Thoughts On - Marvel's Midnight Suns
The best way I’ve seen Midnight Suns described is that it feels like an interactive comic book event story. Personally, I feel that is a perfect description. Let me explain;
When Infinity War and Endgame were released, I had several people come up to me and comment on how crazy it was, and that they didn’t expect some of the events that happened in the film to happen (if you’ve seen them, you know). My reaction was always “it was great, but if you think that’s crazy, check out the books they’re based on!” While those films are undoubtedly amazing, the scope and scale pale in comparison to not only their namesake comic runs, but other comic book events such as Crisis on Infinite Earths, Secret Invasion and Infinity, to name but a few. It’s hard to explain just how large in scope some of these events are.
Midnight Suns feels to me like a halfway point between the two. There are some amazing twists and turns throughout its story, and the game goes to some places that one doesn’t expect. It doesn’t quite reach the reality destroying/ remaking stakes of some comic book events, but it feels larger than either of the aforementioned films.
It is clear the makers of this game are huge comic books fans. Don’t expect the MCU-lite of the Avengers game here; this is steeped in the Marvel Universe’s comic book origins and it is all the better for it. If you’ve no experience of Marvel outside of the films there may be some bits of dialogue leaving you scratching your head, such as how Captain Marvel gained her powers not from the Tesseract, but from a Kree Psyche-Magnitron, or when Peter Parker mentions he found the Venom symbiote on Battleworld rather than inside an asteroid. There are heaps of these kinds of references throughout the game, some subtle, some not, and it really gives the feeling of a living, breathing world.
Honestly, the story is one of the biggest highlights of the game. While it is of course crazy, out-there comic book stuff, it is told in a really interesting, and sometimes surprisingly emotional, way. This is helped by some truly brilliant voice acting from the whole cast. Honestly, I did not feel there was a weak voice performance in the game, but special mention needs to go to Rick Pasqualone as Doctor Strange, Michael Jai White as Blade, Lyrica Okano as Nico (which has made me want to check out the Runaways show now) and Laura Bailey as Magik. These were all stand out performances that really endeared the characters to me. The only characters I did not care for were Captain America, who I’ve never been the biggest fan of, and Morbius who I feel was the only hero not well established. Heck, even Deadpool was made to be more than just a mild psychopath with zany jokes.
There are a lot of characters in Midnight Suns, and not just counting those you get to play as/ with. Johnny Blaze, Mephisto, Sin, Crossbones and more appear and they all receive a good amount of screentime and are impactful to the story. There are some absolutely brilliant character moments as well, such as a heartbreaking moment between Tony Stark and Stephen Strange when they believe one of their comrades is lost to the game’s evil. Stark is clearly having a very hard time with it, lashing out while Strange tries to comfort him in his not-entirely-great-bedside-manner way.
The biggest surprise is probably The Hunter, the player character. Having an original character can be risky because everyone just wants to play as the other characters and/or the original character just isn't as cool as the established heroes. However, as Hunter evolves throughout the story I found them to be a really interesting character and fitted in very well with the rest of the cast. I played as a male good-aligned Hunter and found their personality to be quite likeable. Matthew Mercer does a great job as the voice of Hunter as well. I’ve heard that female Hunter is just as good, but as I’ve not played her I can’t comment.
Of course all of this is well and good, but it doesn’t make a video game. Much was made of the card based combat system when the game was announced. People really don't seem to like it for some reason, but I found it worked very well. Maybe it’s because I’m a Magic: The Gathering player, but I did not find the card system to be a barrier at all, and enjoyed how it made each battle a kind of puzzle. The game presents you with enough cards that it’s easy to build your character decks to a style you like, and once upgraded many cards have secondary abilities that make playing/ discarding/ redrawing them advantageous. There is a huge amount of strategy in here which you could spend hours experimenting with. There is also much you can do without even using cards which adds nice variety. Honestly, I was enthralled by combat the whole time I played with the game throwing in enough variation of battleground layout and enemy mixes to keep me on my toes.
