Review

Marvel Heroes

Free* Comic Book Game

In Marvel Heroes, it pays to be a superhero—well, you pay, at least.

By Samantha Nelson • June 26, 2013

On the first Saturday of May, comic book stores around the country participate in Free Comic Book Day, giving out bags filled with comics to anyone who walks in the door. The goal is to get people hooked on new series, but I’ve never found a free comic compelling enough that I felt the urge to buy the next issue. The event gives me a quick burst of entertainment on a spring day, but it fails to inspire any loyalty.

The same goes for Marvel Heroes. The free-to-play online multiplayer game aggressively tries to get its players to sink money into micro-transactions, but the game just isn’t engaging enough to warrant an investment of time, let alone money.

Marvel Heroes

The solicitation starts when you choose your character. You start with one B-list hero like The Thing or Scarlet Witch, but if you want to be Captain America or Iron Man, you’ll need to pony up. But let’s say you resist the urge to upgrade immediately—you’ll soon find enemies dropping random loot that can only be used for heroes you don’t have. Want to stand out in the crowd of dozens of Daredevils? You can buy a different uniform. Need more space to store your crafting materials? That’ll cost money, too (real money, not in-game currency).

All of that is to be expected from a “freemium” game, and I would put up with it, the same way I accept even the most obnoxious of television and movie product placement, if I were actually being entertained. Unfortunately, David Brevik, the game’s creator, has squandered the opportunity to capitalize on Marvel’s unprecedented popularity. For Marvel Heroes, he just slapped a new skin on his old project, Diablo. You’ll spend most of the time beating up swarms of identical bad guys in dull alleys and supervillain hideouts by spamming the same attacks over and over again. The task seems even more pointless when you look around and see other versions of the same hero you’re playing doing the exact same thing.

Marvel Heroes

The game tries to put twists on MMO standards. If you own multiple heroes, you can switch between them at will to find the right set of skills for the task at hand. The selection of items that you can buy and craft is based on how much stuff you “donate” to vendors, which is a clever way to control character wealth. And while most MMOs require you to form a group before you walk into a challenge meant to be tackled by multiple players, in Marvel Heroes you can just stroll through a portal and be automatically matched with others in the area.

That sounds good in theory, but the game doesn’t check to see what stage of the mission you and your new teammates are on, so you might be at the front door while the rest of your group is fighting the boss. If you don’t have real friends to play with, it’s going to take a lot of patience to complete these multiplayer missions. The bosses you can fight out in the world at large present a better option, as you’re less likely to die simply because someone in your party wandered off.

Marvel Heroes

There are clever bits here and there, which makes Marvel Heroes’ flaws and general blandness even more disappointing. It gets the feel of a superhero brawl right by letting you interact with the terrain, for better and worse. It was handy to be able to chuck boxes at Dr. Octopus, since he was so dangerous at close range, but I felt bad when Captain America accidentally smashed a hot dog stand in the process of beating up some thugs who were shaking down its owner. (The folksy hero even apologized.) And each new chapter is marked with great hand-drawn, comic-style art that reveals Dr. Doom’s nefarious plot. If they were put together in a free comic, I might even buy the next issue.

Marvel Heroes
Developer: Gazillion Entertainment
Publisher: Gazillion Entertainment
Platform: PC
Price: Free
Rating: T

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46 Responses to “Free* Comic Book Game”

  1. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    Free Comic Book Day is one of those tempting propositions where I’d feel guilty for taking the handout. It’s not like I’m about to spend much, if any, money on comics afterwards, and I don’t really want want the comics that much in the first place. It feels like I’d be violating the spirit of things.

    Next, I can tell you about how I’m too awkward to ask sales people for help when I go shopping.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      I always go with the intent to buy something because most places are also having a big sale the same day, but this year I couldn’t find a single Mass Effect comic so I wound up buying nothing at all.

      Freemium does not interest me much at all. It’s a terrible model that rewards the impatient with a better game they burn through more quickly, and punishes the patient gamer with a longer experience that is less interesting.

    • stakkalee says:

      FCBD is my excuse to go spend $200-$300 dollars on trade collections and graphic novels.  It’s big business for a lot of smaller shops and I’m happy to spend some disposable income supporting them and the various independents and creator-owned titles out there.

    • Army_Of_Fun says:

      You should go. The Free Comics are generally just slightly better than a flyer you’ll get for passing a random person on a random day.

    • Mistah Chrysoprase says:

      It’s a nice idea, but unless you’re already interested in comics, not really worth the trouble. “Free” comic “book” day is a bit of a misnomer anyway, since a lot of them are just reprinted minis and previews; the ethical equivalent of taking a hotel brochure, basically.
      If you are interested in getting into comics, take a xanax and engage with the staff (possibly bring one for them too); comic book nerds are second only to music nerds when it comes to playing retailer-as-curator.

