“A Powerful Mind and Soul, With a Mediocre Time in the Lackluster Reality of its Offline Space.”
Right from the get-go, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite was fighting an uphill battle. Capcom barely supported Marvel vs Capcom 3, barely supported Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and the balance issues and ill-conceived game mechanics that were never properly tuned, turned off many diehard Marvel vs Capcom 2 fans, as well as those jumping into MVC3 raw. They were still mindlessly fun fighters, just not properly supported. Infinite‘s unveil had many questioning a myriad of things that were shown off, from the art direction to the 2v2 downgrade the fighting engine adopted, to the exclusion of key figures to the franchise. There was even some backlash on how Chun-Li’s face looked during a cutscene, which was actually addressed and altered.
My time with Marvel vs Capcom Infinite (MVCI) at E3 this year was thoroughly enjoyable; it felt like a slightly slower pace fighter compared to UMVC3 (which is definitely not the case in the retail build), but there was also a thick layer of depth that I barely scratched the surface of. It took a little time to get comfortable to the MVC2 control scheme again, but everything felt solid throughout. Now with MVCI‘s official release, I can safely say that the core gameplay and multiplayer is as engaging and engrossing as the previous installments of the franchise, though it suffers from a handful of shortcomings that the game can’t tag out from.
The fighting engine is arguably the most important aspect to a fighting game, and that’s where MVCI excels. Gone are the harebrained mechanics such as X Factor, and in its place is the return of the Infinity Gems from Capcom’s second Marvel brawler, Marvel Superheroes. These six gems offer wildly different means to approach each game, not to mention they all have two ways of being used in each fight. The Infinity Surge button allows for a use of the gem that builds meter for the second use, the Infinity Storm (which also gets filled from taking damage). The abilities of the former ranges from draining a bit of health from your opponent and giving it to yourself, to a quick dash forward and through the opposition, while triggering the latter offers bonuses ranging from a constantly replenishing super meter, to to encasing your opponent into a small boxed area that can allow for easier mix up opportunities.
The application of these gems to the gameplay opens the door to a plethora of ways to change up the flow and pace of battle. Brutes like Hagagr, who had little to no means of making a comeback against the likes of a Magneto or Dormammu in UMVC3, now have the ability to dash forward to close the gap with the Time stone, or pull his adversaries towards him with the Space gem (though gaining a “projectile” also aided in his ability to close the gap more easily). The Infinity Gems are vastly more fleshed out than the X-Factor mechanic from the last two games, feeling more like an essential tool and less like a “win” button.
The new fighting engine has also ushered in the return of a more universal OTG (off the ground) combo continuation. This is one of a few ways of extending your combos and dealing more damage. Couple that with wall bounces, crumples, and even throw in the Power stone’s extra wall bounce and the possibilities become wide open for inventive and destructive combos. The amount of satisfaction gained from discovering how to extend a combo is immense.
With the four button control scheme returning (light and heavy kick, light and heavy punch), there are no “medium” attacks, as the magic series (the typical button combination to press perform ground to air combos), for the majority of the roster, goes from light punch to kick and heavy punch to kick to ducking heavy punch to launch. There are variances, such as Dr. Strange and his air impact palm adding another hit, as well as Ghost Rider mostly bypassing a heavy punch in the air.
With this being 2v2 as opposed to the 3v3 format that has been going on since the late 90’s, there’s one less character to worry about, though it almost seems as if it takes the same amount of brutality to fell both opponents as it took knocking out three in the last game. Tagging has its own button, and can even be done while midair. Utilizing tagging midway through combos is essential for raising the damage of your offense, as well as laying out a level of trickery if the opposition is blocking. One notable difference between MVCI and other games under the umbrella is that your teammate that tagged out, usually stays on screen for a brief period of time, giving the opponent time to possibly get a “happy birthday” (comboing two fighters at once) going. I can see this both as a part of the new tag system, as well as a way to punish the opponent for an ill-timed tag, as MVCI does not have character assists to pick off.
Performing these combos on a PS4 controller is a breeze. As someone who couldn’t play UMVC3 on a pad (mostly because an arcade stick felt more comfortable and natural for my palm loops and log trap set ups with my Dr. Strange, Rocket Raccoon and Dr. Doom/Wesker team) I found MVCI to be completely competent on a pad. Dr. Strange’s combo set ups did not feel cumbersome whatsoever, though outside of Strange, I haven’t used many execution heavy characters in a consistent manner.
On the subject of different characters, there are thirty fighters to choose from. Twenty four are carryovers from the previous game, with six new fighters (Gamora, Ultron, Thanos, Jedah, X and Captain Marvel). Those that returned either have some new moves (Captain America has some Trick Shield moves added in, Haggar has a barrel he can use to either soak one hit or toss towards his opponent) or feel drastically altered (Rocket Raccoon loses his log trap and bear trap, no rapid rocket skate use, gained Groot for a few special moves). Most of the changes have been positive (sans the whole pressing down twice to do some moves that used to be a dragon punch motion, mostly teleports), but some of the characters that have been adjusted (Rocket Raccoon, Thor) feel completely off compared to the last installment of the series, in the time I put in with them.
