When Marvel decided to give their blessing to Firaxis Games to develop a tactical RPG, everyone had high expectations for Marvel’s Midnight Suns due to the fantastic job they did with XCOM.
It’s not simply a souped-up version of XCOM with superheroes instead of top tier soldiers however, for there’s card-play, RPG elements, adventure, and much more in Marvel’s Midnight Suns. Have Firaxis Games nailed it with their first attempt at such an ambitious concept, or does Marvel’s Midnight Suns fall short of its potential?
Once you get your head around the fact that Marvel’s Midnight Suns isn’t XCOM, you’re bound to enjoy a lot of what it has to offer. A few gameplay ideas and performance issues do hold it back from being a belter of a game though.
As always, Hydra have been up to no good and the meddling of Doctor Faustus has awakened the Mother of All Demons, Lilith. Hellbent on enabling the return of an even greater threat, Lilith uses her army of minions and a fair few familiar faces to put her plan into place. Realising the need for a different approach to stop her, Iron Man and Doctor Strange draft in the Midnight Suns as well as awaken their own secret weapon, Hunter. They must work together and overcome numerous foes if they’re to succeed in preventing the worst case scenario from happening.
I love that Marvel’s Midnight Suns boldly delves into the occult side of Marvel Comics, bringing in the Midnight Suns (a recent rebrand of the Midnight Sons) as the focal point for a rather dark narrative. It’s such a different vibe to the majority of Marvel projects that it instantly feels fresh with the supernatural overload. After the initial proceedings, the main story is a slow burner that advances periodically and tends to deliver just enough to keep you wanting to know more. Fortunately, there are a lot of sub-stories going on and bits of lore to indulge in to satisfy your storytelling needs in-between.
In an intelligent move, Firaxis have created a perfect mixture of heroes and villains to accompany Hunter, surely satisfying both the casuals and fanatics simultaneously. Most people know about Tony Stark, Peter Parker and Steve Rogers, which will draw them in, but then that allows them to be introduced to the likes of Ghost Rider, Magik and Nico Minoru. The casting is excellent too, meaning the characters possess real personality while coming across as believable incarnations. Using Michael Jai White to voice Blade is just perfect, but also bringing in Yuri Lowenthal and Lyrica Okano to reprise the roles of Spider-Man and Nico is a great call.
On the downside, Hunter, who is your main protagonist, has an underwhelming presence in Marvel’s Midnight Suns. I don’t mean in regards to the powerfulness or importance within the narrative, but more that, as a created character, he doesn’t quite fit in. The guy I made sticks out like a sore thumb, looking unnatural in his usual habitat and is pretty rough around the edges. The good thing about him is that his abilities are shaped by decisions made, with Light and Dark routes offering different benefits. In short, the Light pathway ensures Hunter is more supportive in battles, while the Dark option is much more deadly and potentially costly.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, there are a multitude of ways to occupy yourself and it all emanates from the Abbey. The Abbey, and the grounds surrounding it, act as a base location for the Midnight Suns as well as a safe haven – seeing as it’s within another dimension. It is here where you’ll accept missions to fight the good fight, with story-focused types available alongside general briefs including protection and retrieval objectives. And this is where the tactical aspect begins.
During missions, the standard setup sees three heroes transported to a specific location for the encounter to commence. Each hero has an eight-card deck in their possession, with cards being drawn from all three decks combined. Taking turns, you must outsmart and defeat the enemy AI by playing cards that trigger abilities. Only three cards can be played every turn, while you are also able to manoeuvre a single hero on the battlefield. And then there’s Heroism to build up through certain low-level cards, which is spent on the bigger and most powerful moves.
All the talk of cards doesn’t sound very exciting, but the abilities trigger cool animations with some awesome moves being unleashed. Each individual has movesets that suit, helping them navigate the battlegrounds in ways you’d expect. For example, Hunter is able to whip enemies into other enemies and even corrupt them; Magik conjures up portals to send foes through; Blade unsheathes his sword and afflicts bleeding; Ghost Rider drains souls with his chains and can open up a passage to hell; and Spider-Man can bind baddies with his webbing. I could go as this is merely a brief explanation of what they’re capable of, but you get the idea.
Adding an additional layer to your approach is the fact that the environment plays an important role. Whether you’re on the streets of New York or in some dodgy warehouse, interactive items lurk everywhere. From exploding canisters and electric generators, to rocks and walls, there are many things to use to your advantage, causing a little extra damage that could make a big difference. Often outnumbered by Hydra goons and demonic forces, much thought has to be put into which card to use, whether and how best to utilise the environment. Planning the optimum strategy and executing it is extremely satisfying, but a couple of little things are slightly irritating.
The most prominent of which is the seemingly endless amount of reinforcements arriving after each turn. It’s all too easy to draw a bad mixture of cards, have an underwhelming turn and become overwhelmed. Before you know it, your heroes get injured, the odds are stacked against you and the preceding moves have all been for nothing. Fortunately, experiencing such occurrences will enlighten you to pay attention to the heroes you team together – certain team combinations are inefficient.
Nevertheless, the tactics-based action is pretty good, but that’s actually a mere portion of activities in Marvel’s Midnight Suns. You see, the Abbey grounds are akin to a little open-world area to explore via a third-person perspective. Doing a spot of daily sparring with your comrades to increase their XP, researching projects to improve the facilities, analysing the wares gathered from missions, and upgrading cards is just scratching the surface on what you can do here.
The adventurous folk will unearth mysteries, find puzzles to solve and unlock power spells to allow you to access places you seldom thought possible. Most of these parts are optional, but it definitely pays to wander about as you’ll find collectible Tarot cards, journals and other quirky bits of lore. Occasionally, currency in the form of Gloss, Credits and Essence, appears too, which is handy for various improvements and customisation. If nothing else, just lounge at the poolside with Captain Marvel, because why not?
Hanging out with your teammates and getting to know them is a crucial aspect actually, with you hoping to build friendships and earn rewards in the process. Interactions are frequent and although choices are limited, I like that not everyone reacts well to niceties and being blunt or pessimistic can do wonders for increasing friendship levels with certain people. Doing so means you’ll have access to new passive abilities, Hero Combo cards that pack a punch, and more. The dialogue may grate, but that depends on your tolerance towards an abundance of lame jokes.
Like I say, there’s a lot to do outside of missions, and there’s even more. You can team up with Hunter’s dog Charlie for treacherous trials and send heroes out on Hero Ops too, ensuring a wide range of activities are in place to avoid boredom setting in. And while boredom shouldn’t be an issue, there are a few minor gripes worth highlighting in Marvel’s Midnight Suns.
Firstly, the Abbey grounds are so dull that one area essentially looks like another, which makes getting lost a regular thing. It would help to have a mini-map, instead of having to open up the big one and decipher where you’re heading. Slightly more worrying are the moments where mid-mission everything comes to a halt during an action. It’s almost as if it’s about to crash, but thankfully resolves itself after a short wait. There is also the odd stutter during cutscenes, which isn’t ideal.
Ultimately, Marvel’s Midnight Suns manages to thrill with exciting card-based antics while also ensuring strategic minds prevail. Given how much there is to do at the Abbey, it’s like two games in one as you embark upon a mysterious adventure. The cavalcade of characters brought in for this crossover between comic heroes is fantastic too. It’s just slightly disappointing that Hunter, the main character, doesn’t really feel as if they belong. You shouldn’t have to worry over technical issues either, but it happens.
Pick up Marvel’s Midnight Suns, play some cards, learn a few spells, and go bird-watching with Blade. It’s unlikely you’ll ever get the chance to do that again.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is available to purchase on the Xbox Store