Hawkeye Can’t Save Marvel’s Avengers

Hawkeye Can’t Save Marvel’s Avengers

Like a sexy civilian in a superhero movie, Marvel’s Avengers needs saving. Someone, or something, needs to swoop in with panache and 11th-hour heroics. And the hero up at bat is…Hawkeye? Really? Him?

Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, joined the Avengers roster yesterday as part of the action game’s biggest update yet. First, those long-awaited next-gen versions, initially planned for release last November, finally came out. The game also received an overhaul to the level, plus the option to replay its campaign. (Finally!) But the biggest addition is the free “Future Imperfect” operation, a series of campaign missions that focuses on Hawkeye.

You might know Hawkeye as the Avenger with the bow, or the one without any superpowers, or the one who skipped a whole movie and no one really noticed (or cared). In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, alongside a cast of A-listers sporting topographical physiques, Barton is played by Jeremy Renner — a dude of above-average fitness, for sure, but certainly nobody with the genes of a Hollywood Chris who portrays a literal god. The only way in which Hawkeye is remarkable is in how unremarkable he is. Even the enemies in Marvel’s Avengers appear to feel this way. (While taking on a group of goons, I heard one shout, “Kill him. He’s just a normal man!” which: lmao.)

If the colloquial understanding of Hawkeye is that he’s a lesser hero, then Marvel’s Avengers nails Hawkeye.

Fundamentally, he functions the same as Kate Bishop, the star of last fall’s surprisingly engaging “Taking A.I.M.” operation. They’re both archers, and in Marvel lore, Barton is Bishop’s mentor. Like Bishop, Hawkeye can swap between three types of arrows. One is a standard shot, another fires three arrows in a horizontal spread, and a third lobs adhesive explosives, which you can detonate remotely. Hawkeye also comes with a katana, just like Bishop. His melee move set is nearly identical to his mentee’s (square is light attack and triangle is heavy, at least on PlayStation), save for a handful of skills that you can unlock in each hero’s respective skill tree. The main difference is that Hawkeye feels marginally, almost imperceptibly faster, both in how he swings his sword and how he fires his bow.

Everyone likes dogs, right? Here's a dog. (Screenshot: Crystal Dynamics / Kotaku)
Everyone likes dogs, right? Here’s a dog. (Screenshot: Crystal Dynamics / Kotaku)

Short version: To put it in terms we can all understand (i.e., Super Smash Bros.), he’s the Lucina to Kate’s Marth — an “echo fighter” of an already established character. If you’ve mastered playing one, you’ve already mastered the other.

Still, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by Barton’s notable lack of superhuman abilities. When Bishop scales a wall or leaps to a platform, she teleports in a royal purple eruption of temporal energy. Hawkeye whips out a grappling hook. Among other heroic moves, Bishop can create a gravity well that magnetically sucks enemies in and then explodes, sending any survivors flying at terminal velocity. Hawkeye can create a healing circle. C’mon, this is a game about superheroes. Let me do some cool shit!

Hawkeye himself isn’t the only letdown. The plot of “Future Imperfect” similarly misses the mark.

Minor spoilers follow for the plots of “Taking A.I.M.” and “Future Imperfect.”

At the end of “Taking A.I.M.,” Hawkeye, freshly back from a trip into the future, details an impending invasion from the Kree, a warrior extraterrestrial race, that will “destroy the world as we know it.” (Classic.) Monica Rappaccini, the main game’s ultimate big bad, has a plan to stop the invasion and has apparently teamed up with Nick Fury — who clearly has his own agenda — to see it through. While Barton is explaining all of this, he inexplicably slips into a coma. “Future Imperfect” starts with him in a hospital bed, still unconscious. And then it’s off to the future.

In the bombed-to-oblivion future, wearing sunglasses at night is chic. (Screenshot: Crystal Dynamics / Kotaku)
In the bombed-to-oblivion future, wearing sunglasses at night is chic. (Screenshot: Crystal Dynamics / Kotaku)

For the first mission, you’re cast as an older, well-bearded Barton. There are some serious Logan vibes. The whole region is dusty and arid. Buildings are abandoned, or crumbling, or reduced to rubble with wWestern-style guitar twangs in the background. And if that’s not enough to cement the direct comparison for you, the grizzly version of Hawkeye is also named Old Man Hawkeye. (Logan is partially based on “Old Man Logan” from Marvel canon.)

