Initial release date: December 1, 2022
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Publisher: 2K Games
Engine: Unreal Engine 4
Mode: Single-player video game
Genres: Tactical role-playing game, Turn-based strategy, Adventure game
Developers: Firaxis Games, Virtuos
"Review Copy Provided By 2K Games"
Let me introduce you to the latest game developed by Firaxis - Marvel's Midnight Suns. While the XCOM designers have always toyed with the idea of "ifs" and "maybes" for the past decade, this game takes a different approach. Instead of feeling on edge about whether your carefully crafted plan will succeed or not, you get to play as some of the most powerful superheroes in the world. With their abilities, you can rest assured that your moves will work, and you won't have to hide behind flimsy cover walls to avoid enemy attacks. However, this brings up an important question - does having such powerful heroes risk ruining the delicate balance of risk and reward? It may seem like a reliable set of characters could potentially dull the excitement that made Firaxis' XCOM games so thrilling but fear not - Marvel's Midnight Suns is just as exciting. Despite the immense pressure of creating a game within the expansive Marvel universe, Firaxis has managed to emerge unscathed, creating one of the best superhero games out there.
One of the key elements that make Marvel's Midnight Suns so captivating is its tightly designed battle arenas. By removing the cover mechanic, the game provides an experience reminiscent of Into The Breach, where crowd control and manipulating enemy positions become paramount. The game equips you with a deck of cards drawn from the three superheroes you bring into battle, along with interactive objects scattered throughout the map. However, it's up to you to decide how to best use these tools to deal maximum damage.
What makes Midnight Suns so thrilling is the ability to bend the rules to your advantage. You're dealt eight cards per hero, but you can only play three per turn. Moreover, missions often require more than just clearing out enemies, with tasks such as retrieving or protecting artifacts, closing portals, and taking down Hydra's getaway vehicles. On top of that, more enemy reinforcements arrive at the end of every turn, making it even more challenging to come out on top. Nevertheless, the game's joy lies in figuring out how to stretch your resources to the maximum, pushing your limits before calling it a day.
Marvel's Midnight Suns shakes things up by removing cover from the equation, allowing for a puzzle box-style gameplay where manipulating enemy positions and crowd control take center stage. You are given a set of tools, including a deck of cards and interactive objects on the map, to combine and maximize your attacks. The joy of the game lies in twisting and bending its ruleset to your advantage, seeing how far you can stretch a single turn before giving in.
Each hero has a set of cards that can be played in a turn, with different abilities and effects. The game encourages experimentation by offering quick cards that refund your card play if you land a KO with it, and others that become stronger if you use one of your limited redraw options on them. Battlegrounds themselves are also packed with opportunities to deal damage, such as junction boxes crackling with live wires and lamp posts waiting to be toppled onto enemy heads. To unleash special Heroic attacks and environmental flourishes, you need to build up a Heroism level by playing basic attack and support cards. This adds a risk and reward element to the gameplay as you must balance the immediacy and improvisation of reacting to the hand you're dealt with having one eye on future potential. The resulting strategy experience strikes a balance between in-the-moment optimization and long-term planning, making it a satisfying and enjoyable gameplay experience.
The art and animation teams at Firaxis deserve special recognition for their outstanding work in bringing the core superhero fantasy to life in Midnight Suns. Each attack, whether it's a special move or not, has been meticulously choreographed to give the player a sense of empowerment and satisfaction. The use of slow-motion, screen shake, and sound design enhances the experience and immerses the player in the game. The developers have a deep understanding of what makes Marvel appealing to fans, which is evident in every aspect of the game, especially during downtime when players can explore their base of operations. The Abbey, located in a pocket dimension near Salem, Massachusetts, is the equivalent of the Normandy in Mass Effect, where players can interact with other superheroes and explore their surroundings. The protagonist in Midnight Suns is The Hunter, an original character created by Firaxis and Marvel, who is the child of Lilith, the demon queen. The story is a classic tale of light versus dark, and players can shape the journey through an extensive set of dialogue options.
However, the game is not simply a matter of choosing between good and evil. While the choices made by players affect the abilities and powers of The Hunter, it may not have the same impact on other superheroes. Some characters appreciate a more neutral stance, while others may be offended if the player takes a goody-two-shoes approach. These choices impact the everyday conversations and interactions in the game, including one-on-one hangouts that are reminiscent of Fire Emblem and Persona. Although there is no romance available in these interactions, players can still enjoy cute moments, such as Blade's attempt to impress Captain Marvel with a book club.
The game's narrative provides a sense of depth to both the heroes and the player's interactions with them, particularly when mediating between the Avengers and the Midnight Suns. While the team's internal conflicts can occasionally detract from the game's fast-paced battles, the writers do an excellent job of capturing the characters' personalities and banter, which aligns with their MCU counterparts while still standing out as distinct individuals. Although forming attachments with the characters is not the same as with a typical XCOM squad due to their inability to die, the game's script covers sensitive topics with impressive sensitivity and nuance, offering plenty to invest in even for non-Marvel enthusiasts.
In addition, the Abbey serves as the game's XCOM-style strategy layer with an Avengers twist. Doctor Strange unlocks new abilities for the team, Iron Man uncovers new card caches, Blade runs the Abbey gym, Captain Marvel handles offscreen missions, all of which provide bonuses and rewards to help strengthen the deck. While not as complex as XCOM's meta-game layer, this feature still adds depth to the game while maintaining accessibility to a broader audience.
Marvel's Midnight Suns has a social side that scratches the same itch as Fire Emblem and Persona, making the quieter moments as important as its turn-based battles. Although XCOM also has this feature, Marvel's Midnight Suns offers more. The game is a more authored experience, with a competent team handling the story. The game is large and sprawling but manages to avoid the bloat that often comes with ambitious games, keeping its brain and brawn lean and inextricably linked. It is a guaranteed hit for Marvel and strategy fans alike, and although Firaxis could return to XCOM if they wanted, it is great to see them try something new and ambitious.