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Rating 4

Marvel's Midnight Suns - Review

The ensemble nobody expected: Marvel and X-com
Score: 4/5
Reviewed by Joe Wilcock on PS5 - December 08, 2022   

Marvel Midnight Suns is an excellent evolution of the already stellar formulae that Firaxis has been refining in the X-com series. It adds a great deal of production value and polish which adds spectacle to a high-concept game such as this. After a slow start, Midnight Suns snowballs into a deep and complex tactical superhero RPG where several mechanics play into and feed into each other naturally creating a gameplay loop that with have you playing indefinitely. 

The overarching flow of the game is unmistakably X-com and it benefits the game tenfold. Progressions feels more natural as Tony Stark and Dr Strange work on upgrades or research throughout the day to be ready the next morning. You can also train daily with a teammate of your choice, with each one yielding unique rewards. It brings a synergy to the experience and improves the natural forward momentum of the game. It would be nice to actually have a mock fight with the hero, or see a cutscene but it’s only intended as a stat booster rather than purposeful training for the player. After the general upgrading and preparation phase, The Hunter will assemble the team and embark on the day's mission, then after a hard-fought battle, you can engage in hangout time to boost relationships and morale. The gameplay loop sets it apart from its rivals and makes for an addictive and satisfying experience. 

Then there’s the nitty gritty: the combat. The battles play more akin to a game of chess than a military operation as seen in X-com. Interesting objective-based missions help create dynamic and riveting scenarios whilst the random card dealing adds an element of chaos to proceedings. The system is rather underwhelming at the start, but as the complexities and extra layers get added to it, it becomes a deep and rewarding combat system. There are environmental attacks to consider, chain assaults and domino effect abilities that have one enemy knock into another causing a cascade of damage. Add to this: items, hero combos, special buffs that can be claimed by deafening certain enemies and much more and you’re left with fantastic overall combat.

It would all be in vain though if the titular Midnight Suns are compelling or fun to play as. Thankfully, this is not the case. The roster of heroes is vast, each one with their own quirks and talents. For the most part, every hero featured is done justice and is a fresh depiction of what we have come to know. New motivations, narrative impetus and complex relationships help differentiate the characters from their comic book counterparts. Unfortunately, the voice acting can be a little inconsistent but not so bad that it becomes distracting. It also does a good job of weaving The Hunter’s story and lesser-known Marvel lore into the story as well as enriching and adding depth to the more established heroes. This is achieved through the 65,000 lines of dialogue to be heard in this game. Hunter is a stranger to the rest of the team so there are plenty of chances to ask people about their backstories and powers. 

The amount of effort and love put into Marvel Midnight Suns can not be properly articulated here, you have to play it. It’s more of a Superhero life sim that an action game, the story and characters feel fresh and authentic whilst keeping true to the source material. As the story unfolds and your bonds strengthen with your team, you start to feel completely immersed in this world, something I was not expecting. 

But it’s not without its faults. Truth be told there is little wrong with the game, especially if you’re already a fan of this format. Firaxis’ trajectory leads me to believe that they’re on the cusp of greatness, a game that can eclipse the X-com series even. So I’m going to show it a little bit of tough love and nitpick its flaws. For example, if you don’t draw a hero’s card, they will not participate until you do. This leaves heroes doing literally nothing for consecutive rounds, it looks and feels awkward. The battlefields are also absolutely tiny, instead of having cohesive back-and-forth battles, the combat is confined to tiny instances where waves of enemies will appear. 

The friendship mechanic feels completely redundant in terms of role-playing and morality. Hunter is forced to kiss everyone’s ass in fear of insulting them and being docked friendship XP. It deceives the player into believing that dialogue options will branch Hunter’s personality, or have an adverse effect on the hero's perspective of him. I tend to play my games immorally or evilly and did in Marvel Midnight Suns, but it punished me for it and never gave me the option to be evil or at least ambivalent. At least some choices were reflected in the Balance mechanic which granted me unique abilities according to my morality, but no narrative divergences aside from small dialogue tweaks. 

The biggest sin though is the ability system in use is cringy and typical of modern video game trends. Instead of having standard abilities, they are represented by cards that are awarded by unlocking Gamma Coils, sound familiar? It’s an in-game loot box system that propels progression and even though there aren’t microtransactions allocated to it, it still feels and looks off. This is less of a Marvel Midnight Suns problem and more of an industry plague, but it doesn’t excuse Firaxis opting for this approach. I understand that it wants to be a deck-builder game, but not every mechanic has to be represented by cards. 

Furthermore, customisation for every hero besides Hunter is poor. Instead of interesting modular customisation, each hero has several skins, most of which can only be bought through micro transactions. If Hunter was the only playable hero in the game then this wouldn’t be a problem, but because you technically play as the other heroes it feels lazy and egregiously greedy. Each hero has just two unlockable suits and the rest are only available through purchasing Eclipse Credits. Want to play as classic X-force Wolverine? $3. Or how about the iconic Symbiote Spider-Man skin, the suit that every game that featured Spider-Man has offered in some capacity? $3. On launch they already had almost $70 worth of skins on the marketplace, snapping off cool content that should absolutely be in the game and reselling it to us even though it was available on day one. Criminal. What makes it worse is that when you unlock something, you don’t actually receive the item. You unlock the ability to unlock it with gloss points, another example of the loot in Marvel Midnight Suns being poor. 

It’s also unforgivable to give The Hunter a predetermined suit(s), especially considering he/she was seldom included in promotional materials or marketing for the game. Players should have had free reign over the suit, customising it in great detail and making it unique. Instead, The Hunter wears a generic suit that we can’t even change the colours of until later in the game. Thankfully, some of the suits you can unlock look pretty cool, but you never have any agency or ownership over them. 

There are other annoyances such as the hangout sections. They are a bit of a facade as the activities are irrelevant, instead, they’re just a peg to hang a conversational exposition dump and reward The Hunter with friendship XP. This being said, there is some great dialogue and tons of wholesome moments to be found within them. Missions shouldn’t be exclusively combat sections nor should the 3rd person hub gameplay be confined to The Grounds. It’s a missed opportunity not to blend the two and create an interconnected and embedded gaming world. 

Marvel Midnight Suns will live long in the memory, I was completed hooked into the gameplay loop and was genuinely invested in the characters and the story throughout. I went in with very high expectations and it still managed to surprise me. This is a must-play if you’re a big fan of superheroes and a great experience if you just like tactical RPG games. If it simply included a better customisation and loot system, it could have received a perfect score. However, because that is so pivotal when creating your own superhero, it did detract from the overall experience. 

Check back with DailyGamer for more reviews.


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