Even superheroes need a break but when the world’s about to end the last thing you’d expect is a penchant for book clubs.
hat’s the paradox of the always-surprising Marvel’s Midnight Suns (MMS), in which an unorthodox team of MCU stars converge to face down a superdemon revived from the dead. Experience suggests any new Marvel game must follow the POW! SLAP! WALLOP! of the film universe. But Midnight Suns wrongfoots expectations at every turn while still incorporating a tactical version of the crunchy combat for which the mega-franchise is indelibly known. And, yes, there’s a book club.
Marvel handed development of Midnight Suns to Firaxis, the studio renowned for its turn-based alien-bashing series XCOM. True to form, Firaxis forges MMS’s superhero combat in XCOM’s image but the resemblance is barely more than skin-deep. It ditches many central tenets such as cover tactics and overwatch for more free-flowing goodies-vs-baddies arena battles.
But first Firaxis expends considerable energy building its setting, bringing together lesser-known Marvel lights with a handful of Avengers characters including Iron Man and Captain Marvel. Gathered at a sprawling mansion known as the Abbey, the roster is rounded out by the player’s character, a newcomer called the Hunter. From this base, this group of Midnight Suns plan their missions to interrupt the schemes of terrorist cabal Hydra to resuscitate Lilith, an evil ancient goddess.
Missions play out with three of the superheroes outnumbered by many enemies in compact spaces. But instead of XCOM’s click-and-move interface, MMS adopts a card-based turn system, in which you pick an attack/defence move from a hand of randomly dealt abilities. Firaxis stirs up this conventional gameplay by allowing one character per turn to roam the arena freely, lining up shots that can shove in enemies into hazards like pinball. As the mission advances, your team gains heroism points that enable super-moves, such as Captain Marvel’s photon beam that smashes through several foes in a line.
You begin to see the battlefield as a puzzle to solve: how to clobber enemies efficiently using the environment, superpowers and team coordination.
That latter element of collaboration stems from the other half of Midnight Suns (and it is at least half), in which you hang out at the Abbey and build relationships between the standoffish superheroes. It’s a system well established in other turn-based games such as Fire Emblem and Persona, where the characters converse, compete, bicker and learn together. The closer the gang become – through books clubs, training and plain old chat – the more effective they are as a team in combat.
Firaxis has invested the Abbey with enormous depth but to me it never felt as compelling as the missions. The dialogue can be cringey, the tasks mundane. As a palate-cleanser, the base functions well in the beginning but the more you’re sent back there, the less interesting it felt to me.
You can’t avoid much of this social interaction, save for skipping the cut-scenes, but it’s a necessary chore than makes the kick-ass combat all the sweeter. A little less conversation, a little more action please, as Elvis would say.