Review – Marvel’s Midnight Suns
While playing Marvel’s Midnight Suns, what it reminded me most of was Sonic Frontiers. Not because of the gameplay obviously, as it’s clearly extremely different. But in other more fundamental ways, they were sadly similar. Both games were announced to a lukewarm to negative response from their target audiences. Both of them spent their marketing run desperately trying to explain what they were and how they worked. Neither one really pulled it off either, and both launched to indifference and way too many technical issues. The most crucial way they were similar was in how both games nailed their core gameplay, but were let down by everything else. Because while Marvel’s Midnight Suns absolutely nails its card based combat, the classic Bioware RPG half feels half-baked and unfinished.
The best part about Marvel’s Midnight Suns is the combat. One of the biggest concerns about the game was specifically about combat, and how it compared to XCOM’s. Especially the deck-building aspect. As someone who was also concerned, I have to say I was blown away by the combat. Deck-building is quick and fun, with lots of customization. The combat switches out XCOM‘s slow strategic approach for a quicker, more bombastic approach to great effect. Huge AOE attacks, tons of environmental destruction, throwing enemies all over the arena, it’s a very visceral and physical game. Even moreso than Mario + Rabbids, which was previously the most visceral turn-based strategy game I’d played.
Each mission starts out with you picking three heroes. Some missions have mandatory heroes, but the max is always three. Each hero comes with a eight card deck composed of attacks, actions, and heroics. Each hero also comes with a unique mechanic ranging from Magik’s portals to Ghost Rider’s soul collecting. As play starts you play cards from your hand, each one corresponding to specific hero. You also have the ability to manipulate the environment, and use one move to strategically place a hero either for an attack or possibly more environmental destruction. Once you’re out of card plays (or rarely cards), you then pass play to the enemy. Play continues until one side is victorious, and if that’s not you then you can retry right away. Each mission is fast, sleek, and much quicker than most tactical games.
Sadly, the rest of the game isn’t quite on the same level. It’s not bad, and I really enjoyed what it was trying to do. But the more I played, and the more I enjoyed, the more I saw what could have been. See XCOM is famous for its base-building half, which is almost like its own game. Upgrading your troops, your base, managing resources and research, all that stuff. And Firaxis really nailed it with XCOM 2, everything just flowed beautifully. Much like the combat though, Marvel’s Midnight Suns took that idea and tried to do something different with it. Instead of a base-building minigame, it’s essentially a full blown 360 era Bioware RPG. Think Dragon Age Origins. But with super heroes, worse writing, and a very limited relationship system.
The premise of the game is that the Mother of Demons Lilith has been resurrected by Hydra to destroy the world. You play as The Hunter, a customizable character that is Lilith’s only child and the protagonist of the game. You lead a team comprised of a few Avengers and the actual Midnight Suns against your mother’s forces in order to save the world. And you stage this war from your base of operations, The Abbey. It’s here you rest between missions, do your research, interact with your companions, and explore and solve mysteries around The Abbey itself. On paper, it’s a genius idea. A small dense open-world to play in and dig deep into the lore of the dark side of the Marvel Universe. The actual execution is…complicated.
First off the biggest issue I have is with the premise itself. From the front of the box you would rightfully assume the Midnight Suns take the lead in Marvel’s Midnight Suns. Not the case. Either out of brand fear or pressure from Marvel, the Avengers take the leading role for far to much of the game. The actual Midnight Suns are criminally underused and overshadowed. Likewise, the game never does more than dip its toes into the darker parts of Marvel. Likely held back by its T-rating, there’s very little in the way of blood, occult violence, or any of the darker themes and materials people associate with this part of Marvel. Your average MCU movie is darker than this game, and it’s an absolute damn shame. Not to say that there isn’t some good stuff here, but most of it is buried in the Abbey mysteries.
The second issue I have is with the relationship system. This is where the RPG elements are most overt, and at first it seems great. Every hero has their own friendship meter, personality, and preferences to The Hunter’s Light/Dark morality meter. You engage them in conversations, go out on hangouts, and attend clubs composed of various heroes. There’s a lot to do , but what there isn’t is consequences. Friend meters can’t go negative, and you never lose anyone despite what you say or do. Higher friend levels only give gameplay bonuses, nothing to increase your social experience. There’s no romance either, despite some friendship encounters having a super overt romantic feel to them. Things you say or do only matter in the moment, and it takes the teeth out of the whole system. It’s an RPG without the RPG.
And sure, it doesn’t break the game or anything. The turn-based combat is more than riveting enough to carry the game on its own. But there’s so much here. So much written dialogue, all of it voiced (though not all of it well), and there’s clear effort and passion in the relationship system. But it’s missing core aspects that leave it feeling a bit hollow. It’s hard to really feel like you’re connecting with your team when they never react to you beyond the moment. Some heroes prefer Dark aligned answer, other’s light, but beyond individual answers they never act on it. And after that one action, they treat you exactly the same after you exit the dialogue. You can call Tony Stark a coward to his face, and he’s all buddy buddy the second the conversation’s over. It’s the disconnect that RPG’s fear to their core.
Then there’s the technical, graphical, and sound issues. First the elephant in the room, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a pretty ugly game. Occasionally it does look good. But more often than not, it looks like the Xbox 360 RPG’s it’s trying to emulate. Way too many frame rate drops on the PS5 too. And I hear things are even worse on PC, but haven’t had much time to verify that myself. The sound is also a mixed bag. You have Michael Jai White absolutely killing it as Blade one moment, and than Josh Keaton phoning it in as the worst Iron Man ever again. Funnily enough I found the Midnight Suns to have the best performances, while everyone else was questionable. Fortunately Lilith, Caretaker, and The Hunter are all on the right side of the voice-acting fence, with Mathew Mercer knocking it out of the park again.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns was a game I wanted to love more than I did. And don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy it. I can’t express my love for the combat enough, it’s fast, furious, and fantastically flashy. The deck-building aspect is great too, with loads of options and variety. It’s what you’re doing when you’re not in combat that’s the problem. The hollow consequence free relationships, the questionable voice-acting and writing, and the game’s underutilization of the entire mystical and dark premise to the game. And much like Sonic Frontiers, the foundation to doing all that is right here. They did so much work and got so much right, which only makes the shortcomings feel more obvious. Still I love that Firaxis was willing to do something different, and I hope this game is a springboard to them continuing to innovate and keep the genre fresh.
The game looks like the PS3 era Bioware RPGs it’s very clearly inspired by, and it occasionally runs just as well as they did.
The gameplay is absolutely sublime, with the deckbuilding and card-based combat mechanics polished, deep, and loads of fun to play with.
Some of the voice-acting is great while some of it is not, and the soundtrack lands somewhere in the middle of the two.
Fun Factor: 8.0
While the overall narrative is quite interesting, it’s the gameplay that keeps this game afloat against the rather tepid writing and a rather underwhelming take on the dark side of the Marvel Universe.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PC.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Marvel’s Midnight Suns was provided by the publisher.