DEVELOPER: Firaxis Games
PUBLISHER: 2K Games
REVIEWED ON: Xbox Series X from a copy purchased by the author.
Building an RPG around superheroes is not a task that should be taken lightly. The expectation of many players going into a comic book video game is that they want to experience the power fantasy that comes with having fantastical abilities and weapons, which is why many play in the action/adventure genre. Even when they dabble within the RPG space in games like X-Men Legends, Marvel Ultimate Alliance franchise and most recently with Gotham Knights, much of the moment-to-moment gameplay still comes from punching waves of recycled thugs and henchmen with the managing of stats and abilities almost being considered an afterthought.
A game like Marvel’s Midnight Suns on paper sounds like a tough sell. While is stars some of the biggest characters in pop culture, the player is mostly guiding them using a series of cards while maintaining tactical advantage of the battlefield. For those turned off by games like this, or even intimated by them, you can’t fault people for letting Marvel’s Midnight Suns fly under their radar or writing it off completely.
Doing so, however, would be a great disservice as Marvel’s Midnight Suns is one of the most exciting comic book games to come around in recent years due in large part to its accessible systems, staggering amount of depth, and the way it develops both its characters and storyline. The only things that threaten to undermine the package are visuals that feel a touch outdated, its willingness to embrace an obnoxious trend plaguing many modern games regarding its currency and a frankly shocking lack of accessibility options.
Hydra have resurrected Lilith, the mother of demons, in a further bid to spread their oppressive influence across the globe. These events line up with a prophecy that foretell the coming of a star called the Midnight Sun and the reemergence of an ancient and powerful dark god. To stop these events from coming to pass, a team known as the Midnight Suns find themselves aligned with the likes of the Avengers, Spider-Man, members of the X-Men, and Lilith’s own revived daughter, known only as the Hunter, who is the only one who has ever managed to stop her mother’s ambitions in the past.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns feels like a massive, game changing summer comic book crossover centered around one corner of the Marvel Universe that just so happens to intersect with other properties whether they fit or not. What comic fan after all hasn’t been annoyed to see their favorite ongoing lose momentum because it has to tie-in with an event? Since this game’s unveiling in 2021, the announcement that characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man would be sharing the spotlight with supernatural or magic characters such as Blade, Doctor Strange, Nico Minoru from the Runaways and Ghost Rider seemed like a disservice to characters that don’t get to headline many games.
To the credit of the development team at Firaxis Games though, the inclusion of members of the Avengers and the X-Men only serve to heighten the drama as characters like Tony Stark and Peter Parker, who are mostly used to handling technological threats, must come to gripes with the supernatural and letting others with more experience in much matters take point. At times it feels like the Midnight Suns are threatened to be eclipsed in their own game, but the story frequently places them in center stage even among some of Marvel’s heaviest hitters.
Helping to sell the world of Marvel’s Midnight Suns is an all star cast of performers that includes Yuri Lowenthal as Spider-Man, Brian Bloom as Captain America, Steve Blum as Wolverine and Josh Keaton as Tony Stark to name a few. Though this is a new take on the Marvel universe, having returning voice actors who wear these roles like a tailored costume aid in easing you into it.
Like X-Men Legends and Marvel’s Avengers before it, Marvel’s Midnight Suns smartly employs the use of an audience surrogate character, in this game’s case the Hunter, an original creation that the player builds themselves similar to the construction of your own Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. Having awoken from centuries of slumber, the Hunter knows little of the modern world or the company they now find themselves amongst thus making it reasonable that they would have questions about subjects like Blade’s origin and the emergence of mutants.
Character interactions just aren’t a means to flesh out the story either, as similar to recent entries in Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series or the Persona games, Marvel’s Midnight Suns has a social simulation element that offers rewards depending on how well you build out your friendships. It can be a little awkward having almost junior high level conversations with Captain Marvel whether someone likes them that way or not, but you’ll quickly find yourself wanting to talk to everyone you can, hanging out in the common room watching movies, attending book club meetings and making sure you hand everyone just the right gift. Doing so fosters trust in your team while also unlocking new costumes and rewards such as powerful new abilities you can take into missions.
The crux of Marvel’s Midnight Suns revolves around its tactical RPG skirmishes. In main story missions, you take the Hunter along with 2 other heroes or three heroes of your choosing in optional story missions. Every action you take, whether that’s attacking, healing, or defending depends on randomly drawn cards from individual decks you craft for your roster. As you use your cards, you build up Heroism, an in-battle currency of sorts, that determines which cards you can use. High level cards for example require at least 3 units of Heroism to activate, so you want to have them on hand, but overloading your hand with them means not being able to move depending on how your cards are shuffled.
