Marvel’s Midnight Suns Preview
Marvel’s Midnight Suns may be a new direction for Firaxis’ games, but for many of the developers, it was a deep-dive into something they’d loved for a while. During my time at the studio, I found no shortage of evidence that this project was a labor of love. The world of Midnight Suns was inspired by a relatively untouched part of Marvel canon – a direction that came exclusively from Firaxis themselves. To that end, Firaxis has put their adoration for Marvel on full display; recreating that experience to the letter. They absolutely succeeded in their goal. The game is just overflowing with Marvel flavor – both the good and the bad.
The question of “How do you do Xcom but with superheroes?” is a deceptively challenging one. But as it turns out, it’s one with a ton of really compelling answers.
Superheroes don’t take cover. Superheroes don’t whiff shots at point-blank. A good tactics game presents dynamic puzzles that force reaction and re-thinking plans, but heroes are the masters of their environment. As you can probably guess, this put the Xcom developers in uncharted territory. How could they create an experience that “feels” right while still offering a unique puzzle every turn?
Well, you do it with the only resource you have left: hero power accessibility. This is the origin point for both the “cards” system and the mana-esque “heroism” system. You only have a few superpowers available to you at once, and often you’ll need to use your basic ones to build enough “heroism” to unleash that climactic final blow. Your mileage may vary here – the puzzles provided in Marvel’s Midnight Suns are very different from Firaxis’ other endeavors. But that doesn’t make it bad, just different. And after getting my hands on it, I think they work together beautifully.
The bulk of enemy forces will be generic minions – dudes who die in a single hit from any source, and whose deaths can be “chained” into extra actions if certain cards allow it. They are nearly identical to the Lost from Xcom 2, but this enemy archetype works so much better in Marvel’s Midnight Suns. They’re the cornerstone of capturing the superhero fantasy. They’re the background enemies that just exist to make the heroes look cool. To be deployed and then disposed of with equal speed. You’ve seen thousands of them eat dirt in comics and movies, and this game will show you exactly why they’re so important. Especially when they overwhelm you with sheer numbers.
You don’t just feel like you’re playing with superheroes, you feel like you’re actively writing a comic book. Each combat turn acts like its own little page, with (usually) one or two heroes taking the spotlight while the third continues fighting off-panel. During that turn, each used hero will fill a narrow, specific role in whatever tactic you dreamt up.
Perhaps you’ll have Blade chaining his way through a horde of minions on a warpath to free your Hunter from a boss’ stun attack. Once freed, your Hunter uses a knockback ability to send the boss crashing into (and killing) a minion, before detonating a nearby explosive barrel to finish him off. Maybe you’ll use a card that powers up a specific hero and gives you more of their character-specific action cards. This incentivizes you to spend all of that turn’s actions on that one hero. It’s a page where a single face takes the spotlight.
And when the final page turns and combat ends, the game will generate comic cover art based on your choices in the mission. It’s a cute addition that puts the cherry on top of this absolute flavor-win.
Firaxis set out to fulfill the superhero fantasy, and absolutely nailed it, in every possible department.
But that success is both a blessing and a curse. I don’t consider myself a huge Marvel fan, but I’ve typically found that others’ complaints about “Marvel-movie-writing” were unfounded. Maybe I just have a higher tolerance for that stuff. Marvel’s Midnight Suns is where I finally felt that exasperation that others around me have felt, because I saw their complaints everywhere.
Iron Man is, by far, the worst offender of the bunch – having congealed every single writing complaint “Marvel dialogue” has ever gotten into a single, oddly mustachioed face.
But for the sake of fairness, plenty of other characters are interesting in their own right. They can never fully escape the Marvel-isms, but few succumb to them as completely as Iron Man does. Each character’s speaking style is noticeably different from the last, which is very nice to see.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a game that really wants you to care about its story. It gives you plenty of options: side stories, an internet analogue, the works. So for those who enjoy Marvel’s style, there’s plenty to love – both in Easter eggs and in overall tone. And for others, your experience will be limited to the Marvel-esque realms of “it’s fine.”
Overall, Midnight Suns was an enjoyable experience. Nothing that’ll set the industry ablaze, and certainly no Xcom 2, but you won’t be sad about picking it up. Despite my issues with the writing, the gameplay proved to be an excellent experience. Everything felt well-produced and did not grow stale during my 5 hours of play. It’ll need some variety to really shake things up during mid-game and late-game, but if any studio can handle a wide variety of enemies that demand diverse thinking from the player, it’s the team behind Xcom. Pick it up on launch or wait for a sale; if you’re a fan of tactics games, this one is certain to scratch that itch.