The majority of reviews for Midnight Suns I saw on release decried the friendship aspect of the game. Between missions you are able to talk to and hang out with the various heroes. This has benefits of getting to know their backstory and what makes them tick, as well as more practical things like increasing character abilities, unlocking cards and cool combo attacks you and that character pull off together. Again, I really enjoyed this, but I admit I already had a vested interest in many of these characters, and it was a joy to find out more about the ones I wasn’t as familiar with. For people who really aren’t interested in this I can see how it could be a drag, especially as the game all but forces you to do it. I do think that it was a mistake to only allow for one mission to be done per game day, as sometimes even I just wanted to get back into the action. Still, skipping the friendship aspect of the game means missing out on some of the best abilities and best writing.
The third aspect of this game is its exploration. The Abby where you keep your base of operations is pretty big with lots of nooks and crannies to explore. There are several mysteries around the Abby that can be solved, as well as some challenges to be completed. Again, none of this is essential, but it does make the game easier and combat cooler if you take the time to unlock all the rewards. As much as I did enjoy this aspect, I feel it’s the game’s weakest part. While the area is large, soon you’ll figure out that it’s simply a fancy box to “hold” all these side missions. The mysteries are not deep, basically needing you to go from one place to another. The challenges are fun, but getting to them does at times feel like busy work. If exploring the Abby was tied in more with the main plot it may have been somewhat more engaging, but I found that after I “cleared” an area there was no reason to return. Also, the Hunter’s walk and run animations are a little off. Perhaps a byproduct of also being able to play as a female character, my Hunter was really swinging his hips, which made me chuckle. Conversely, the run animation seems really stiff. If you drop off a platform there is no dedicated fall animation, he just kind of drops in his regular standing pose. The environments, however, are very pretty to look at.
This brings me to the game’s graphics. The game’s style is very much modern comic book, making me think of artists such as Jim Cheung or Nicola Scott. However, there are more than a few instances of poor textures or cut corners. All the character costumes are quite detailed, but sometimes the smaller details, such as runes running across shoulder pads, are quite pixelated. In general the environments look wonderful, but you’ll notice that every book in the Abby that’s been left lying open, and there are many, are all mysteriously open to the same page. Props appear several times across various surfaces and while battle environments do vary, eventually you’ll get to the point where you’ll be seeing the same two dozen or so repeat just with different obstacles and enemies. I’m somewhat inclined to forgive this as the game was made by a smaller team and there is so much already in here, but it’s still a bit of a shame.
The biggest issue I had with the game is its instability. While there was the odd graphical glitch and characters standing atop stools rather than sitting on them, the worst were the crashes to the dashboard. This would happen rather often when reloading a battle that it’d screwed up, but once it happened between the end of battle and beginning of a cutscene, meaning I had to re-play the battle again. This seemed to happen more often in the last half or so of the game, but the loading times would sometimes be quite long as well. This was not consistent with when it would happen, but it was still somewhat annoying.
A quick note on the DLC: I played all of it and enjoyed it. If you enjoy the base game then I think you’ll enjoy the DLC as well. All the characters fit in well with the base game and there is enough care here that lines from the DLC characters have been included referencing stuff going on in the main story. Some of the missions are much harder than the standard game though, so be sure to level up
In all, I would highly recommend Midnight Suns. If you are a comic book fan (as opposed to just knowing the characters from movies/tv - no gatekeeping, just the game is very comic book oriented) you’ll probably get much more out of it because of all the references, some of which are quite deep. That said, I think most people will get a kick out of the game. The combat is great, the story is really well written with some genuinely moving and comedic moments, and the voice performances are some of the best I’ve heard. Yes, sometimes the animation can be a bit stiff and it’s not the most stable game, but I think the pros far outweigh the cons here.
It’s such a shame that this game did not get the attention it deserved on release because given how good this game is a sequel could truly be amazing! I’m hoping that with time it will become something of a cult classic and, if the Old Gods are with us, we might even one day see a second game.