      • TaumpyTearrs says:

         There are exceptions though. I got into Atomic Robo because of the awesome Free Comic Day stories, which are short stand alones, not just reprints. It only took 12 pages for me to fall in love with that book (the back half was a different series).

        But your second point is dead on. I don’t even work in a comic shop, and I have still helped/bothered dozens of people looking around in comic shops (I know for a fact I have helped a few nephews and children of strangers get some awesome books for their birthday).

  2. LeGrandSigh says:

    I went to my first Free Comic Book Day this year.  I was a little disappointed with what I picked up.  A comic that involved some kind of alien bounty hunter and very briefly featured a Marvel superhero (I can’t even remember which one).  I had no idea what was going on.  I would have thought that they’d offer a self-contained superhero story. 

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       They’re largely advertisements in comic book form.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Last year the Canadian Medical Council (Or Surgeon General or whatever) sent out a free comic with actual DC characters, dressed in 50’s “Listen up kids” clothes. It came free by mail and I still have it. Mostly it’s small puzzles, trying to help Batman find a way through a maze to better explain why it’s important to stay hydrated in the summer and stuff.
      It is better than any comic I ever got from Free Comic Book Day.

    • caspiancomic says:

       I don’t know if quality has generally gone down or if my tastes have improved, but I used to love FCBD and now I usually let it slip by unnoticed. The powers that be sometimes try to have TCAF line up with FCBD to get a bit of comics synergy going on, but even then I usually don’t participate. The comics are usually so dull that I don’t even want them for free.

    • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

      In general FCBD sucks, but 2000AD tend to put out a decently fun book each year. That may be a UK and Ireland exclusive though.

    • TaumpyTearrs says:

       The Marvel and DC books are usually disappointing and incomprehensible if you aren’t already reading that stuff.

      And I think that’s ok, because FCBD should be about discovering everything else available in comics. Everyone has heard of Batman and the Avengers now, but all the characters and titles that don’t have TV shows and movies need more attention. And generally I’ve found the smaller companies put out more interesting FCBD books, even if alot of them are just samplers its still a chance to see a new writer or artist who might grab you attention.

  3. Dave Dalrymple says:

    I’ve had positive and negative experiences with various Free Comic Book Days. My local comic shop used to put them on the sidewalk, and there were always a ton left over if you came back during the week. It was crazy busy, but it still had a very casual atmosphere.

    The last time I went, though, was in 2011 in a big-city comic shop. It felt like a horrible monument to greed. There was a long line that traced a path in and out of the store, passing by tables full of comics (which became very picked over by the end of the day). I’m sure that the store had few paying customers that day; it was almost impossible to browse the store’s regular wares.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      That’s one of the problems. The event is such a success that you’d think the line was to a new roller coaster, not to pay for comics, and the amount of people in a given shop make it almost impossible to browse.

  4. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    The idea of fighting alongside unlimited clones of the same hero you had to choose makes this not sound even remotely fun.

    Penny Arcade described it perfectly in this comic:

    http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2013/06/05

    It’s really depressing when games with potentially great ideas and licenses waste them on stupid repetitive shit over and over again.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Not very appealing even to Marvel fans. So imagine how this game looks like to someone who isn’t even big on Super-hero licenses at all. Seems like this might not last very long.

    • DJDeluxeSupreme says:

      Everybody wants to be someone cool like Spiderman or Wolverine, but nobody wants a whole bunch of Spidermans running around.  Now if it were a DC universe game, everybody could be Batman, and they could all be explained away as multiverse, alternate earth Batmen.

  5. double_hawk says:

    I’ve only been to one FCBD but it got me into Atomic Robo so I’d say it was a win for me. Plus there’s usually some neat costumes (like a kid dressed up as batman beyond this year) and artists there giving out sketches

    • DrFlimFlam says:

       The costumes are cool, especially for kids. We had Vader, Stormtroopers, and slave Leia locally here; it was neat. And a little awkward to stand around a chick in a gold bikini.

    • TaumpyTearrs says:

       Fucking awesome. I just posted above about how FCBD got me into Atomic Robo. I’ve been 3 or 4 years, and a few other things have gotten my attention, but even if every other book was garbage it would have been worth it to get into Atomic Robo.

      Its become one of my favorite books of all time, and the book I am most likely to try and push on strangers. I just picked up volume 5 the other day!

  6. mizerock says:

    Hey, I’m playing this right now!
    No, it’s not “fun”, but it has that mysterious combination of factors that compell me to keep collecting “cards” and “resources” and to build up the mastery of the heroes I like best. Not recommended.

    But if you DO play, and don’t ask me for a referral code first, I’ll be sad. Just make sure you enter a referral code from SOMEONE when you sign up, it’ll get you (and them) a helpful card.

    Back to “Defending Reality” (we are all helping Wolverine take down the House of M this week).

    • mizerock says:

      No, wait, I’m playing “Marvel: War of Heroes”, which is totally different.

      • Andy Tuttle says:

        Is that some kind of Facebook game?

