Although they’re not short of wins with the terrific Spider-Man games, after the underwhelming response to ensemble-led misfire that was Marvel’s Avengers, it feels as though Marvel Games would be hungry for a win in the guise of a big, exciting team-up. On paper, Firaxis is the studio you’d put in charge of bringing a turn-based strategy flavour to one of the comic giant’s many properties. However, as fascinating a brood as the Midnight Suns are, this game’s strongest features are totally eclipsed by plenty of jank, a lot of cringy and uninteresting hangouts at home base, and presentation that doesn’t feel even remotely current.
The game’s most interesting ideas posited revolve around the turbulent peace treaty between the sides of might and magic in the Avengers and the Midnight Suns as they band together under one roof to put a stop to Lilith. As her reanimated progeny, “Hunter”—an imaginative name and occupation double—you’ll be recruited by the group to unlock the dormant memories that helped you fall mother dearest the first time around. I think it’s the attempt to do so much that sees Midnight Suns come up short in telling a focused, engaging story front-to-back. The relationships between the game’s several characters tie it all together, but there’s no belief behind any of them. The game might be crammed full of wall-to-wall heroes and villains and yet a meaningful arc never really emerges.
Midnight Suns is a toxic marriage between two ideas that, in theory, should work. Firaxis’ ability to iterate on their distinguished brand of turn-based strategy, through the implementation of free movement and a deck system, is undeniable and clearly is this particular game’s strength. But as with their last game, XCOM: Chimera Squad, their want to place the interpersonal ties on equal footing comes up short as pretty much any second spent on the Abbey grounds—which serves as both Hunter’s once resting place and the base of operations for the mission to take down Lilith—feels like a waste of time.
Although the combat bonuses granted can be handy, building these relationships up through inane hangouts and jaw sessions is painfully lifeless. With dialogue and line delivery fit for a ham sandwich, I dreaded any moments of forced conversation.
Just as I think there are simply too many awkward pleasantries shared in the Abbey’s halls, I feel like Midnight Suns lobs a few too many ideas into the mix as far as upgrading your heroes goes. A few of the ideas, including rolling two identical cards into a souped up “+” variant and visiting Tony’s forge, work for me, though I fast gave up on sending heroes out on solo ops and other seemingly inconsequential things.
Thankfully, the meat and bones of Midnight Suns’ squad-based strategic combat feels like Firaxis firing on all cylinders. Although I miss the easily quantifiable rules of grid-based movement, there’s certainly a cinematic feel to having the likes of Captain America, Captain Marvel, or Blade freely moving around the play space. Managing your heroism level, which can tick up or down based on cards played, is certainly the most strategic part of the fray, even it feels a bit random given the unpredictable nature of the draw. Of course, on the middling difficulty I played on, Midnight Suns is rather forgiving—when a character is downed in combat, you’re likely to be dealt a revive card, so the fall of the cards can fit the circumstance you’re in.
Despite there not being a heap of variety within Hydra’s ranks, there’s enough going on per fight that you’ll need to keep your wits about you. After a while, already toppled bosses can pop up to mix things up and turn fairly standard battles into pressure cookers. The boss fights themselves have a big feel and are this game at its most “Marvel”.
I feel like Midnight Suns’ presentation is several rungs below what should have been expected, and it’s even well below Marvel’s Avengers which, despite its undoubtedly larger budget, is still years older now. To say Midnight Suns is hamstrung graphically by its support of older tech is an understatement, which is a shame because its art direction isn’t bad. There are unfortunate masked loads like passing through a portal in Limbo which is every time backed up with a literal loading screen, it stutters, and on Steam Deck—which in fairness isn’t an optimised platform yet—it crashes after nearly every operation. The transitions between Hunter’s sleeping and waking existence are cumbersome and clunky, it feels as though the entire game is at times a stitched together Frankenstein’s monster.
Outside of the aforementioned cringe line delivery pretty much across the board, Midnight Suns has pretty great sound design and an original score that’s suitably epic.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns feels like proof that, at some point, Firaxis will perfect this formula they’re going for. Their handle for turn-based combat is top notch, it’s just all of the role-playing lite elements that ultimately hampers the experience. It has its share of issues but Midnight Suns is an easy enough recommendation for both strategy enthusiasts and those swept up by the Marvel machine.
Marvel Midnight Suns is, by and large, an unfulfilling superhero title that is only as endurable as it is courtesy of how great Firaxis are at what they do. There’s a lot of heroes and just as many hollow hellos between them that makes me wish all of the story’s character drama was checked at the door for more of what Midnight Suns does well.