According to a recent study, more than two out of three Australians play video games and we spent over $1 billion on in-game purchases last year. Long-time gamer John Turnbull checks out the biggest money-grubber of 2020.
Marvel’s Avengers (2020)
LET'S START this review on a brief positive note. By basing the story mode around Kamala Khan – a young fan who becomes superhero Ms Marvel – the developers of Marvel’s Avengers have made a video game that doesn’t focus on a white, cis-gendered superhero. The game also looks great, with solid character models different enough from the movies to make the voice casting slightly less distracting. That’s… about all of the positives I can think of.
To be fair, I had an idea that Avengers may not be the greatest video game ever before I bought it. Beta test reviews complained of repetitive action, lazy level design and an almost overwhelming commitment to gouging the customer for more money — but I do love my superheroes.
I started reading Avengers comics when I was seven years old and have followed their adventures ever since, through media of wildly varying quality — although I honestly can’t remember any Avengers experience I’ve had that was as frustrating as this video game.
The first 20 minutes or so are the best of the game, as you take control of Kamala Khan while she finds her feet as a fledgeling Avenger. You also get to briefly play as the other main characters before they get locked away behind hours of frustrating grind, fighting wave after wave of faceless bad guys in missions so generic that they make the movies look like masterpieces of villain diversity.
After you eventually recruit the handful of other team members that are available at launch and finish the sporadically entertaining story mode, the game becomes a painfully boring exercise in building your statistics via upgrades that make no appreciable difference to the way your character behaves or looks.
Or, of course, you could pay to upgrade your characters. It would be easy to spend hundreds of dollars buying power upgrades and the laughably titled “legendary skins” — and that’s even before they release the plethora of pay-to-play DLC characters on the horizon. If the game were actually fun to play, the idea of playing obscure Marvel characters like Mar-Vell or Quake would be interesting, but as it stands, I deeply regret buying this game.
Assassins Creed: Odyssey (2018)
Released almost two whole years ago, Odyssey is the 21st game in the sprawling Assassin’s Creed franchise, focusing on the period of history most gamers are likely to know from the movie 300. Set in the years 431 to 422 BCE, the player takes the role of a misthios (mercenary) in the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta.
Playing as either Kassandra or Alexios, you are caught up in a web of international intrigue as you build your skills as an assassin, hunter and warrior, following a bridging decision structure where your choices have long term implications. Much like Avengers, you gradually build statistics and upgrade weapons and armour, with the main contrast being that your character actually looks different when you upgrade your gear.
With the ability to view the map through a historical lens, there is a good chance you might actually learn something playing this game — although the learning may be somewhat offset by the perverse joy of blathering someone with a massive war hammer while wearing a human skull with bull horns strapped to your face.
From a gameplay perspective, the map in Odyssey is massive, gradually opening up as your quest continues, but the missions and side-tasks are varied enough to keep the game interesting through a play-time that could run for up to 100 hours.
The controls aren’t necessarily intuitive – using the shoulder buttons extensively – but it doesn’t take long to adjust.
Last but not least, this is an absolutely beautiful game, particularly if you’re fortunate enough to have a big-screen TV. One of the most fun history lessons you’ll find.
According to the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association’s (IGEA) 'DA20: The Power of Games' report, in-game purchases increased 190% year on year, with the value of in-game purchases estimated at over $1 billion among Australian gamers alone. At the same time, academic reports suggesting a clear link between in-game micro-transactions and gambling have been multiplying, finally sparking some movement from the Government.
As a result, publishers now have to warn consumers that games contain in-game purchases (and have since 2019). However, this is included in a long warning that also includes violence, adult themes, strobe-like effects and the like — hardly a deterrent to parents who only want to shell out for a game once.
It’s interesting to note that the rating I give these games would not change if it were based purely on how money-grabbing they seem — if you want to buy a game that you’re going to have to keep paying for indefinitely, then Avengers is definitely for you.
Marvel's Avengers – 2/10
Assassins Creed: Odyssey – 9/10
John Turnbull is Independent Australia's entertainment editor, a writer, balloon pilot and tattoo aficionado.
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