Marvel Vs Capcom: Infinite
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer/publisher Capcom Format PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Release Out now
Perhaps you’re interested in Marvel Vs Capcom: Infinite’s story mode. If that’s the case, allow us to suggest you do something more useful with that money; donate it to a political party whose views you abhor, perhaps, or run it under the tap for ten minutes before throwing it in the bin. It is an embarrassment that wastes not only the bonkers potential of its set-up but also completely fails to fulfil the principal goal of the contemporary fighting-game story mode. What should be a graceful introduction to the game is instead a confusing mess that spends more time undermining its systems than it does exploring them.
Any hope that Capcom might have learned a few lessons from Street Fighter V’s long delayed, and eventually awful, cinematic story mode quickly fades as the studio sets about making the same mistakes from the off. Netherrealm’s equivalent modes work because they put you in control of a single character for a few fights at a time; you know you’ll be playing as a Johnny Cage or a Batman for a while, so you might as well dip into the command list and get a handle on their special moves, and maybe memorise a few combo strings while you’re at it. Yet here, as in SFV, you get one fight with a given character, and then it’s on to the next.
There’s no point learning anything, especially given the way the game discourages you from trying to play it properly. Many fights have you facing off against multiple foes; you’ll find a way through one of their defenses, get a few hits in, and then be struck in the back of the head by someone else. Elsewhere, Capcom might bestow the opposition with super armour, so that while you can hit them, they’ll never flinch from the blow. This essentially removes the combo system from the game, since at any time your foe can simply decide to start attacking you. Oh, and there might also be an NPC in the background chucking homing missiles at you. What should be an enjoyable introduction to a game where 100-hit combos are commonplace is instead a three-hour exercise in frustration where you can’t get more than a few hits off before something clobbers you from behind.
It’s baffling, honestly, especially given all the noise Capcom has made about this being the most accessible Marvel game yet. There certainly are concessions to the novice player: Infinite borrows the fashionable genre trick of mapping an automated combo to repeated taps of the light-punch button, for instance, while an Easy Hyper Combo input allows you to pull off a flashy super move by pressing two buttons simultaneously. Yet if that suggests that Capcom has finally realised that newcomers need a helping hand as they seek to improve then, well, no. A tutorial walks you through the basics of movement, blocking and so on, and introduces you to the game’s core systems. Combo trials quickly ask you to knock out extravagant 30-hit strings. There’s nothing linking the two, nothing to teach you the building blocks of Infinite’s combat system: nothing that explains that you’re limited to one ground bounce, one wall bounce and one off-the-ground attack, and must work to optimise your combos within that framework. You’re just expected to work it out. Capcom’s profound disinterest in helping players improve continues to be as frustrating as it is confusing.
It’s especially troubling because those with the strength to figure everything out for themselves will discover that there’s a heck of a fighting game in Infinite. Despite the apparent reduction in complexity by reducing team sizes from three characters per side to two, this is a more freeform game than ever before; the ability to tag in an offscreen partner at any point, with a single button press, allowing for more flexibility in combo creation, and more devious tricks to open up an opponent, than were ever possible in the 3v3 days. At the heart of it all are the Infinity Stones. Capcom’s insistence before release that these would essentially play the role of a third character raised eyebrows, but if anything they’re even more useful than that, equal parts assist move, combo tool, comeback mechanic and a way to compensate for a chosen character’s deficiencies. Mayor Mike Haggar, for example, thrives up close, and struggles from range, yet using the right Stone he might earn a zippy dash to help him close space, a whip that yanks foes towards him, or a projectile to cover his approach. These moves, dubbed Infinity Surges, are activated with a single button press and can be used freely throughout battle, at no meter cost. When a gauge that accrues as you take damage is full, a double button press activates the Infinity Storm, a timed buff which might add knockback to all your attacks, reduce animation times to allow for custom combos, trap opponents in a cage that limits their moveset and movement, or even resurrect a fallen partner for a spell of two-on-one damage-dealing. Marvel Vs Capcom 3 had hundreds of thousands of team compositions, and seemingly endless possibilities. Somehow, this seems to have it beat, despite the numbers being against it.
The memories of that abysmal story mode soon fade, and those prepared to put the hours in by themselves will find a game as fluid and flexible as any on the market. We’re almost bored of chiding Capcom for its lack of interest in bridging the gap between mindless button-mashing and tournament-level play, but there was a real opportunity here: to use the allure of Marvel’s characters to introduce a new mass of players to one of the most rewarding genres in games. Instead, many will mash light punch for a couple of hours, get hit in the back of the head a lot, and walk away still wondering what all the fuss is about.
Those prepared to put the hours in by themselves will find a game as fluid and flexible as any on the market