There’s also a fully fleshed story mode that lasts a good 3-5 hours. For what it is, the story is serviceable enough and enjoyable for the playthrough, other than the third act, which feels forced along to complete, with a conclusion that left a lot to be desired. On a non spoiler note, I was infinitely (sorry) more invested in the direction Thanos was heading towards in the third act, than the core story its self. The number of one liners from various heroes help liven up the experience. Arthur, Spider-Man, Frank West and Iron Man in particular deliver some chuckle worthy lines here and there, and everyone is voiced well enough. It’s definitely not an experience that will make or break the overall package, and it’s worth one playthrough for sure, but I didn’t have any real investment outside of Thanos’ direction.
One of the more important components to MVCI will be its online suite. Full disclosure – most of my games played were the two days before the game launched and a bunch the day of release, with more than half of the ranked games on launch day. On top of that, I unknowingly had some incredibly debilitating lag on my end that gave the wrong impressions of online play. The first twenty matches or so, only two were relatively lag free, and the rest ranged from random pockets of lag, to completely unplayable. I decided to take a look at my connection and noticed some oddities and decided to go back to a wired connection. Once that was done, the online experience became incredibly solid, in some cases, it almost felt like I was playing offline – it’s that well done.
Those with three bar connections or less can still be a roll of the dice in terms of whether they will translate to a slightly lagged or a pleasant experience. There’s the usual ranked, casual and lobby areas, as well as a beginners league – an area that matches those at a beginners ranks only. Lobbies have the added benefit of housing up to four different matches at once that players can pick and choose between to take part in, or just casually view the action going on.
While it sounds like it’s almost nothing but roses with MVCI, there are a number of shortcomings that do pull the overall value down. Voice acting and sound effects are well done across the board, whereas the music is completely forgettable. In fact, at this point, I’ve all but tuned it out. The offline modes are the standard fare – arcade mode, versus and mission mode are the options once the 3-5 hour story mode is done with. It’s all very basic; there’s nothing like Heroes and Heralds from UMVC3 thrown in, if you don’t consider the aforementioned story mode, which is honestly a one and done. If you’re a CPU fighting game fan, there aren’t many options for you, but most Capcom fighters run that route anyway; its true legs are in multiplayer, as with most fighting games.
The visual package as a whole is a bit of a disappointment, with win animations remaining largely unchanged, character details looking less comic book-like and slightly more detailed from past games (with a couple exceptions, like Rocket Raccoon having actual fur). Most of the backgrounds do look pretty slick, without a severe amount of obnoxious animations slowing down the gameplay like in UMVC3, where only two backgrounds were used for tournament play.
Finally, one of the more obvious weaknesses is the exclusions of the X-Men franchise to the roster. These have been staples of the entire Capcom Marvel fighting game catalog; Wolverine was feature in every Marvel related Capcom brawler up until this point. The reason given was basically that younger fans will not remember who the X-Men are, and will know the likes of Rocket Raccoon and Captain Marvel. It’s the most incomprehensible excuse I have seen in a long time; Rocket Raccoon had just ten appearances in his first thirty years in the Marvel Universe and only returned to prominence due to the relaunch of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic series in the late 2000’s, Marvel vs Capcom 3 and the Guardians of the Galaxy film, and Captain Marvel was a male back during the Infinity Gauntlet saga in the 90’s and has been pretty much dead for a decade and a half, but I digress.
The likes of “Mango Sentinel” and Magneto’s “oh he’s so Pringles” (crude language in that link) are longstanding memes based upon two god tier characters in MVC2, who also appeared in MVC3 and UMVC3. Whether it’s a fabrication that younger fans do not know who the X-Men are (despite comic books, toys and movies existing) or trying to focus solely upon the Marvel Cinematic Universe and being coy with that notion, not having those X-Men universe characters does hurt the roster some, even if there’s enough diversity.
Those that nitpicked Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and hated it just to hate it, will likely pick apart Marvel vs Capcom Infinite as well. It’s a shame though, as the game engine feels much stronger and flexible than the previous title, with a wealth of discovery that goes well beyond that initial buzz that all fighting games have when released. The fact that online play for such a frantically paced game is as sublime as it is, will extend the shelf life of the game indefinitely for those that are not fortunate enough to have friends come over, or a gaming center to hang out at. Casually, Infinite delivers, and for tournament play, while nothing will ever recapture the magic Marvel vs Capcom 2 had, there will be a ton of tech players will be discovering in the lab and executing at a high level at your EVO’s and your CEO’s that will be entertaining as all hell to view. And if the recent announcement of a special MVCI tournament and worldwide qualifiers is any indication of Capcom’s future support of the game, it looks as if this crossover won’t be neglected once again.