Marvel hasn't had a great run of video games over the years.
Sure, there's been the occasional winner, like the Marvel vs. Capcom series or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Frequently though, games based on Marvel Comics or Marvel Studios films have all the hallmarks of licensed titles: poor gameplay, poor production values, and an inability to recapture what's great about the source material. Just sticking to the past decade, there's Iron Man 3: The Official Game, Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth, X-Men: Destiny, Captain America: Super Soldier , Thor: God of Thunder, The Punisher: No Mercy, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. That's a dire list.
The first sign that Marvel was starting to get serious about gaming again was the reveal of Insomniac Games' upcoming Spider-Man game for PlayStation 4. The title is unrelated to any specific Spider-Man film or television show, built from the ground up for video games.
"When I joined Marvel two years ago, I came in with a mandate to usher in a new era for Marvel Games," Marvel Comics vice president of games Jay Ong told Polygon when Spider-Man was announced. "We have a treasure trove of the best superhero characters on earth. What can we do with this to create truly epic games? Is [Spider-Man] a signal of things to come? Oh, yes. Absolutely. And we can't wait to tell the world about it."
"One of the things we really focus on in terms of our new strategy is that we all believe that great games drive the brand and great games are what our fans really deserve," Ong added. "What we look at first and foremost is the talent level of partner. Are they world class in building the games we're talking about? They have to have world-class talent. They have to be able to invest the resources to make that talent sing."
"We are absolutely obsessed about [quality]," Ong said. "That is our North Star. We always say 'Great is not good enough. We're going for truly epic.'"
It seems that Marvel has found its "epic" partner in Square Enix. Yesterday, the company announced that it was entering into a multi-game partnership with Square Enix called "The Avengers Project".
Marvel has found a great degree of success with Marvel Studios, retaining control of its properties while allowing veteran filmmakers a bit of room to play. ("A bit" being the operative word.) It's always been surprising to me that the company hasn't been willing to do the same on the gaming side. Licensing is fine, but you have to be willing to step in and manage the brand. Even if you had nothing to do with a bad game, it still has the Marvel logo branded on it. It all matters, so it's important that you make sure justice is being done.
Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal are taking the lead on The Avengers Project. Both studios make damned good games. Crystal Dynamics successfully revived the Lara Croft brand with Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, even if the games didn't always live up to corporate expectations. The same is true of Eidos Montreal, who crafted a great revival with Deus Ex: Human Revolution and extended the scope of the universe with Mankind Divided. These are very good studios, used to working at a larger scope than past Marvel game developers Nihilistic Software or Next Level Games.
Marvel found success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Square Enix partnership will involve "completely original story", marking the beginning of the Marvel Digital Universe, or whatever you want to call it. The company doesn't need to be too controlling, but it does need to have a part in crafting these games and ensuring that they're quality products. That's when it works for everyone: make great games, make great money.
I've always loved comics and it's been grand to see my Marvel favorites shine or film and television with Captain America: Civil War, Dr. Strange, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Ghost Rider on Agents of SHIELD. That amount of passion and craft has a place in the games as well and Marvel's been throwing away chances by not getting involved until now.
We're about to go from famine to feast. On the mobile side, Marvel: Contest of Champions, Marvel: Future Fight, and Marvel Avengers Academy are solid games for specific demographics. On the console side, the future is looking bright with Insomniac Games' Spider-Man, Capcom's Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, Telltale Games' Guardians of the Galaxy, and now the Avengers Project. Hopefully, the Avengers Project is beginning of something great for Marvel, Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics, and Eidos Montreal. The Marvel Universe deserves it.