Marvel Rivals is just a drab Overwatch-like in an eye-catching costume - hands-on preview

3 weeks ago 43

Aside for some genuinely cool comic book aesthetics, there's not much originality here in Marvel Rivals.

Marvel Rivals hands on banner image, with Storm, Starlord, Cable, and more heroes in the background. Image credit: VG247

I played a few games of Marvel Rivals at Summer Game Fest 2024 earlier this month, and came away thoroughly disappointed. It's a competent enough team-based third-person shooter, and one with real appeal for Marvel fans, but it's a shadow on the wall compared to other competitors in the same genre.

Let's break down how, and why, it made me feel so disappointed. First, I'll tackle the elephant in the room. Marvel Rivals - created by Netease Games - is an Overwatch-like. It has various differences that help differentiate it; the setting and characters are clearly different, and there are clear gameplay differences, too, such as its third-person approach.

But for the vast majority of players who'll actually touch the game, it is Overwatch's skeleton with a comic book skin draped over it. This is either wonderful news for those who just can't get enough of this particular genre, or boorish sludge for those already fatigued with this kind-of product.

Let's start with a major positive: the presentation here is brilliant, at least. All the Marvel characters are instantly recognisable, without just being boring MCU film rips. The game is clearly comic-based, and you feel that with the designs. They're interesting spins on the characters, all faithful in their depictions but distinct from the million other Marvel games you can play right now. If you take your hands off the keyboard and just look at the game, it's marvelous. Getting close and actually interacting with it, however, is a whole other story.

That's because the game is just Overwatch, in your hands. Characters may be different (and do, indeed, offer unique and original abilities) but the game itself is something you've probably played before. Some of the roster feel genuinely innovative – like Penny Parker, a tank able to shoot out webs for crowd control and added mobility. Others, like The Punisher, are blends, half-and-half compromises between Solider 76 and Bastion. Characters like Storm are fairly blatant in their inspiration - playing like Lucio to such a degree that the moment I selected her, I knew exactly how the kit should work.

Copying others' homework is fine, games do it all the time. But the main problem Marvel Rivals has is that it just doesn't feel as good as its contemporaries. Movement feels slow, and while the presentation is A+, it lacks a lot of punch that other titles have in spades. This is critical - any game that places you in the boots of Iron Man or equally legendary heroes must make you feel as heroic and powerful as they are. But there's some oomph missing from the game, in my book.

Marvel Rivals hero press image Even with my thoughts on the game, I can't deny these characters look rad. | Image credit: Netease

Take Namor, who lobs spears and summons automated octopus cannons. While the spears do great damage, you don't feel like you're skewering other players with these slow, hefty throws. Those automated octopus turrets – while strong – don't exactly blow enemies away either. I jumped around to a lot of the cast during my play session, and I couldn't find even one character that really wowed me.

It's an epic game without an epic feel, only really suited for those with a serious love for the source material. Thankfully, that's a lot of people. Marvel remains a mammoth franchise, but if playing Loki or Rocket Racoon isn't enough to win you over, you'll not be too blown away by what NetEase is offering here.

I think the game modes themselves, as well as the various maps I played, were all good. Fine. Not bad. You may be seeing a bit of a theme here, right? I liked pretty much everything aside from actually playing the game itself. If there's one perk I can give Marvel Rivals it's that, if the developer can maybe tweak the gameplay just a bit, I'm positive a lot of people will like it.

Make it a bit faster, make things a bit more exciting. I only got to play regular matches with other attendees and devs. I don't know how the ranked will work, how hard it'll be to unlock new characters, what the monetization will be like... All I've seen are the bones of the game, and while they do have a pearly white sheen to them, there are cracks I can't really ignore. Especially if the monetizaction tactics are particularly egregious, Swallowing a game this aggressively OK may be a bit much.

Several heroes like Storm, the Hulk, and Doctor Strange are fighting off other Marvel characters in Marvel Rivals. Not going down a storm. | Image credit: Marvel/ Netease

Now, while it's clear that I didn't really vibe with Marvel Rivals, I do think it's good that another competitor in the genre is coming out. Overwatch 2 isn't really the blockbuster many thought it would be, and games fighting for players' attention can only be good for the genre as a whole. I just worry it doesn't really have enough actual merit to draw away folks who've already sunk a billion hours into other games.

As it stands right now, Marvel Rivals is not something I'm especially excited to play in the future. But hey, it's the sort of game tailor-made to appeal to as many people as possible. So maybe it's for you. One of the perks of this game is that it'll be free, so it can't hurt to try it out when it eventually releases.

There's no release date yet, though so you'll have to sit back and wait a bit longer to see if the development team can iron (man) out those gameplay kinks.

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