In recent months, it’s been more apparent than ever that popular culture is hell bent on eating itself. It’s a never-ending glut of movies based on toys, toys based on books, books based on TV shows and games based on all of the above. Movie game tie-ins are often derided as the most soulless of this sorry bunch, and while Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth doesn’t entirely fly in the face of preconceptions, it at least attempts to. That’s got to count for something when it could have just contented itself as the next in line to an endless procession of bloated and bland gaming cash cows.
Though created to tie in with the film franchise, Battle for Earth takes the majority of its cues directly from the comic books, specifically the 2008 ‘Secret Invasion’ story arc by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu. Using Kinect’s motion-based controls, players can control up to 20 characters from the Marvel universe as they try to halt a global invasion by shape-shifting alien race, the Skrull. Disguised Skrull sleeper agents have also infiltrated the ranks of Earth’s mightiest heroes, a premise that gives this brightly coloured brawler the perfect excuse to pit good guys against other good guys and the bad guys against, well, everyone.
Though the game clearly has respect and affection for the source material, the campaign mode isn’t afforded much in the way of a story. Despite the wealth of inspiration to draw from, only a few still comic book panels and lines of voiceover tie stages very loosely together. The main attraction is the core gesture-based combat, and luckily there are plenty of additional modes to complete, a versus and co-op feature that allows you to play with or against friends, and costumes and collector’s cards to unlock. The fighting itself is surprisingly satisfying at first. Each character has three unique moves that can be strung together to create combos, and performing these will fill a Special gauge that can then be used to initiate breakers and powerful Ultra moves.
There are some nice touches, such as shouting character-specific phrases during an Ultra sequence to receive damage boosts, but the problem that quickly becomes apparent is that the heroes are essentially tactically identical, with any complexity in their unique actions and Kinect’s ability to recognise them providing the only real variation and challenge in the entire experience. Having so few unique attacks per character simply highlights this issue, and though individual matches are well paced, the campaign soon becomes a tiresome, repetitive and gimmicky slog. There are plenty of good ideas in Battle For Earth, but it’s clear that it has been restricted in what it can offer and ultimately accomplish by its very nature as a motion-based fighter.
Though an overall shallow affair, Marvel Avengers: Battle For Earth displays lot more polish, flair and finesse than your average movie tie-in title, but like those Skrull impostors, it can’t escape its true, uglier nature for too long.