How 'Avengers' Game Will Set Up a Multiplayer Universe

Director Shaun Escayg and lead combat designer Vince Napoli also reveal why the heroes look nothing like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans.

Two years after it was first announced at 2017’s E3 convention, Square Enix and developer Crystal Dynamics debuted the first look at its Avengers video game this week. The action title features familiar heroes such as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow and Hulk — though their faces were a bit unfamiliar for fans expecting to see versions of the characters made famous by Robert Downey Jr. and co.

“We knew we wanted to make an original Avengers game and go back to the roots in the comic books,” Crystal Dynamics creative director Shaun Escayg tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Escayg says that at no point during the game’s development process did they consider using the likenesses of the actors behind the MCU versions of the heroes. “We wanted to clearly show that this was our spin on the Avengers,” Escayg says. “Even the way we cast these characters was based on our story and our narrative.”

“It’s creating a new Marvel universe. We were creating a brand new thing in collaboration with Marvel so it really did demand our own characters,” adds Vince Napoli, lead combat designer at Crystal Dynamics.

Speaking to the challenges facing the team’s renditions of iconic heroes, particularly after being made famous over the course of the last decade in the MCU films, Escayg says, “It’s challenging but it’s the only way we could serve this particular story. We’re excited to hear what our fans think. You’ve got millions of fans around the world who have been waiting years for it and if you do it wrong, you feel the burden.”

Escayg says Marvel gave him and his team an “amazing” amount of range with its characters. “That’s always the fear, right? These are beloved, iconic characters. How do we take this and spin it and make it our own without conflict?” he says. “But Marvel has been very good to challenge us and ensure we stay on point but, at the same time, give us the freedom to tell this specific story.”

In the game, players can jump between control of their favorite Avengers heroes, splitting time between Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Cap and Thor in the demo shown at the Square Enix booth on the E3 show floor. Each character controls differently, showcasing different skill sets and combat styles. “There was no idea of figuring out a single combat system and putting these guys into it. Instead, it was looking at each of these characters and saying, 'What can I do as Hulk?' ” says Napoli. “It’s almost like the characters are so big that we have to wrap a combat system around them.”

“The cooperative element helps a lot. It’s almost like playing a different game when you get to each character,” he continues. “That was something that Marvel really pushed for. They said if you’re going to tackle Iron Man this needs to feel like an Iron Man game when you’re in his shoes.”

Napoli has a pedigree of creating deep combat systems in games, having previously worked on last year’s game of the year winner God of War. “When you see what the movies do, that’s one interpretation of these characters. Here’s ours of something similar and we’re going to look at that as reference and things we didn’t like about that or things that will work better for us,” says Napoli.

The game features a main narrative that follows the Avengers being blamed for a catastrophic event and struggling with the loss of Captain America, disbanding and then, ultimately, reassembling to face a new threat. Outside of that core storyline, however, the game will also heavily feature cooperative play, both online and locally, for up to four players who can form their own teams to take on challenges in the game’s Marvel universe.

“There’s a main campaign, it is linear in some ways, but when you progress through the story you ungate different characters and can go off on missions. At that point you can choose what character you want to play with on those missions,” says Escayg. “You can also decide to not play the story, to just play with your friends and go into the co-op world. You can also not play any missions, see how the story ends — which then sets up the bigger world — or you can decide to play the entire thing by yourself.”

Will there be more playable characters outside of the main Avengers cast? “Yes,” says Escayg, “but I can’t tell you.”