        • mizerock says:

          No, that’s “Marvel: Avengers Alliance”. Which I also play. War of Heroes is for mobile devices. This is not the gaming future I pictured for myself, but what other game can I play for 20 minutes at a time?

          Oh, only all the other games I used to play, like Portal 2, and LittleBigPlanet, and Rock Band. No, I can’t play those while on the Metro, or while eating breakfast in the morning, or while my fiancée watches So You Think You Can Dance.

        • Andy Tuttle says:

          My little 20 minute cell phone game is The Simpsons Tapped Out. I’m floored by how much time I waste on that thing just clicking little icons. It’s very strange.

        • mizerock says:

          Oh, that’s the one that tempts you to buy donuts, right!

          I hope you aren’t buying the donuts.

          I bought “Gold” once in the Facebook game, but only because it was $1 for what they normally charge $20. I guess they figured that, once I got used to spending real money on the game, I would do it more often. And I bet that theory works fairly often! Though it didn’t work on me, in this case.

        • Andy Tuttle says:

          I have spent money on donuts, probably close to ten bucks. I had to have Hans Moleman though!

  7. Andy Tuttle says:

    It’s gotta be tough to make an MMO with licensed comic book characters. I’ve played DC Universe and my guy is basically Rorschach with Dr. Strange’s powers and Deadpool’s pistols, but it’s not really any of those guys, and I wish I could just play as the actual character I know. The problem then becomes, like Sam mentions, everyone is the same damn person. If I had to choose I suppose I like the DC Universe method better, make a guy and have him interact with the actual super heroes and villains, instead of the Marvel method of multiple Spider-Man’s running around.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      Definitely agree.  Sure, it’s fun to play as your favorite hero, but I’d rather create my own and team up with the big guys instead.  City of Heroes and Champions Online both were fun in that regard…if only they had recognizable heroes to team up with.

      Sounds like I should try DC Universe.  (Their cinematic movies were effin’ incredible!)

      • Dave Dalrymple says:

        There’s lots of other ways to play as Spider-Man and Deadpool. The whole fun of MMOs is building your own character.

      • Andy Tuttle says:

        It’s about the same as any other MMO, so don’t expect anything different. I did like my interactions with the established super heroes though, they do a good job of making you feel like you’re part of their universe and that the things you are doing really matters. It’s always neat being told by Superman that I’m his only hope.

  8. George_Liquor says:

    Too bad this seems to be a crass cash-in. I’d love a true follow-up to the Ultimate Alliance games. 

    • Mistah Chrysoprase says:

      The annoying part is it could have been a lot like that with just a few tweaks to how the game is instanced; they’re both basically Diablo in tights.

  9. ChicaneryTheYounger says:

    You can play as Captain Marvel?! Is she free, because then I’m sold.

  10. Still better than Man of Steel.

  11. This was generic and samey enough that I tried logging in to City Of Heroes afterward just to get some healthy contrast…only to discover that it was shut down last November.  Way to go on keeping up with current events, me.  What was I doing back then that was so much more important, getting married or something?

    Anyway, there was a repetitive streak to some of COH, too, but I felt that the designers were trying harder to mix it up by diversifying the list of activities:  hunt for achievement medals, build a superhero base and defend it/invade others, have fun PvP battles, construct your own power enhancements…and new updates were a regular course of events.  Their move to freemium wasn’t as invasive as some MMOs, and the core of the game had a serious audience.  Not to mention that amazing character design engine (still available to use, to a certain degree).  I was angered when Marvel sued Cryptic for such a shaky interpretation of “trademark infringement”; even though the lawsuit was settled, I have to wonder if it was part of NC Soft’s short-sighted decision to close doors on the title. 

    Is that the real reason we don’t have an ideal superhero MMO?  Lawsuits?  Uck.  A blue spandex suit should beat a lawsuit at least…nine times out of ten.

    • Ardney says:

       The reason for the CoH shutdown seems a bit more bizarre then lawsuits. http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/189896/

      • Thanks for that link.  Looks like we’ve got a murder mystery on our hands.  Until NCSoft opens up a bit more about their true financial picture at the time (the only possible reason I can think of for shuttering CoH, although they can’t have been hurting on any major scale), we’ll never have a motive to match the murderer. 

        And that rejected buyback plan just makes me sad.  The big guys win again, and does anyone give a damn:  welcome to the story of the 2010’s.

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      Cancelled?! What the hell am I going to do with this unopened box of City of Villains: Collector’s Edition that I got for free from the video store I used to work at?

      • (regards his own City Of Villains: Collector’s Edition box in the corner, sighs)

        Admire the embossed cover?  It certainly looks nice over there, next to The Matrix Online, the deluxe edition of Tabula Rasa, the Atari 7800, my Betamax videotape collection, and other entertainment choices in my life that are bursting with longevity.

  12. Gryffle says:

    The Thing is a B-list hero now?! What a revoltin’ development!

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