Earlier this week, Marvel Comics spilled the beans regarding its latest cross-over, Secret Wars. The eight issue miniseries (written by Jonathan Hickman, with art by Esad Ribic) chronicles the adventures of the Earth's mightiest heroes as alternate realities collide, creating a composite Earth called Battleworld and ending the Marvel universe as we know it.
Hot on the heels of this announcement, Unseen Games - a blog dedicated to cancelled or otherwise lost video games - uncovered a different alternate reality: one in which THQ's Marvel spin-off The Avengers made it past the early development stage. Thanks to concept artist Jeremy Love, senior game designer Matthew Ota, and a few other unnamed sources, gamers can now get a fairly good idea of what the game would've felt like had it not fallen victim to THQ's financial woes. And while it's impossible to say for sure, The Avengers sounds like it could've been the modern-day Marvel title gamers have been hoping for.
According to Love, The Avengers was scheduled to come out around the same time as the blockbuster film, but wasn't directly connected in terms of story or aesthetics. The title started as a third-person brawler, but designers changed the view to a first-person perspective only a few months into development. Players controlled Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk at the outset, with Hawkeye, Black Widow, War Machine, and Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers edition) unlockable later. Other Marvel characters, like the Fantastic Four, the Vision, and the X-Men, would also make appearances.
Each character controlled similarly, but had his or her own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Iron Man used mostly ranged weapons, while the Hulk focused on close-quarters combat. Thor could stun enemies with lightning bolts, while Captain America was the fastest combatant, and could throw his mighty shield for extra damage. Characters could gain experience points to level up, and each superhero had a number of unique finishing maneuvers, during which the camera would switch to a cinematic viewpoint.
In the spirit of teamwork, The Avengers was designed as a cooperative title. Up to four players could join forces via a combination of online and local multiplayer, while sophisticated AI allies picked up the slack during solo sessions. Characters also came equipped with "assist moves," which stunned enemies, opening them up to attacks from other players.
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Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel's main writers (and the co-creator of Powers, the soon-to-be-PSN-exclusive television series) crafted The Avengers' story, which centered on Marvel's shape-shifting aliens, the Skrulls. Unlike Bendis' Skrull-centric espionage epic, Secret Invasion, the Skrulls in The Avengers launched a full-on attack of Earth, with a huge spaceship hovering above Manhattan and armies of super powered Super-Skrulls wreaking havoc in SHIELD's Triskellion headquarters, its hovering helicarrier, and the arctic oasis known as the Savage Land.
Production on The Avengers started in 2010. By early 2011, the development team at THQ Australia was struggling to stay on schedule, and enlisted the help of THQ subsidiary Blue Tongue Entertainment. Unfortunately, that's when trouble started. In August, 2011 THQ announced that it was eliminating both Australian studios, due to the publisher's increasing financial problems and the rising strength of the Aussie dollar. After the closure was announced, THQ Australia pitched the game directly to Marvel, but the company declined to pick it up. The Avengers - and the studio - were dead in the water.
Since The Avengers failed to materialize, the company's put its characters primarily in mobile and free-to-play titles. With the exceptions of Disney Infinity 2.0 and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes - both solid games, but targeted towards a very specific audience - there hasn't been a strong, in-depth Marvel gaming experience for years. Had The Avengers come out (and lived up to its promise), perhaps things would be different. As it is, however, gamers will have to be content shuffling their match-3 pieces and imagining what could've been.
Source: Unseen Games