Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
December 2, 2022
You load onto the battlefield. Before long, your team is in harmony. The Hunter is whipping hydra forces around the map to an almost pinballing effect, wiping the floor clean. Ghost Rider mows down another group with their 1969 Dodge Charger (otherwise known as The Hell Charger). You win. Then you’re at home. You’re playing video games with Tony Stark and painting with Wolverine. This is the weird world the new tactical adventure Marvel’s Midnight Suns depicts. Thankfully, it’s a great one, revitalising my love of superhero adventures and making me go all in. Marvel’s Midnight Suns is one of 2022’s most fun games to boot.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns takes a walk on the wilder side. Focusing on the darker edge of the Marvel universe, players take control of a player character named The Hunter. The Hunter is awoken centuries after they’ve initially been put to rest. Risen because an ever-powerful being by the name of Lilith (coincidentally their mother) also has returned. Her resurrection birthed new powers that can corrupt many, including even some of our superhero friends. With the militant fascist forces of Hydra, along with other otherworldly creatures under her control, the only one that can stop this threat is you.
So our journey kicks off. The Hunter joins the Midnight Suns, with the Avengers thrown in for extra measure. This team-up starts smaller with Iron Man and Stephen (Doctor) Strange at your battle disposal but also includes deeper-cut characters such as Magik from the New Mutant series, Nico Minoru from The Runaways, Blade and Robbie Reyes, the fourth iteration of Ghost Rider. Though that cast grows the more you play, with Captain America, Spider-Man and more joining the fray.
It’s jarring at first to witness the player’s character talked about with such majesty by prolific heroes such as Tony Stark. This takes some getting used to and creates a charming fish-out-of-water situation as our centuries-old hero finds themselves in the modern day amongst current legends. However, I was really pleased to witness Marvel’s Midnight Suns overcome this challenge, achieved by taking full advantage of Marvel comic deep cuts and apt writing. Marvel’s dark universe is something we’ve only just started to see in the cinematic universe. Here, the game revels in it. Many a cultic horror and dozens upon dozens of 90s references await. Developer Firaxis Games really appear to know their stuff and it’s entirely heartening to see from a studio traditionally known more for gameplay than narrative.
Upon completing my fifty-odd hours with Midnight Suns, I walked away enamoured. The main thread of having to take down that of your own blood is enticing. Despite having a group full of varying personalities and egos, it very much functions as a found family with many side struggles and conflicts peppered in amongst the larger threat. Sometimes blood isn’t thicker than water and The Hunter is frequently facing such realisations. In themes and exploration alone, it’s a strong story offering. I haven’t gelled with anything Marvel for quite some time, not really since Avenger’s Endgame. I’m beyond thrilled that that has changed for me thanks to Midnight Suns.
Humanising the superhuman
Marvel’s Midnight Suns features just as much character bonding as it does tactics gameplay. In your downtime between missions, you can explore the Abbey, the home and the hub that your superhero family has gathered in. You can develop stronger relationships between The Hunter and other heroes. This is achieved by the means you’d expect. Engage in dialogue and pick the right answer that will henceforth net relationship points or engage in activities together. These can only be completed once a day and with one person, so it’s here that the going gets tough and I found myself having to work out how to prioritise my spare time. However, special locations known as Havens too can be unlocked by exploring the Abbey grounds and noting them for later use. This serves as a bonus means of hanging out to really min-max your relationship with someone.
This is entirely an unoriginal approach you’ve seen prior in Bioware games or the more recent Fire Emblem’s. Still, it’s more novel here. I can’t quite artfully describe the peculiar sensation of getting to fish with Blade or paint a vista with Wolverine, but it is a pleasant one. Combine this with the fact that you’ll unlock plenty of cosmetics and modifications for The Hunter and their band of heroes and you’ve soon got a quasi-Barbie dress-up and bonding game on your hands. Only this time it’s with the heroes you know and love.
“…I can’t quite artfully describe the peculiar sensation of getting to fish with Blade or painting a vista with Wolverine, but it is a pleasant one. “
These interactions and developments reap combat benefits in passives and also the unlocking of superpowered attacks that are performed by a pair. Though you’ll want to stick around to actually see how these chats play out. In these moments and others that are part of the main narrative, you get some really excellent characterisation. You’ll see Blade develop a crush on Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) and, if you play your cards right, he’ll give you his actual name, provided you reach proper friend status.
