Traveller's Tales have been ambitious with this, the latest in the chain of LEGO games which stretch back into the mists of time. Promising as it does to include content from Avengers Assemble, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Iron Man 3 and Thor:The Dark World, there should be no shortage of things to do in LEGO Marvel's Avengers. Add to this the irreverent humour that TT invariably bring to their games, and the stage is set for a Hulk-sized slice of fun. But does it deliver?
Straight off the bat, you are dropped into the beginning of the second Avengers movie, Age of Ultron. The team are assaulting a castle, and you have to take control of pairs of characters on the way, switching as you go. Straight away, if you've played another Lego game, a cosy sense of familiarity will settle over you, like a fluffy blanket made of happy memories. Soon you'll be jumping, fighting, shooting and even flying around as you make progress toward the goal at the end of the level. A new feature makes itself known at this point, with actual snippets of dialogue from the films being placed into the game. So, when Iron Man defeats an enemy, he'll pop out one of the one liners from his repertoire from the movie. At first, this is really interesting and helps to draw you in, adding to the immersiveness of the experience. However, in some of the longer fights (such as where you have to defeat 20 Ultron sentries later in the game) it can start to grate a little. "Double Team" attacks are also introduced, with these seeing the two characters you are currently controlling teaming up in interesting and amusing ways, such as when Hulk bops Iron Man on the head, shakes him, then proceeds to spray lasers all around him to take out the bad guys. Or later on, when Thor smashes his mighty hammer down on Captain America's shield, creating a huge shock wave. Incidentally, a special mention must go to Thor, as his constant refrain of "YOU WANT ME TO PUT THE HAMMER DOWN?!" gets very old, very fast.
The game then takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the first film, with every major plot point visited and replayed through the medium of LEGO. There's also a sidetrack into Captain America's first film, where we had to escape from the Red Skull's Castle and then chase down the Hydra train, culminating with the disappearance of Bucky Barnes. Once the Chitauri appear near the end, with their flying Leviathans, our brains were pretty much blown by the constant highs that the game throws the player's way. The climax of the first Avengers film was a bit of an anti climax, we felt, as Iron Man chasing down an inbound nuclear missile and redirecting it though a portal is taken care of only in cut scenes, and we really think that would have made an intense and exciting flying sequence. Still, it's pretty spectacular nonetheless, and the LEGO reinterpretation of the end of the film is both amazingly cute and very funny, and in these situations having the actual movie dialogue coming from the characters really makes sense.
An interesting change to the pace of the game, compared to, say, the first Marvel LEGO game, is that each mission is launched from a free roam hub. There's the City of Manhattan, the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, a South African beach, Stark/Avengers Tower, and others. While in these hubs, you can complete missions or races to unlock characters and vehicles respectively, and there are also gold brick criteria to fulfill, which range from making a sandcastle in Central Park to finding Black Panther's nine cloned kitties and returning them. Also, in a new feature, crime will happen in the city and it's your job to stop it. As you are proceeding through the concrete jungle, Agent Coulson will call on the radio to say that there is a crime happening, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. icon will appear on your mini map in the bottom left of the screen. One that made us smile on our playthrough was a shout from a young girl being bullied by four other girls. Our controlled character went in with fists of justice swinging, whereas our second character, Black Widow, pulled out her pistols and started blazing away. Well, those girls won't be bullying anyone anymore. It brings a whole new meaning to zero tolerance...
So, onto actual gameplay then. The new mechanics that have been introduced with the double team attacks are a highlight, and it's interesting to see all the different variations. There is another type of scripted team up event, heralded by a large floating Avengers symbol. When one of the characters hits it, it changes to a platform with a symbol representing an Avenger, one on top of the other. So you might get a shield (for good ol' Cap) and then Thor's hammer above it. When the Avengers in question approach the platform and order themselves correctly, they perform a team up attack that normally opens up an new area of the level. In addition to these, there's the usual collection of items to find, gold bricks, red bricks (which, as always, act as modifiers for the game, by increasing the number of studs found or putting disguises on the characters) and there is always Stan Lee to find, who somehow always seems to get himself a cameo but then gets into peril. Other than the new mechanics, it's very much business as usual here, with the controls being as tight and responsive as always. We must make mention of the flying this time round, as it has improved leaps and bounds from LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, and the flying races actually feel doable this time around. Flying now actually feels like fun. One complaint we do have is that a few of the big story related fights, like the Hulk versus the Hulkbuster scrap in the Ultron level, are reduced to little more than a button tapping exercise. For one of the most exciting parts of the film to be reduced to "tap X, tap B" while the action plays out on screen feels a bit cheap, really. This happens on a couple of the big story fights, which does spoil things right when the game should be sweeping you along on a wave of action and adrenaline. Whether this was to make the game more accessible to younger players is unclear, but to adult players, it'll feel like a missed opportunity. We also have a couple of issues with the sound that was lifted from the film soundtrack. On most occasions, this is very good, clear, and really adds to the atmosphere. However, certain characters seem to have had their dialogue recorded by a bloke with a Dictaphone sat in a movie theatre, with Ultron's lines suffering more than most. They come out sounding muffled and a bit distorted, but with subtitles turned on it becomes less of an issue.
Graphically, the game is very good. The characterisation of the tiny figures to the dialogue they are saying is outstanding, and personality comes shining through each small plastic face. In some sections, the game has been made child friendly. If a character gets shot in the movie, for example, the dialogue stays the same, but the character may be covered in ice cream cones on screen, turning a potentially upsetting moment for smaller players into an amusing one. We noticed a tiny bit of slowdown in the last level of the Age of Ultron film, but given the amount of action on the screen it wasn't a major issue. One thing we noticed is that the models for the Helicarrier and for Manhattan seem to have been recycled from the last game. If you are familiar with the layouts, then there won't be any surprises there. However, given that the Helicarrier and Manhattan are unlikely to have changed in the intervening years, its feels appropriate and the layouts work well. Jumping off the carrier to land in Manhattan is still a rush, and being able to fly up to the carrier from the streets below as a flying character gives some idea of the sheer scale of the Manhattan hub.
The achievement list for the game is fairly generic, with the majority being for completing the story levels. Other than those, the achievements are tied to playing as certain characters in certain situations, so the incentive is there to play through all the side quests and missions in the hubs, and also replay the story levels in free play mode to enable you to choose new characters and take advantage of their powers. With more than 200 characters to unlock, and 250 gold bricks to find, theres plenty of content here to keep you playing for a while.
In conclusion, this another Traveller's Tales LEGO game, with all the baggage that entails. As an example of the breed, it's a very good one, but the age of the model is now starting to show and some sort of revolution (rather than a gradual evolution) must now be overdue. However, given the strength of the source material of these films, it makes a very decent fist of being a good game, as opposed to just being one of the better LEGO games.