PREVIEW: Marvel: Avenger's Alliance

Marvel: Avenger’s Alliance is a Facebook game.

On the face of it, that may seem like a fairly boneheaded statement, but what I’m referring to is the influx of games that are using many of the same techniques to propagate themselves across the Facebook network. Mafia Wars, Farmville, The Sims Social and many others all want you to coax your friends into joining the game with you, then send them a constant stream of reminders in the form of collectible bonuses. Once they’ve got your attention they’re reluctant to let it go.

Marvel: Avenger’s Alliance is cut from this same cloth. While you’re an individual Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. assembling a crack squad of superheroes to save the world, all of your Facebook friends could be doing the same if only you’d just invite them!

You might be tempted to write it off as a result but Playdom has done something very smart with M:AA. Instead of just creating a hero themed clone of something else, the company has taken the fact it has access to a huge media license, and run away with it. Superheroes banter with Supervillains before the big fights. Regular troops aren’t just generic goons, they’re Jotuns (Frost Giants) in support of Loki or Hydra shocktroopers and powersuits and so on.

The base you return to after completing a mission isn’t any old military base either, it’s the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier.

Your in-game, customisable avatar is a regular Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Highly trained, proficient in the use of weapons and gadgets, but not a mutant or an experiment or an already established character. You’re not Captain America or Iron Fist or The Black Widow – but you can recruit them into your own personal team of Avengers, along with Spiderman, the Human Torch and the usual suspects.

The mission system is much like looking at a series of comic books. Once you accept a mission you typically get some background information from Nick Fury or Tony Stark (Iron Man). Some missions will have a famous villain in charge of whatever plot is afoot and you will team up with their comic book nemesis to bring them down. After some pre-fight banter suitable to the two, of course. Some heroes and villains tend more towards the succinct, “Let’s do this.” Others take the more megalomaniacal approach of revealing their plan, in detail, before trying to destroy your Avengers.

Another pleasant surprise is the quality of the artwork in the game. Both heroes and villains have detailed animations during combat, including the signature moves of characters like Cyclops. It would have been much cheaper, quicker and easier to simply have static images and some generic effects but it makes a world of difference to see Whiplash’s electrified whips writhing with menace and heroes like Cyclops and Iron Man blast away in their distinctive fashions.

[img_big]center,8925,2012-02-21/screenshot_ff_01.jpg,Human Torch and his Flame Stream[/img_big]

This polish flows through the entire game. Weapons and gadgets your Agent can use aren’t simply “Katana”, followed by the upgraded “Katana +1”. There’s a Katana, a claw weapon (not unlike Wolverine’s claws), and a retractable baton (like many police forces now use), along with some more esoteric options like a flaming tonfa. Ranged weaponry starts with the needle gun all S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents have as standard equipment, but moves up to a Colt M1911 lookalike, a MAC-10 lookalike and even some grenade launchers and rifles.

Each weapon provides the Agent with a different kind of attack, from the single shot Needle Gun to the 4 round burst of the Spirit-76 (Colt M1911) and the Katana’s ability to cause opponents to bleed, while having an increased likelihood of a more damaging Critical Hit.

Your Agent’s armour can similarly be upgraded with purchases from the store giving you a different set of bonuses than the “All Rounder” standard issue armour, or providing more slots to add stat-boosting modules to your gear.

There’s a lot more to the game than it might first appear, especially if your first encounter is those endless Wall Posts from That Annoying Facebook Friend. There’s a ranked PvP system, plenty of interesting loot, the ability to send your spare Avengers off on side missions and even the option to research better gear for availability in the store.

[img_three]8925,2012-02-21/black-widow.png,2012-02-21/juggernaut.png,2012-02-21/tonystark.png,Marvel: Avenger’s Alliance[/img_three]

Currently in beta, you might not have heard much about Marvel: Avenger’s Alliance yet. That’s all going to change as Playdom seems to be hitting all the right buttons to make this an exceptionally pleasant surprise in a sea of mediocrity and cheap knockoffs.

Marvel: Avenger’s Alliance is currently in closed beta test, heading for an expected Q1 release. For more information – and to find out as soon as the game’s made available, head to the official Facebook page.

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