Nico Minoru is once again played by Lyrica Okano, the same actress that played her in the criminally short-lived TV adaptation of The Runaways. Once more, Okano inhibits Nico beautifully, opening up to you about the damage left by her super-villainous parents. The intricacies of Magik and her troubled upbringing as a mutant, Robbie Reyes and his pressure to fill the shoes of all the Ghost Riders prior… the list of character depth to unearth goes on.
With such a stacked superhero cast, each is realised wonderfully. The only time this immersion somewhat lets up is in the graphical quality and design of some of the heroes. Peter Parker, PS4 Marvel’s Spider-Man voice actor Yuri Lowenthal plays the role of Spidey here. The visuals of Peter? A little off and not quite as distinguished as they should be. The same can be said for a couple of other members of the cast, such as Tony Stark. I wasn’t expecting a likeness to the Marvel Cinematic Universe actors; quite the opposite. I wanted Midnight Suns to make the characters their own by design, but it doesn’t quite achieve that. It’s entirely passable, just a little distracting.
Strategising your supers
Marvel’s Midnight Suns’ gameplay already is more conceptually intriguing than that of other forays in the franchise. I’m always a fan of games using existing IP in a unique way and the idea of superhero battles playing out in tactics fashion, strategising every move makes sense. Firaxis Games have nailed this idea, something to be expected from the talented team behind other key tactics series like XCOM.
In a given battle, up to four heroes can be taken into the fray. Whatever battlefield you’re placed on, whether that’s the urban streets of New York or industrial Hydra facilities, players are situated in a tight-knit environment where you can survey the area in an isometric perspective, zooming in and out and swapping between characters at any time. Each superhero has their own deck of cards that represent their abilities, which are randomly shuffled and drawn into your hand to be played in a given turn. As expected, only a number of cards can be played in a given turn and some cards require the spending of Heroism (Midnight Suns’ equivalent of action points).
This assembly starts off very basic and with general attacks and buffs. Typically buff cards, which can heal or add other passive effects, are what net you your Heroism. Meanwhile, harder-hitting attack cards are used to knock back enemies, create bleed conditions on foes and more, using these very points. The strength and number of cards in play can change depending on certain battle happenstances. For instance, higher relationship points between the Hunter and another hero can reap the benefits of more powerful hero abilities, a card that lets the two team up for some riotous damage in joyous cutscene glory. There are more tools under your belt in card redraws, free movement moves to avoid the enemy’s AoE attacks or to knockback enemies, item cards that provide bonus effects and even environmental attacks which are expensive in Heroism but could very well stun or takedown groups.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a tactics adventure always working to empower the player, the polar opposite of their XCOM titles. There’s very little to no concern about chance percentages. Hits will just land. Players needn’t worry about finding cover, only mitigating and outputting more damage than that of their foes. Wrap your head around these mechanics (frankly not that tough a feat) and the combat system is very rewarding. It reminds me of the design philosophy that Mario + Rabbids takes, always providing options for the player to choose between, rather than limiting choice.
Each hero plays a little differently, and though you can get through without considering party DNA all that much, mixing and matching in clever ways is all the more satisfying. Captain Marvel is incredibly overpowered in the best way possible, with abilities such as a devastating beam of energy in a line AoE or entering her binary mode, adding stacks upon stacks to her shield. Ghost Rider is an enjoyable risk vs reward, with cards outputting heavy damage but harming themselves or expending cards in the process. Plenty of flair is found throughout battles and before long you’ll be wiping the floor with Hydra scum, whipping them into one another with knockback abilities.
All in all, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is one of the most readable and approachable deck-building and tactics games ever. Environments aren’t broken into grids and movement and attacks are clearly depicted with radials. Leading HUD lines help guide the player to where they’re moving towards these radials at any given point. There are no secret dark and challenging mechanics under the hood and what you see is what you get. You just make what’s given to you work to the best of your ability. I really appreciate that in a tactics experience.
