Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is more or less everything I'd hoped for as a fighting game nerd, but more casual players might find themselves wanting more.
The fact that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite exists at all feels like something of a miracle. When Disney were pursuing their own developments in games it seemed like that partnership might be done, with previous MVC games even yanked from digital store fronts. Then Disney got out of games entirely, and the potential for one company to sweep in and buy the rights to all Marvel characters became the seemingly more likely threat. It all got worked out, though - and here we are. There's a new Marvel vs. Capcom. It's really good to be able to type those words.
There are catches associated with this timing however, and these things have been sticking points for Infinite as it's been promoted. Marvel has a deliberate de-emphasis on characters they don't have the rights to in film, for instance, so characters from X-Men and Fantastic Four (both appallingly managed by Fox in the movie space) are not-so-mysteriously absent from Infinite. That's noted, it is what it is, and I won't belly ache about it further. On the Capcom side of things, it's been a rough couple of years for fighting games too, with Street Fighter 5 launching in a messy state and taking a while to get its act together despite mountains of potential.
Well, here's the good news: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is no Street Fighter 5 at launch. It's a solid package with quite a lot to it, and I can already see that this is going to be incredibly exciting game at tournaments - but there are catches, and depending on what type of player you are your mileage may vary.
"Infinite is solid package with quite a lot to it, but there are catches, and depending on what type of player you are your mileage may vary."
Let's start out by covering the modes, since that's where SF5 fell most afoul of angry fans. So, Infinite comes with a full story mode in the style pioneered by Mortal Kombat 9 - cinematic cutscenes that transition into in-game fights in a variety of conditions. I'm going to write about the story separately and in more detail later this week, but what you really need to know is that it mixes up the MVC formula a little in battle from time to time and has some great quips and nods - whoever wrote this had great fun bringing these characters together.
That means that it's not always two-on-two, and the battle objective isn't always to defeat the enemy. Sometimes you'll face endless waves of enemies while a timer counts down. Other times you'll have to defeat a certain number of enemies - way more than two - but do so quickly so a pressing doomsday clock doesn't tick down to zero. A few fights feature an endless stream of drones as the tag partner to a main, named character who it's your objective to defeat. These battles aren't the most inventive, but they do mix things up a little.
The difficulty remains relatively tame throughout but ramps up in a big way towards the end (including a final boss that basically requires you steal health from its lackeys using a specific move), though in a nice touch whenever you lose the fight there's a one-button difficulty lowering option alongside retry. This is a lovely touch, though it's more frustrating when you've died because opponents are given artificially high amounts of 'super armor' which just makes your attacks bounce off.
It's worth lowering the difficulty all the same if MVC's combo-heavy system overwhelms because the story has a lot to offer. Characters interact in fun little ways, and some of the cutest touches come in things like pre and post battle dialogue or even in the tone of how characters call each other into battle, like the overwrought, slightly mocking way Spider-Man calls Frank West (whose original, true voice actor returns) in to tag.
The voicework and writing broadly earns its keep with a pulpy comic-like story that throws as many greatest hits from both companies in your face as quickly as possible. It'll take you around three to five hours depending on how you fare with the fights - the cutscenes alone are a little under two hours.
Once the story is done you've got a few other options. In the Battle menu you can fight online, in a classic arcade mode ladder of battles, plus VS modes against a second player or the CPU. I know this feature set sounds basic, but some of these options weren't in SF5 at launch. Training mode is exactly what you'd expect, with training dummies and recording options. It's been impossible to test online pre-launch, but if it turns out to be anything other than rock solid we will report back.
Mission Mode consists of a series of more interactive tutorials - these start out simple with stuff like how to move, tag and combo, but then ramps up into a series of ten character-specific challenges for each character in the game. This is a decent amount of content, and the missions are actually well constructed to give you some combos you can take into matches - it's a useful learning tool.
There's 30 characters in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite's roster (15 for each side) and 16 stages, with each stage a mash-up of a Marvel and Capcom location - Spider-Man's New York and Final Fight's Metro City, for instance, or Resident Evil's Umbrella and Hydra's A.I.M. The story mode has a few tantalizing DLC teases, with characters like Black Panther and a lady from Monster Hunter putting in brief non-playable appearances. Six DLC characters (Sigma, Black Panther, Monster Hunter, Winter Soldier, Black Widow and Venom) will launch this year, incidentally - a pretty quick update speed.
This content spread looks pretty good and the game honestly feels like a joy to play. The switch back to two-on-two and the decision to go with a strict six-button setup (two punches, two kicks, a tag button and a dedicated infinity stone button) makes all the difference - it's streamlined from the madness of MVC3 nicely without being lessened.
Two characters and no assists does remove a lot from the game, but the addition of the six infinity stones and their unique abilities adds a significant wrinkle to team composition and battle approach - your choice of stone seriously changes the way your team will play. Pile this on top of the way more active character tag options and you have a really dynamic-feeling game with fantastic combo potential.
"The addition of the six infinity stones and their unique abilities adds a significant wrinkle to team composition and battle approach - your choice of stone seriously changes the way your team will play."
There's a ridiculous amount of depth hidden away here, and as far as being added to Capcom's eSports efforts go MVCI should prove to be a thrilling competitive game. That of course pushes into more casual play too - from button mashing to mid-tier online play it seems like the systems add up to something special, and I'll go ahead and say it: I think the systems here are could well be streets ahead of MVC3.
The catch, as mentioned in the headline, is that it all feels a little... well, cheap? Putting that way also feels reductive, but it's true: something about this game doesn't have the air of a triple-A game about it, and it's especially strange when Street Fighter 5 absolutely does. The UI has been mocked for looking a bit like a mobile game, and yeah, it sort of does. Many of the character models and animations are noticeably recycled from MVC3, except a change in art style from bold comic-book style outlines and colors to a move movie-like, subdued look doesn't seem to mesh with those models as well as Capcom had perhaps intended - every single one of the all-new characters seems to look and fit in better. These sort of things hang over an otherwise good game like a bit of a dark cloud.
A lot of times it's the little things. Let's take the story mode, for instance: it transitions from clearly video-based scenes into a loading screen before you get to a real-time fight. Couldn't the level be loaded in the background while the video plays? Loads of games do this. Or there's what happens after a versus match is over - a single full-page menu, brilliantly ugly in its rushed simplicity, offering rematch, character select and quit options. Incredibly, after years of fans crying to Capcom about SF5 lacking a player 2 rematch option, Infinite has shipped with the same flaw. It's weird.
These little things are all over Infinite, and it all feels all the more noticeable given that this game is launching in a year with the Mortal Kombat team launched Injustice 2, another superhero fighter mash-up that comparatively has more content and more polish - even if its core gameplay is nowhere near as excellent as MVC's. It's frustrating, and a shame.
Frustrated though I may be, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is several times the game Street Fighter 5 was at launch, and I'm very aware of the fact that Capcom really, really have sorted that game out, even if it probably needs a relaunch for people to truly notice. This is a great-feeling, fast-paced and satisfying tag fighter that makes great use of Capcom franchises and the slices of Marvel that were available to the developers.
I still recommend Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite then, in spite of its slightly cheap feel. It gets the important stuff right, with its tag-team combat feeling as fresh, crazy and exciting as ever - and as a bonus, this game clearly has a bright competitive future too. If Capcom's record with SF5 is anything to go by the game might see significant improves over time also, but understand going in that the budget here isn't going to feel Marvel Cinematic Universe appropriate. MVCI is more of a B-movie, but it rocks that style with confidence, at least.