Russia) has only appeared in one movie outside of comics, Niko in one television series, and that doesn’t make them any less interesting than the mouth-watering Spider-Man or Captain America.
The friendship indicator affects the receipt of additional bonuses, such as crushing joint blows in battles, but this is far from all that is available in the Abbey. Coils collected on missions can be exchanged at the forge for new combat cards (more on this later), and for the artifacts found, you unlock room upgrades that offer new opportunities and give valuable passive boosts. Upgrade your cards in the yard and spar with your friends, making their next mission easier. In the chests, the contents of which are periodically updated, you find new coloring pages for the character’s clothes. And much, much more – even ten hours later, training screens pop up, but there is no confusion. On the contrary, you join this rhythm more and more willingly and try to spend every day with benefit.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns – cards on the table
This is only half of Marvel’s Midnight Suns. Another, no less important, is the battles. Don’t expect anything like XCOM: superheroes don’t hide behind cover and have no chance of hitting because they always hit. This is where comparisons to Into the Breach and Slay the Spire come in. The first is reminiscent of the ability to use the environment and repel opponents, and the second is a system of ability cards.
Each battle takes place in a small location where three superheroes fight several enemies. Your characters go first, then it’s your opponents’ turn. You cannot move freely around the field – only one hero can be moved in one move. But you can use three cards at once – and here the fun begins.
All characters have a deck of eight cards, which means you take 24 abilities with you on your next outing. At the beginning of the battle, five random cards are given out – if you’re not lucky, you can get five tricks for one character at once, although I never had this. There are attack cards (almost always damage) and skill cards (mostly heal, draw extra cards, give bonuses, etc.), and the more often you use them, the more heroism points you get. These points are required to use heroic cards that are stronger than the rest, and they are also spent on interacting with the environment – more on that later.
Although as you progress through you open a lot of new and diverse cards, the developers tried to stick to one theme in the case of each character. Blade, for example, causes bleeding attacks and steals health from enemies. Niko’s cards change description every time they fall into his hand: either she deals 28 damage, then 84; sometimes imposes one negative effect on the opponent, then another. Captain America gets tougher with increased armor and taunts enemies to hit him instead of others.
That is, the card system in Marvel’s Midnight Suns offers the player random options for action. There are quite a few keywords on the cards: some moves knock back, others reduce the defense of the enemy, others allow you to attack several targets in a row … Although only three cards can be used per turn, cards with the Quick keyword allow you to deceive the system – if you use them to eliminate the target, draw It does not count. And in one turn, you can replace two cards in your hand, which adds a little more options. Iron Man actively uses this mechanic – his cards get bonus perks if you try to replace them.
In general, the rules are standard for a card game: what cards fall out, play like that. You know that there is a Captain America card in the deck that deals damage to all enemies in a small area, and now it would come in handy. But it does not exist, and there is no substitute for it. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other options. For example, you push one enemy into another, both take damage, use a card with the word Quick to finish off, then activate some other ability – as a result, you deal with opponents even more efficiently, and even increase the character’s level (health and damage increase along with it from attacks).
The knockbacks mentioned above are the most fun part of the game. Remember how in Into the Breach you could deal with insectoids by throwing them into the water? Here you can do the same. The main character is full of abilities related to repulsion, the Ghost Rider can create abysses, and the maps have holes in the floor, or the ability to throw someone off the roof. This seems to be the only mechanic with “percentages” – not the fact that the target will fall and die. But if you manage to pull off such a trick with an opponent who has a lot of health, save a lot of time and effort.
You can push not only into the abyss. Electric generators can stun the target, exploding barrels will deal a lot of damage, even when colliding with an ordinary lamppost, the opponent will be weakened. Some enemies (especially bosses) make area attacks, but not immediately, but after a warning. Why not send the enemy to a dangerous point? If there are no knockback cards, you can spend heroism points on direct interaction with the environment. Push a box into the crowd, throw a box at the poor fellow, or jump onto an object and smash the enemy to the ground with a strong blow. This does not always work out, since the character and the enemy must be in suitable positions, but here a lot depends on your actions on the field.
Fights in Marvel’s Midnight Suns do not get bored even after tens of hours. Characters are completely different from each other in skills, random cards force you to approach battles differently, and it’s always fun to think through actions and squeeze the most out of the next move. Plus, the developers regularly add additional modifiers: either shells fall at different points on the map, or you need to save a prisoner or grab a target that is under protection, or you are asked to destroy a helicopter that will fly away in four moves. So, even when the game forces you to complete side missions in order to access the story ones, you don’t consider it a grind – you are only happy to solve another puzzle.
It turns out to be an amazing thing. When you run around the Abbey, upgrade cards and communicate with superheroes, you don’t want to say goodbye to this part of the game and go on a mission. When you participate in turn-based battles, you do not want them to end quickly, because there are a lot of exciting mechanics in them. As a result, you switch between two equally beautiful halves of the game and get tremendous pleasure from both, which does not disappear anywhere after tens of hours – Midnight Suns is very large. Perhaps there are minor flaws here, but there are so many advantages that I don’t even want to think about the minuses.
Pros: unexpected mixture of life simulator and turn-based strategy; an interesting story with spectacular videos; a mountain of opportunities to get to know superheroes better and listen to fascinating dialogues; I like to spend time at the headquarters and improve the characteristics of the team; exciting turn-based battles; characters differ from each other in abilities and allow you to solve problems in different ways.
Cons: facial animation is so-so.