There's nothing like a good crossover to pique our interest in a game. When reality ends up being even weirder than the most off the wall fan fiction - like the recent Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, or even Disney x Final Fantasy role playing series Kingdom Hearts, there's something magic about watching two worlds collide. But nothing raises a smile quite as much, or quite as often as Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, the latest in a long line of bizarre fighting game crossovers that create a world of intriguing partnerships and rivalries.
Sticking true to its name, then, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite is a game that bundles 30 of the biggest Marvel and Capcom names into one over the top brawler, as you do battle with foes both new and old in two on two, side-on battles. Sticking true to the series' history, while the Marvel side is packed to the rafters with familiar faces, and there's still plenty of favourites from Capcom's Street Fighter in here, there's a much wider range of Capcom characters than you may expect, whether you want to see Hawkeye get smashed up by Dead Rising's Frank West, pit Thanos against Resident Evil's Nemesis, or have Guardians of the Galaxy's Rocket Racoon take on Ghosts 'n' Goblins pocket-sized knight, Arthur.
In a welcome departure from the norm for fighting games, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite actually boasts a really substantial single player story mode, with a plot that'll genuinely have you wanting to see what happened next. With the Capcom and Marvel worlds having merged together, the story begins as Ultron Sigma - a villain with the body of perennial Avengers baddie Ultron, but some special powers and clothes borrowed from Mega Man boss Sigma - hatches a plan to take over the world. With two of the Infinity Stones in his grasp, Ultron Sigma has created what he's inventively called the Sigma Virus, which has been spreading throughout the universe, turning everyone it infects into mindless followers of the all new Ultron. With the world falling in line, it's up to an unlikely cast of heroes to team together and save the day...
Packed full of daft quotes and silly partnerships, the Marvel vs Capcom Infinite story raises many a smile over its four or five hour duration (depending on how good you are at the fights). Seeing Chris Redfield and Spider-Man infiltrating an "A.I.M.Brella" base, only to end up being tailed by Frank West, before eventually coming face to face with MODOK, and having to battle his new friend the Nemesis, the story here is a real whirlwind of odd couple partnerships and plenty of jokes. Even the voice acting's top notch, with the vast majority of the Marvel characters sounding just like their much more expensive Hollywood originals.
What's perhaps a little bit more complicated than it should be is the control system. Marvel vs Capcom Infinite lets you perform four types of strikes - a low/high punch and low/high kick, with each being assigned to one of the four face buttons on your controller. Mixing and matching these together (along with doing slightly awkward down-and-to-the-right style rolls with the analogue stick/d-pad) will let you pull off fancy combos, or special moves, with each character having their own unique list of button combinations to remember.
While the game does attempt to make things a little bit easier for newcomers, by letting you simply mash square (on PS4) to pull off an auto-combo, or press triangle and circle together to perform a special move, there's still a pretty substantial learning curve when jumping from character to character. Not only do they all have their own list of moves, but they each play very differently to begin with, with characters like Rocket being really fast (and quite hard to hit due to their size), while at the other end of the scale, Thanos and Hulk can dish out the damage, but aren't too great at getting out of harm's way.
Speaking of avoiding attacks - one of the biggest issues with beat 'em ups is always the difficulty of the computer controlled opponents, and that's true of Infinite too. The AI here has an uncanny ability to see the future, predicting exactly what move you're going to perform next, and readying their block with split second accuracy. With nothing in the way of true reversals (you can punch someone mid move, and if you're faster, that'll count as a "reversal", but it's nothing as spectacular as on Dead or Alive), all you can really do to avoid taking damage from enemy attacks is to block, by pushing away from the character in question - and it's a move your computer controlled foes have down to a fine art. There's nothing quite as frustrating as knocking your enemy into the air, only to unleash your special move, and have them block every last hit of it. How they manage to block mid air, while taking damage is anyone's guess, as God knows we've never managed it - but seemingly the AI can. Luckily, there are five different difficulty levels here, and turning the AI down does make the game a lot more manageable - but there's still one too many instances of impossi-blocking.
Similarly, while it may have a broad roster, it is disappointing that there's a smaller line-up of fighters here than in Marvel vs Capcom 3 - especially as Capcom have already announced a "season pass" for the game, selling six more fighters as "optional extras" (with Marvel vs Capcom 3 having 36 characters to Infinite's 30, you can speculate for yourself as to whether these were cut out to be sold later or not). With mainstays like Wolverine being absent without leave, along with some of the weirder characters like Resi's Albert Wesker, and Viewtiful Joe, Infinite may have a pretty good line-up to begin with, but it's clear it could have been even better.
And finally, despite the great story mode, it's hard to see where the replay value's going to come from here, as there's not really all that much to do outside of the story. While there's an Arcade mode to try your hand at (although really, it's more of a "winner stays on, how long can you last" mode), and over a hundred missions, the missions are actually more of an elaborate training system, as you take on a character who doesn't fight back, and the game asks you to perform increasingly elaborate combos. Beyond that, you'll have to rely on the game's online and offline multiplayer contests - although we're actually pretty disappointed with that, too. Despite every battle in the game being a 2 on 2 tag match, there's no way to team up with a local friend in co-op to take on an enemy team - instead, the battles are strictly one on one affairs.
In all, then, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite is a game that impresses in many ways, and disappoints in others. While its story mode is well worth taking on, if you're not interested in online match-ups against randomers or local contests against your friends, there's really little to do here outside it, with the Mission mode particularly being a bit misleading. With a great roster of characters, it's a real disappointment such a multiplayer oriented game didn't include a co-op mode, as it certainly would have got the game a lot more tray time in our consoles.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4