Capcom has screwed the pooch with fighting games in this current generation. If you had told me back in 2011 that Capcom would eventually release Street Fighter V unfinished and woefully unbalanced, I would have laughed in your silly face and called you a damned fool. The second golden age of fighting games had arrived, and Capcom could do no wrong. And yet, along came Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and things started to get messy. It was (and still is) pretty damned broken, and was cleft from ongoing support because of renegotiated royalty agreements between Disney and 20th Century Fox. Enter Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (hereafter simply referred to as Infinite), the latest in Capcom’s staggeringly venerated fighting game series – does it avenge the failures of the past, or does it fall prey to the foibles of Capcom’s attempts to find its feet in a new console generation?
The answer is both yes and no, but don’t worry, Infinite has got the right stuff where it counts, with enough positive changes to outweigh its flaws. It’s also the most ambitious entry in the series, with a fully-fledged single-player campaign built in the vein of a NetherRealm game. The story is about how and why the two universes at stake have been brought together and is all wrapped in a cinematic presentation and plot significantly influenced by the Marvel film universe. It’s impressive to see Capcom attempt to make a coherent tale out of such an innately messy premise, but honestly, it’s a train wreck. Tonally, it’s on point – with as many characters as there are for a single story, they’re all faithful to their representations in other games and media. Even so, they’re also the most reductive versions of these characters you’ll ever see, and as such, they all fit into two basic cookie cutters; wise-asses or po-faced bores. The story lasts a handful of hours, but that time drags on indefinitely with an anxiety building trawl of cringe-worthy dialogue, and as such, it feels more laboured than it should.
The plot is linear, interspersed with various flashbacks to explain the motivations of the villains, but if you’ve even glanced at a comic book, you know their reasons don’t matter. The villains just have to look evil and talk down to everyone, and that’s about the extent of their deviousness. There are times when it trips over into moments of genuine but unintentional brilliance, like Tony Stark’s handful of decent lampoons on the ridiculous state of affairs, or even Rocket Raccoon’s outlandish reception of Dante’s handguns.
It might seem cruel to think so, but I love the fact that this game is hideous. And believe me, it’s ugly. Like a freshly squeezed haemorrhoidal polyp, ugly. Gone are the black comic book outlines and cell-shading of the previous title, which is probably the series’ most striking and abstract presentation, and in its place is a combination of weird lighting and gaudily-proportioned character models. I get that it’s supposed to be a cartoon, but the offbeat/stilted motion-capture animations, as well as an un-ironic overdose in seriousness and leaps of narrative logic, make it genuinely painful to try and suspend your disbelief when playing through the campaign. Where once there was an easy, baked-in concept of a playing through a comic book, there is instead a Marvel movie as written by an eight-year-old on Adderall. It’s got its heart in the right place, but dear lord does it get it so terribly, adorably wrong.
And yet, in saying that, every battle in Infinite is full of dramatic, flashy and creative opportunities that you’ll be able to forget the garbage story the instant you start playing. Don’t be fooled by the reduced on-screen player count, which is down from three characters per team to two. Infinite’s fights are just as hectic as previous entries. This time, however, I must say I had an easier time of keeping track of what the hell was going on. MvC 3’s fights often dragged on too long, and tag assists were nigh on impossible to read in most situations, at least in my experience. As a result, matches felt like wars of attrition instead of cinematic spectacles, which is one of many possible factors that stunted MvC 3’s longevity as a readily viewed eSport.
The two-person team battles in Infinite bring with it some significant changes that will likely rub some longtime fans the wrong way. First off, a four-button layout with light and hard for both kicks and punches makes a return. Secondly, team sizes are smaller and assist attacks are no longer part of the formula. The upside of this sacrifice is that the new tag system is much more malleable and asks you to make more considered decisions with your power meter. You can tag in freely to keep your combo going, and sometimes they can border on Killer Instinct lengths of time. You can also sacrifice two levels of super meter to bring your partner into defending your current character from one of the said lengthy combos. This mechanic gives players more concrete defensive measures for breaking long-winded punishments, as well as more freedom to keep said punishments going. As such, dramatic rallies have been a common occurrence in my brief time playing online. It’s a seemingly more fluid system, and along with larger health pools and the introduction of Infinity Stones, it’s one that encourages plenty of experimentation both in planning your team composition and mid-battle.