At first it can seem complicated and overwhelming, but it doesn’t take long for you to really appreciate the depth that Firaxis has built here, and that goes for both experts and new comers to this type of game alike. Missions are always structured in such a way that certain characters get the spotlight, allowing you to really see what they can do. You may sideline Ghost Rider in favor of other partners, that is until you get into a mission wherein you learn that he can use an ability that turns downed foes into miniature bombs that explode and damage their allies. You have access to a large portion of the roster, but many are wisely held off as to not over whelm you with too much choice.
Positioning plays a big factor as you can also use elements of the environment to your advantage to set up massive KO chains within your opening turn. Spending Heroism allows you to hurl crates at enemies, leap off of boxes to deal massive damage or drop debris onto hapless foes. Winning not only comes down to what cards you pick, but also being mindful of your surroundings and there’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing your carefully placed plan unfold on screen. This is exemplified with brilliant use of control rumble as you really feel it in your hands when you whip a low level enemy into an explosive barrel that sets off an explosive chain reaction.
Winning conditions often come down to destroying all the enemies on screen, but there’s often other objectives like capturing specific enemies, preventing helicopters from taking off, accessing chests before they explode and defeating bosses like Venom and Sabretooth. The variety in Marvel’s Midnight Suns makes it such that you rarely get bored, even as you’ve downed what feels like your one hundredth Hydra goon or demon. Just as you get used to handling one group of enemies, they’re quickly swapped out with new ones that require new tactics like preventing a trio of witches from summoning reinforcements or destroying objects that damage a protected unit.
Like any RPG, winning battles rewards you with experience and, unfortunately like many blockbuster games in recent years, different currency types that are cumbersome to manage but a necessity as they can be used to buy new cards, upgrade pre-existing ones, and enhance your base, the Abbey. It can be a chore juggling a handful of points that function in the same way, but there’s just as much to do outside of combat as within it that it starts to bother you less and less. From exploring the grounds to unlocking new hangouts that open up social activities, gathering collectibles, and solving mysteries that award you with abilities that aid in your exploration of the Abbey, it’s a testament to Marvel’s Midnight Suns‘ design that you’ll put off being a superhero to merely exist in the team’s home. Of course there’s also Charlie the dog who is a good girl that needs to be appreciated every day too.
Managing the systems in Marvel’s Midnight Suns can be a lot, but there’s a lot of enjoyment that comes from planning out how you want to maximize your earnings. Upgrading the Forge where Tony Stark and Doctor Strange spend their time expands the rewards from coils – essentially treasure chests – won in battle, while giving funds to Blade’s training yard can help you heal injured heroes faster and add modifications to your cards. There’s always a lot to do in Marvel’s Midnight Suns, and the loops within loops will suck up hours of your life if you let it.
Presently, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is only available on the current generation of hardware and PC. While the cast of superheroes look terrific in profile and in especially in action when utilizing their abilities, the same cannot be said of their out of costume appearances in the Abbey. It’s almost as if Firaxis deliberately put things like the Stark Industries logo and the Empire State University crest on Peter Parker’s hoodie else they would just like person with mustache and generic white male. You spend a lot of time in the common area of the Abbey living and bonding with famous Marvel characters, but often they give off the vibe of early year Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 offerings that share similarities with this game. Should this get a sequel, it would be great if the art skewed more to the comic book roots of the source material as a means to alleviate this.
For a game that involves reading cards, statistics, and engaging in conversations, the lack of accessibility options in Marvel’s Midnight Suns is unforgiveable. For review, this was played on a non-4K capable display, and too often I was required to get extremely close to the screen to read with a card could do because the text was so tiny, bringing back memories of Dead Rising being played on a CRT TV in 2006. Subtitles are similarly hard to read, and there’s no option to change their color, put borders behind them or make them bigger. Following in the steps of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which was nominated in the innovation in accessibility category at the Game Awards in 2021, such things should have been taken into account and hopefully they can be fixed with a patch in the future.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns has a few issues that hinder an otherwise exceptional game, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from trying it, that is, unless the lack of options for things like text and subtitles make it inaccessible to you. It’s one of the most unique comic book games to come along in quite some time, and once you get a handle on its plethora of systems, you’ll find yourself losing dozens of hours building digital friendships, crafting the perfect deck that caters your playstyle, and exploring every inch of the Abbey for collectibles. Marvel’s Midnight Suns is another win for the new era of Marvel video games and an easy contender for game of the year.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is available now on the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X and PC.
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