After that first mission, the modern-day Clint wakes up, gathers the team together, rescues his dog, and then travels back into the future. (Get a load of this groaner: “The key to the past is in the future.”) Your main goal is to track down Nick Fury hoping that he has crucial information that will stop the impending apocalypse. At the risk of spoiling what happens, I’ll leave it at this: Don’t expect the time travel threads to coalesce into an explanation that remotely makes sense.

Spoilers over.

Last fall, I bounced off Avengers pretty hard. Though the grind initially grabbed me, it quickly grew stale, especially once I was able to play a certain roguelike starring a certain brooding prince of the underworld. That, plus the bugs, the excruciating load times, and the general dearth of content, convinced me to hold off on Avengers until the next-gen versions were made available. And hey, by then, I’d have two new expansions to play through.

After an unexpectedly arduous data-transfer, I booted up Avengers on PS5 and jumped right into “Taking A.I.M.” The game is noticeably prettier, and faster, too. On a base PS4, you could practically feel Avengers falling apart at the seams. On PS5, tabbing through menus is smooth as butter now. Cold-booting the game takes 21.66 seconds to get to the main menu and 29.50 seconds, in total, to load into one of the hubs.

But the next-gen version is far from perfect. Throughout “Taking A.I.M.,” I repeatedly experienced an audio bug that made it so only my player character would speak. Subtitles for other characters would pop up, but that’s no replacement for dialogue in the middle of a hectic battle. During the operation’s final mission, all relevant info from my heads-up display disappeared. No health bars, no cooldown meters, no proximity warnings. This created a neat cinematic effect like I was playing through an actual MCU movie. It was also extremely inconvenient. At the end of one mission, the screen faded to black before loading the post-mission lobby. The screen remained pitch-black. I had to close and reopen the game — and replay the entire mission.

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These issues didn’t occur at all during “Future Imperfect,” but the frequency with which they popped up during Bishop’s operation put me on edge. Whenever a screen would fade to black at the end of a mission, I’d hold my breath. Am I gonna have to replay this mission? Please no!

Marvel’s Avengers shines as a linear action game. The games-as-a-service stuff — the endless churn of loot, the endless quest for experience points, the endless runs of the same missions in the same locations — is all a matter of taste, but the campaign missions are indisputably excellent. Bishop’s campaign is emblematic of Avengers at its best. Barton’s leaves a lot to be desired, to the point where, yeah, I’m not sure I’d want to play through any of it again. Given the similarity between the two heroes and the order in which they’ve joined the game, it’s tough not to compare the two.

“Taking A.I.M.,” for instance, features grand battles and several high-pressure boss fights, including a truly inspired battle against an adaptoid that wields knock-off Avengers powers, including facsimiles of Thor’s hammer and Captain America’s shield. “Future Imperfect” has none of that. Most of the fights are a breeze. The whole campaign has just one notable boss battle, and it’s kind of a letdown. Bishop’s operation made Avengers fun again. Clint’s did not. Playing the two back-to-back really put this in perspective.

Since Marvel’s Avengers launched six months ago, the game has been racing toward a reckoning. Speaking personally, every time I come back to the fold, I can’t help but imagine how much better it would’ve been were it just a plain action game in the vein of the developer’s previous work on the Tomb Raider reboots. But a service game is what we have, and what we have only offers fun in sporadic bursts. Is that enough to stymie waning interest? Or is the time between updates too long to maintain a steady base of players?

Marvel’s Avengers hasn’t been saved yet — not by bargain-bin Legolas — but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Later this summer, an expansion starring Black Panther will be made available to all players at no extra cost. Further, at some unspecified date, PlayStation players will be able to play as Spider-Man. Slowly but surely, the Avengers may yet assemble, at least partially.

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