The other significant change that offsets the discarding of assist attacks is the inclusion of the Infinity Stones. Before a match, players can choose from one of the six; power, mind, time, soul, space and reality. Each stone has two functions, an infinity ‘surge’ and ‘storm.’ Surges are unique attacks or tools activated by tapping the left shoulder button and can complement or enhance characters in ways that feel like meaningful tactical choices.
The time stone’s surge, for instance, is a shadow-style phasing teleport, which is useful for escapes or rush-down tactics. The power stone allows for an extra wall-bound attacks for extending combos, and so on and so forth. Finding out how to counterbalance each stone’s powers against your character setup is a definite boon, and the possible combinations are full of possibility. Using surges successfully also builds up your infinity storm meter, which is a revenge system of sorts that creates temporary states of power to create moments where players can add pressure to their opponent or relieve some that they might be receiving.
Storms are activated by tagging and surging at the same time and create time situational advantage themed around each stone. The time stone will allow you spam attacks with zero cooldowns and create ridiculous frame advantages, the reality stone will give you crazy and easily spammed projectiles, the space stone will trap your enemies in a giant box, and so on. All up the infinity stones go beyond being a mere gimmick and add a new layer of tactical possibility to the established formula, and I for one can’t wait to see what high-level competition looks like at EVO this year in this game. Early reports indicate that they’re also breaking the game somewhat, with Spider-Man currently being able to trap players in infinite combos, but that will change soon enough.
For all of the new mechanics in Infinite, very few of them are tutored, and what the game does tell you is done so in Spartan fashion. Most of what you will learn will be through trial missions for each character and basic lists of combo sequences with little explanation. If you’re willing to practice and do your research elsewhere, you will improve. While most fighting games will leave it to community-run wikis to explain more technical aspects of fighting games, it doesn’t make it any less sad to see the status quo going unchanged here – if you want a proper introduction to fighting games, in an actual fighting game, Killer Instinct is still the best place to start.
The roster on offer in Infinite is also a bit on the frugal side, with thirty characters in total, and quite a few series mainstays are missing. Any X-Men or affiliated chums are sitting this entry out due to rights agreement malarkey going on between Marvel and 20th Century Fox. I know they sucked in the previous game, but Wolverine’s and Deadpool’s absence cuts me deep, man – luckily Gamora and Thanos are awesome stand-ins. (P.S. I know Thanos was in MvC 2, but he sucked, as did most throwaway characters in that game.)
What is undeniably cruddy, though, is the pay-walling of characters. Both Black Panther and the Monster Hunter make an appearance in the story but are not in playable form. Their presence, then, is hard not to interpret cynically considering Capcom’s ongoing seasonal content scheme with Street Fighter V. It’s likely they’re only there to tease what’s to come in a cheap and unexciting way. And, sure enough, just as this review was about to be published, Black Panther was announced as DLC, so the status quo of post-launch content will likely remain unchanged now. I don’t know about you, but freemium content schemes in fully priced games are an icky pill to swallow. Take that as you will.
So as not to give you the wrong impression, the last thing to be said is an important positive; that Infinite is eminently playable, even on PC as a port. It runs well on my old gaming laptop and my mid-range pc, and the net code can find me a match well enough, with reliable connections even playing out in a remote mining village. It also natively supports my PS3 arcade sticks on PC so you won’t need any new hardware to play it the way you want.
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is ugly, the story is a laughable missed opportunity, and it’s not leading the way in extras and has a gross DLC agenda. And yet, in spite of all this, it’s still the most exciting time to be a fan of this series. Battles are intense, fast, and the presence of new blood in the character roster helps make it feel fresh. I can say with certainty it’s worth your time – just don’t feel bad if you wait until the price drops or an ‘Ultimate’ edition is released.