Review
Marvel: Avengers Alliance

By Seán O'Sullivan - March 14th, 2012

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Hint: the review matches the look on Ben Grimm’s face.

Every now and then, we beleaguered games critics find ourselves addressing that troublesome question: how much of a game should we endure before warning our readers to steer clear? Since part of my God-given duty is keeping fools and their money together, it becomes particularly tricky when the game in question is free-to-play, and requires (predominantly) the investment of one’s time.

In the spirit of showing concern for your time, let me begin by stating that Marvel: Avengers Alliance is not worth yours.

I have never played a Facebook game before (pause for gasps from the gallery), but the premise of Marvel: Avengers Alliance was enough to pique my curiosity. Players get to recruit iconic Marvel heroes and pit them against iconic Marvel villains in turn-based combat. Neat! I drew a (only half-facetious) comparison to Pokémon in my preview in January; but this game pales in comparison to Nintendo’s cherished child-friendly RPG.

Before I get into detailing the deficiencies of the game proper, let’s address the inherent, fundamental problem that’s apparent in every aspect of the game: the entire premise is built around luring in as many of your friends as possible. Each session starts with a screen imploring you to “Send a FREE gift to your friends!” Why? Because that’s “the best way to get your friends to send gifts back to you.” Mull that over for a second. It clearly has no regard for the game’s fiction, it just wants you to spam your friends and in return, it might make the game somewhat more enjoyable.

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The two on the left have fallen prey to the “hula hoops of doom”.

This is how the free-to-play business model generally works – as the user-base grows, so too does that percentile of impatient gamers who will pay to get instant gratification on virtual trinkets and game-play advantages. A certain amount of appeals to grow the user base is well and good, but when the very design of the game is built around how it makes a profit, it makes for a shoddy experience.

A telling example of this is how the interface is so unabashedly sleazy in pursuit of these goals. Click the wrong item on the HUD and often you’ll be trapped by a popup window. You’ll be told to ‘invite a friend’ or purchase in-game currency for real-world dollars. Some windows have a ‘close’ option, but not these ones (here’s a hint: you can cancel from the ‘Invite’ screen). I would wager that most curious gamers will close the browser at this point and never look back.

From what I have been led to believe, this is par for the course for most Facebook games, so ardent social-gamers may well be unperturbed by what I found to be an odious distraction. So what is your reward for persevering? Copious amounts of menus to trawl through, plenty of (thankfully skippable) cheesy exposition, and an entirely uninspired three-on-three turn-based brawler.

The battles quickly devolve into a chore, as the snail’s pace of the leveling-up and character unlocks mean that interesting dynamics don’t creep in for far too long. Even the process of selecting a character, selecting a move, and selecting an opponent to use it on is arduous – a few keyboard shortcuts would go a long way here. Once your foes are bested, you can take delight in their defeat animation; they turn purple and evaporate. It’s quite unclear as to what is happening to these fallen enemies. Unconscious? Dead? It didn’t take long for me to stop caring one way or another.

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Susan Storm throws giant Advil gelcaps at her enemies.

It’s not all misery though: the art style is authentically Marvel, with characters looking as they should, with a minimalist animation style that is effective in conveying what is happening onscreen. This concludes me having good things to say about the game.

With stakes this low, need I go on? The game isn’t fun. If you don’t want to take my word for it, sign in, play for 20 minutes, and heed my exhortations that it won’t get better. If you’re not happy with that, invite three of your friends to comment on this story, or send me five bucks to unlock the next paragraph of this review.

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    4 responses so far:
  2. Posted on Mar 14, 2012

    yeah i hear bad thing about this one. I played the inFamous Anarchy game because they gave you DLC as the weekly prizes. I played TripleTown on Google+ because that game is actually fun (and man do I need friends who play it) but I wouldn’t touch this with a 10 foot pole.

    The problem with the invite model of “social website gaming” is that it’s dead. When Facebook opened the gates for “Apps” it did two things. 1) It ruined Facebook completely for social networking and 2) it started a timer. There was a time when games could be popular by asking your friends to play. Currently noone cares. I get like 16 friend requests a day for this game or that game. The whole social aspect just isn’t fun anymore even for people who were into it at the time.

    I hear there are games that are actually fun like the Dragon Age game, the Fable games, and of course some stuff like TripleTown. THOSE games can succeed in getting you to network because there’s more to the game than just “ask people for help” the game is fun on it’s own.

    Honestly I could recommend the inFamous game even now it’s honestly a fun game for a few weeks.

  3. Posted on Mar 15, 2012

    Hi wolfkin, thanks for commenting! Not just because it shows that you were paying attention, but also because you’ve contributed some examples of games that operate on the same model, but in a fashion less offensive to the player!

    The only Free-to-play model I could think to compare it to was Team Fortress 2, which I don’t think would be very fair…

  4. Posted on Mar 15, 2012

    definitely not. TF2 is a beast of a completely different burden. That is a full fledged game that was so successful they decided to give it away. Little known fact I bought a copy of Orange Box must be 2 years ago now and I’ve still never played TF2. Heck I only finished Portal last winter. I just need a new router that doesn’t boot me off line every 20 minutes and maybe I’ll give it a try.

  5. By Dee Ann
    Posted on May 27, 2012

    I never played the games on FB at all.One day got bored and started playing. IT is so Annoying to say the least that in order to advance you have to INVITE FRIENDS! My friends do not play the games And now I see why. FB has ruined every single game on their site by having to invite friends to advance. I dont PAY to Play the games either, i dont have that kind of money to put towards that. (gardens of time comes to mind, when you have to have X amount of neighbors in order to expand your property. As far as Marvels Avengers, YOu cant earn enough Command points do do Diddly on the site.

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