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Packs a Punch But Is Far Too Short

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Those of us who have been playing Marvel’s Avengers off and on since its launch late last summer have come to grips with certain realities concerning the superhero title: It’s feast and famine when it comes to content. Officially stamped by Marvel, published by Square Enix, and developed by Crystal Dynamics, the high-profile video game gives players around the world a chance to step into the super-shoes, capes, and tech-based armor of their favorite Marvel superheroes in order to duke it out in team combat against the nefarious forces of A.I.M. The problem is that the available content can be burned through so quickly that it leads to long, dry stretches in which the only options are to grind for no foreseeable reason or to switch over to another game entirely.

That diminishing cycle of returns is still locked in place for the game’s newest (and free) update, “Operation: Hawkeye – Future Imperfect.” It re-introduces Clint Barton has Hawkeye in earnest after the character played a supporting role opposite Kate Bishop’s introduction in the previous update, “Operation: Taking A.I.M.” Much like that short-but-sweet character-focused chapter — which is how I’m starting to think of these updates — which gave players a chance to learn Kate’s moves and upgrade her skills and gear, so too does “Future Imperfect” allow you to do the same with Clint Barton. The problem is that the brand-new character can be roughly halfway maxed out in the relatively short three to four-hour runtime of his own “origin story” in this world and timeline. So once you experience his engaging, time-traveling, post-apocalyptic tale with all its twists, turns, and oversized battles, you’re left waiting in the wasteland once more for the next content drop to arrive.

RELATED: ‘Marvel’s Avengers’ Game Devs Tease Hawkeye’s Epic Arsenal, Killer Combos, and Lucky the Dog

To its credit, “Future Imperfect” starts out with a catch-up for players who might have a few cobwebs as to what happened since the Kate Bishop update. That chapter saw Bishop rescuing Clint Barton from a time loop and a rather convoluted plot on the part of A.I.M. and Scientist Supreme Monica Rappaccini, with the unexpected assistance of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury, in order to save the world from the Kree Invasion and their massive murder machines, the Sentries. “Taking A.I.M.” introduced Kate’s melee and archery abilities, along with her teleportation skips and movement tech, essentially amping up the existing Black Widow model with unique combos and gear. At the end of that chapter, a rescued Clint Barton passed out from temporal fatigue before he could explain more of the story.

Cut to a few weeks later when Clint comes back around and heads back into action. However, a trippy dream sequence has the players taking control of Old Man Hawkeye with the hopes of tracking down Nick Fury (this guy really just can’t stay in one place, can he?) so that they might somehow restore their broken, post-apocalyptic world. The only way to do that, says a message from Fury himself, is to reach into the past. Enter: Young Man Hawkeye, a.k.a Clint Barton as we know him now.

Image via Marvel, Crystal Dynamics, Square Enix

The story plays out from there with you in control of “young” Hawkeye, accompanied by Kate Bishop (with plenty of scripted snark) and whichever other two superheroes you choose; they will remain stone silent throughout the playthrough. Your time is mostly split between a return to the urban Brooklyn environment (with a delightful but brief rooftop barbecue party) and an exploration of the time-blasted future apocalyptic landscape. For my in-game credits (which you should use to unlock Hawkeye’s full Challenge Card if you’re able), the Wasteland was the more interesting stage, replete with shells of destroyed buildings, half-buried weapons of war, like fighter jets and tanks, and surrounded by the ever-present specter of deactivated Kree Sentries and Kree spaceships. Impressive stuff, even if the maps themselves are a little same-y and convoluted as the familiar desert landscapes.

And while it’s a blast getting to unlock and learn Hawkeye’s abilities in the short story campaign, his character progression happens too fast and the time you get with him in this tale is too short; that’s a double-edged sword working against the replayability of Marvel’s Avengers. It also felt a tic or two too easy. Massive battles against multiple Quadmechs and numerous Adaptoids of all flavors felt like a walk in the park. Maybe Hawkeye was OP, maybe my maxed-out and kitted-out team was (including Kate), or maybe the difficulty was ramped way down for the story itself. But when those battles ended in a blink or two, I felt like I’d barely gotten a chance to warm up to Hawkeye’s impressive, unique, and super-fun ability combos and his prowess in support situations. The most glaring example of this was in the final fight; some spoilers follow.

Image via Marvel, Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics

As the trailers and marketing material for this chapter have revealed, the future version of Hulk, known as Maestro, features as the Big Bad here. And he’s huge, like, enormous; possiby bigger than Abomination but at least equivalent. This Hulk’s gone mad from the scale of the death and destruction around him, and continues to be a nutter by keeping trophies of the dead all around him. That’s good drama. The problem is that you only get a taste of this in the final moments of “Future Imperfect” in which Maestro gives his villainous monologue shortly before attacking your version of Hawkeye and a boss battle ensues. That all could have unfolded much more slowly. And the battle itself, which is arguably easier than taking on Taskmaster, Abomination, the Warbot, or even the Warship, can easily be First Try’d. That was kind of a bummer.

However, the ultimate reveal as to the fate of the world and how Hawkeye can attempt to alter that fate in his own timeline was a jaw-dropping moment. It’s moments like these that make Marvel’s Avengers a joy to play since you feel like you’re living out your own original superhero story. But they’re too few and far between. They also hit like cliffhangers, this one included. Just when it looked as though Hawkeye and the crew would be pushing into the chaotic battle between A.I.M. and Fury’s forces against the Kree, the game pulls you back to the relative safety of the previous timeline and the Chimera to go chill with Lucky. A nice ending, but one that left me feeling like it was all cut too short.

Image via Marvel, Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics

While “Future Imperfect” was fun, it only filled an afternoon of playing. I’ll obviously go back and bulk up Hawkeye some more so that he’s ready for future installments, but with all things Marvel’s Avengers, it feels like the future is the best hope to make this game something closer to what we’re all waiting for. That new roadmap is a good sign, and the confirmation that Black Panther will be a new playable character set in Wakanda against Ulysses Klaw and his forces, that’s good, too. But will it be enough to bring players back to the fold? I sincerely hope so, just as I’ve been hoping that they player base would grow or at least stop bleeding out these last few month. Perhaps we’ll just have to grit it out, grind it out, and hold on a little longer before T’Challa arrives to save us all. Here’s hoping.

KEEP READING: Watch: ‘Marvel’s Avengers’ Announces Black Panther Is Coming Soon With ‘War for Wakanda’ Expansion

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