Game Reviewby Dustin Bailey,
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is the latest in Capcom's high-flying, inescapable combo-making crossover fighting series. Despite the loss of the X-Men, it's still a roster 30 strong from across video games and comics to form your tag teams, and now you've got the powers of the Infinity Stones to further influence your strategy.
The new story mode in Marvel vs. CAPCOM: Infinite has all the characters trapped in a pair of worlds awkwardly smashed together out of pieces from their respective universes. Marvel's AIM laboratories host not only MODOK, but also the BOWs of Resident Evil, smushed into the new AIMbrella Corporation. It's kind of like that throughout, with various bits of lore being shoehorned into one thing at the hands of a newly united Ultron Sigma, with the big baddy forcing pieces of both worlds into a single thing.
MvC:I itself feels like it's awkwardly straddling a line, but here the two worlds are pro and casual players, audiences with vastly different needs whose interest is nonetheless essential for a fighting game's success. With Street Fighter V, we saw a game that confidently provided an incredible fighting engine for competitive players, but one that did so at the expense of content for a wide audience. In trying to correct the mistakes of CAPCOM's last fighter, it feels like Infinite has traded in so much of MvC's ridiculous comic book personality for a pale imitation of the films. Underneath the bland exterior, there's a game that's often a joy to play, one that offers tremendous depth for the competitive and smart concessions to help new players have a good time. But it can't quite fill in the middle ground.
There's no escaping the fact that Infinite is ugly. Moving away from the colorful, cartoonish style of the previous game in favor of—well, I don't even know what this is supposed to be. In theory, it's a more cinematic look in line with Marvel's movies, and that idea's backed up by the Avengers-focused roster and details like the voice of Iron Man doing his best Robert Downey Jr impression. But the characters are so overly muscular that they look bizarrely deformed rather than anything realistic or cinematic. Spider-Man is a red and blue sack of potatoes with an egg-shaped mask balanced on top. Nemesis is about the only character who doesn't feel off-putting to look at, and he's a Frankensteinian mass of flesh built by a zombie virus. It's marginally better in motion, thanks largely to some fun animation that digs into to the right bits of goofball territory, like Arthur's silly, arcade accurate run cycle.
But the overall presentation is still incredibly lifeless. Not just the characters, either—the stages are bland city streets and generic labs, and even though they're pulled from wildly silly video game and comic sources they lose any spark of that wild source material. The soundtrack is similarly a dull collection of cinematic scoring without a single memorable note. These complaints aren't just in comparison to MvC3, either. This is a game that looks and feels at best uninspiring, and at worst disturbingly repelling.
Yet behind that veneer is, again, a tremendously fun fighting system. Despite moving to 2v2 tag battles, it's still a feast of combos and supers and massive chains all about locking your opponent into inescapable damage for seconds at a time, provided you can keep up the execution necessary to make that happen. Putting together those combos feels fun and experimental thanks to how easily all the basic strikes work together, and working specials and supers into your chains is made far easier since the game largely relies on simple fireball motions to execute, with little in the way of intricate double half-circles or dragon punches to bring out your most powerful moves.
The Infinity Stones add another layer to building your team, since their unique abilities end up forming the cohesive tissue of your strategies. You can use basic abilities ranging from teleports and powerful launchers at pretty much any time, but once the meter builds up you can get some real power. The space stone traps your opponent in a tiny block, while the soul stone can go so far as to revive a KO'd partner. They add another layer of strategy in building a team and deciding how and when to execute your attacks in a fight, making for a smart addition to the game in lieu of that third character.
It's also way easier to get into combo building because there's a basic string that works across pretty much every character, and a few other universal bits besides. Cycling light punch, light kick, heavy punch, heavy kick will give you a combo to build off of with everybody, and you can universally do a launcher with a crouching heavy punch. Do the basic string, launch, do the string in midair. It's a basic set of moves that will get you started with any character, and it does a tremendous job of making the game fun to play at a low level, experimenting with various characters and just messing around with the fight system.
There are also options for auto combos and easy supers, which sound terrible on paper but actually are tremendously well considered and integrated. Mashing light attack with the auto combo will do the basic universal string, launcher, air string combo. This helps to break down the execution barrier at a very low level without breaking the game entirely. You still have to open up your opponent to hit the attacks, and understand how throws and guards factor into the system. Importantly, auto combos don't take away any of your other control, so they can serve as a base point for opening attacks that you can then follow up into your own strings, or start to figure out when to layer in supers and tags to keep the combos going. And, you know, play Marvel.
Once you've moved past the stage of auto combos, your next step is to hit YouTube and fighting game forums, because the game itself sure doesn't give you the tools necessary to go beyond beginning. There's a mission mode that will explain the basic controls and give you some target combos for each character, but it won't explain when you'd want to use them or why. This is pretty common for fighting games, but it's still disappointing to see here since Infinite makes so many otherwise smart considerations for newcomers and other games like Skullgirls have totally figured this stuff out.
The real problem with Infinite is that it lacks that intermediate step for players who are beyond mashing out combos but not yet to the point of putting hours into training in the efforts of staying competitive. Despite improving on the anemic launch state of Street Fighter V, it's still short on content, leaning on a flashy but insubstantial story mode and very little else. The story has some fun moments, like seeing Hulk and Ryu team up against a giant monster, or seeing Haggar deal with a sudden bunch of supernatural sci-fi nonsense. Then Frank West shows up and literally says “I've covered wars y'know” again and you just want to die from the sheer predictability of it all. Oh, but look how cool Black Panther and Monster Hunter are! (You can't play them yet, please look forward to the DLC.) The fights are super basic, and often leave you without the game's most basic mechanics, whether that be tagging or the Infinity Stones. It's a mostly fun couple of hours, but it's not something you're likely to revisit.
Beyond that, there's arcade mode, which is a handful of fights and an achingly dull encounter against a unique boss. There's no unique endings—not even a splash screen with some ending text. Then you're left with mission mode and versus fights. Versus battles are always going to be the meat of a fighting game, and aside from a couple of matches with poor connections online play has been top notch. Yet if you're not looking to get competitive, there's very little content here to fill in the gaps.
It feels like CAPCOM learned all the wrong lessons with Street Fighter V. A game with wonderful core gameplay and a serious lack of content, it was great for the competitive scene but a real drag for a more general audience. This time, they've tried to pull in that same audience not with a bunch of stuff to do outside of online matches, but with a hideous new art style and an unimpressive story mode. Underneath all that, there's a fighting system that sings when you put the pieces together, and a game that's fun to play at both low and high levels. But instead of bridging the gap in the middle, Infinite puts the onus on you to seek out those combo videos and put the hours in on training to stay with the evolving online community. It's tough to want to do that when the game's so devoid of personality, unless you're already deep in on Marvel.
Overall : B-
Graphics : D+
Sound/Music : C
Gameplay : A
Presentation : C-
+ Great fights, terrific concessions for newcomers, smart combo system that feels free-flowing
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