The opening moments of Marvel vs Capcom Infinite’s story mode are perhaps the worst opening of any videogame story around, and seemingly confirm the sort of fears and cynicism that’s surrounded the game’s promotional build up. In this opening, core characters are battling enemy forces in the mashed up city of Xgard (the homes of Mega Man and Thor). That’s not the problem, the problem arises as each of that characters are introduced in clumsy, clunky, and frankly embarrassing fashion. Full names are stated just for the sake of exposition, and lines are written in a way that even the likes of veteran voice actors like Roger Craig Smith can’t make it sound passable.
It’s simply a terrible opening, and you wonder if the rest of the story, and indeed the game itself, will be any better. Mercifully, it actually is, and what starts as cringey and awful builds into heartingly cheesy and fan-pleasing, and hey, the fighting game that accompanies it isn’t bad either.
This entry is the first since the Marvel Cinematic Universe became the beastly juggernaut it is, and certainly the Marvel side of the roster is heavily influenced by the characters who’ve become popular in recent years, while others that have been series mainstays have been benched (for now). The artstyle seems to reflect the cinematic influence too, with Marvel characters now looking closer to realism, and a little less like they’re hand-drawn (still, it’s more outlandish overall than grounded).
The likes of Thanos, Gamora, Captain Marvel, Ultron, Dr. Strange, and Hawkeye join the more predictable bunch of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk. It’s unfortunate that the X-Men and Fantastic Four are absent (not even a rogue Dr. Doom or Wolverine), but supposedly, there’s a shot at characters from those franchises appearing as DLC at some point. There’s a pretty big list of obvious omissions here, obviously with Marvel vs Capcom Infinite’s DLC plans in mind, so it makes for a slightly disappointing Marvel side, but it’s a touch more interesting than Capcom’s.
Capcom’s side feels heavily dated, to the point that several characters who have had makeovers in their own series get ignored for older versions (Resident Evil 5 Chris again for instance, and Ninja Theory’s Dante misses out for Devil May Cry 3’s iteration). There’s not yet anything from Resident Evil 7, Dragon’s Dogma, nor Monster Hunter (though there’s a fairly large clue that this at least will change), and the franchises that are represented generally get the same characters in the game (Haggar, Morrigan, Spencer etc). On the plus side, Mega Man X joins Zero on the roster, and he plays a decent part in the story.
Regardless of who is and isn’t on the roster, the important thing is that MvC Infinite plays well. This is a console generation already filled with good fighting games of all shapes and sizes, and Capcom’s reputation has already been tarnished somewhat by the bumbling launch of Street Fighter V (an otherwise exceptional fighter sullied by a chaotic start to its existence). The good news is that despite some tweaks, this is quite clearly a Marvel vs. Capcom game. There’s the usual frenetic, over the top, flashy combat, with the same super moves and tag-team maneuvers that are synonymous with the series. It’s a fluid, cartoonish fighter, one that leans into its goofiness even if it does try to look a little more mature.
The key differences could well be contentious. Firstly, the tag teams are down to a streamlined 2v2 rather than the 3v3 of Fate of Two Worlds. It’s surprising in one sense because there’s enough characters on the roster to make 3v3 work, but I suspect the move is made with esports in mind. The second key change is the introduction of the Infinity Stones. Yes the cosmic baubles currently flowing through the overarching story of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe are a major component of the fighting in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Each of the stones has a unique basic ability, mapped to L1, and a special activated by filling a bar and holding both front triggers. These range from making attacks temporarily more powerful to reviving a downed partner. The stones add a new tactical level to fights, with a need to counter the advantage each brings. The best part is that different playing styles suit certain stones, so it can be a handy crutch for a more casual player to use when heading online.
Speaking of online play, it’s not quite the disaster that Street Fighter V was (there’s a full game here at launch for a start). Even pre-launch, finding matches isn’t too difficult, but there’s been the odd long wait as well. There appears to be some exploitable moves in the current build, they may yet be patched out, but it’s aggravating to get beaten by such cheap workarounds on a competitive level. It’s also a touch bare bones for online modes, offering only the simplest, dryest ways to play. The upshot of this is there’s a purity on display that the likes of Injustice 2, with its gross over complication of basic fighting game ideals, could do with noting. Stripping it back to just the fight and the mechanics of it is surprisingly pleasing, especially so considering the changes to the core of Infinite’s gameplay.
If solo play is your bag, well then this is the most well fed Marvel vs. Capcom title in that regard. There’s the story of course, which after that frightfully awful opening, does turn into something wonderfully daft. There’s a few bits that combine certain characters in a quite amusing manner. Indeed, a segment that features Frank West, Chris Redfield, and Spider-Man infiltrating a suspiciously familiar shady organisation is a highlight, as is one with West and Iron Man (Frank West is a hoot in general here). Beyond that, little conversations and quips poke fun at each side of the roster (Rocket Raccoon’s fascination with Mega Man’s Mega Buster being one such example). The big bad of Ultron Sigma sadly doesn’t feel as big a deal as it should have, but Thanos’ see-sawing role in the tale makes up for it. Don’t expect anything close to Injustice 2’s exceptional story, but do understand that this story does feel delightfully comic book-esque in a more traditional sense, never once shying away from the absurdity of a narrative that throws demons, demon hunters, robot men, Gods, and magicians together to have a scrap over cosmic jewellery.
Elsewhere, the good old-fashioned Arcade and Training return and Challenge mode is back, albeit in a chunkier, more varied form. It’s a decent timesink that helps you learn the intricacies of the mechanics, and is a natural progression in the learning process from the story and training room. It’s not the most dynamic challenge mode out there in a fighter, but again, relative simplicity makes up for it to a degree.
This would be a solid return for Marvel vs. Capcom then, despite reservations about its quality beforehand, yet while visually it isn’t as troubling as it was back in the demo, there’s some technical issues that hamper it. The loading times are far too long, especially in the gaps between story segments and the fights. Even moving between menus feels unnecessarily slow, at odds with the swift fighting on offer. There’s also a fair bit of stuttering going on, some more severe in that transition from the loading screens, less so during story cutscenes. Both these problems combine to consistently remind you of the game’s slight lack of polish. Truly great fighters need to be all about being near-instantly into the fight and onto the next soon after, these quibbles prevent that sadly, and you would hope they are the first things fixed post-launch.