Exploring the Abbey and making it your own home
The Abbey has plenty of side distractions to keep the hours rolling by too. Genuinely interesting exploration is on offer. Outside of just the primary building are forest grounds, abandoned shacks, caves, graveyards and more. Mysteries surrounding The Hunter and Lilith and their life prior to all these are the mission threads that see you further exploring these grounds. Sad revelations will rear their heads. Moments of doubt will be cast in your hero’s eyes. It’s in these moments, whether it’s telling’s of the past or readables found around the Abbey grounds, that The Hunter becomes more fleshed out and finds a comfortable and convincing space in the Marvel universe.
Exploration of these areas can be gated via powers the Hunter will learn from prior Gods. These spells can include one that reveals secrets, now filling in the blanks on a previously destroyed bridge, granting further progress. They can blow destructible walls to smithereens, or maybe even rid an area of impenetrable ivy. All of these areas interconnect in clever ways, snaking in and out of one another. Oftentimes I’d exit a newfound area just to find it cleverly loops back in a way to just where I needed to be. This progression leads to answers but also collectibles and chests that contain currencies, cosmetics and plating. That’s the thing about Marvel’s Midnight Suns; even when you’re in the quieter moments your time is filled with things to do, now also satisfying the completionist part of your brain.
Circle back to The Abbey itself and there are equal amounts of activities and upgrades to be found. Your room can be outfitted with nicer furniture and paintings you’ve found exploring. The forge is an area occupied by the hardworking Tony Stark and Stephen Strange, where you can investigate and deconstruct materials found in your battles, netting cards. Similarly, cards and abilities can be crafted here. The training grounds themselves are where you’ll get one-on-one sparring sessions (completed in brief cutscenes with no gameplay) with other heroes as a bonus means of levelling up friendship bonds. Otherwise, it’s used to trade in duplicate cards which results in the remaining card being upgraded. There are other bits and bobs to keep you busy too whether it’s sending a hero away on a ‘Hero Ops’ mission that occurs off-screen, in turn gathering further currencies and resources for card crafting. Then there’s the cauldron in the library, where a friendly ghost by the name of Agatha hangs about, used for further crafting.
Each of these stations, barring the library, can be upgraded in a variety of cosmetic and passive ways, more often than not boosting station productivity. Following an upgrade, two items can be researched at a time at the forge or two Hero Ops can be undertaken at the same time and so on. While not the deepest in progression and base-building, it was an engaging loop to finish a mission and run about the Abbey for a while, making sure you get everything possible you can done in a day. This is yet another example of where the Fire Emblem comparisons will come into play, and Marvel’s Midnight Suns’ hero world is more than enough of a complement to that.
This does however let up from time to time. Resource management is daunting and feels a bit needless, requiring sometimes a little too many items that one must keep track of. While you can teleport between different key locations across the greater Abbey grounds, you can’t fast-travel station to station or Abbey room to Abbey room. Occasionally I did find myself wishing I could access half of these crafting options just in your expected menus, rather than needing to head to a relevant location just to enter menus anyway.
- Superhero characterisation done incredibly well
- Hero hangouts are odd and charming in the best way
- The Abbey grounds have plenty of engaging secrets to unearth
- Some of the best deckbuilding gameplay you'll see
- The Hunter comes into their own as the narrative concludes
- Some of the characters' visual fidelity could be improved
- Easy to get bogged down by various crafting resources and different menus
Marvel’s Midnight Suns is a fantastic tactical adventure that adds much-needed depth to the superhero genre. Taking advantage of deeper-cut characters and lore, a heartfelt and sweeping story is told, even finding a way to make an entirely new character fit into the fray. Accompanying that are engaging and curious mysteries to find around the Abbey grounds and a nice feeling of found family among friends. Losing track of time as I had talks with my favourite superhumans, doing whatever menial task at hand too was a particular highlight. Even in these moments of charming oddities, characterisation is stellar. Rounding it all off is another superb tactical experience from Firaxis Games, this time going all in on approachability and options to dominate the battlefield in your own personal ways. This is one of the best tactical games of the year. Marvel as a franchise still has some fight in it yet, and I can’t wait to have more experiences like this from them in the future.