Marvel's Midnight Suns Review

Dan Webb

As someone who is partial to a bit of Marvel, and loves the new era of XCOM games, when Firaxis' Marvel's Midnight Sons was announced, it genuinely seemed right up my alley. However, as the weeks went on, my enthusiasm waned a little, with the game appearing to be nothing more than an XCOM game mixed with a deck building card game. Nope, I'm not having any of that, I thought to myself. Alas, to my surprise, when I finally got my grubby mitts on it last week, my admittedly pessimistic demeanour was quickly replaced with one of sheer delight.

In truth, the more you play it, the more you realise that Firaxis’ Midnight Suns isn’t actually like Firaxis’ XCOM at all. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In Midnight Suns, you play as the “Hunter,” a mysterious enigmatic ancient superhero of sorts, who is brought back to life to stop their mother, a villain seemingly hellbent on triggering armageddon. You’ll spend your time in isometric, turn-based combat scenarios (like XCOM), building card decks and a dream team of superheroes, all while attempting to save the earth from utter devastation. However, Midnight Suns is not all doom and gloom, and heading head first into battle after battle is only half the truth. 

The rest of your time will be spent in and around the Abbey - the Midnight Suns’ fictional base in upper Massachusetts - training up your troops, improving its infrastructure, sending your superhero squad out on missions, deck building, mingling with your superhero cohorts, and more. It’s basically a more action-oriented XCOM game, mixed with Persona. Which, may I add, I’ve got a lot of time for. In fact, it’s the duality of the game that resonated with me most - as it does in the Persona games too. It’s almost like two games under one umbrella: an isometric, turn-based strategy game; and a third-person social simulator, with deep RPG mechanics, and a smidgen of exploration.

Despite the Persona comparisons, there are no classes or schools here. Instead, Midnight Suns’ squad building and RPG aspects are more like military school fused with university life - so, kicking ass one minute in the THREAT Challenge Room and the like, and then watching a DVD with chums by night. 

There’s so much more to the Abbey, though, than just straight up RPG and exposition intertwined with a social simulator. There’s also a large grounds to explore in third-person, with plenty of mysteries to boot. Something that feels so far removed from the main game that at times you have to remind yourself what game you’re actually playing. That said, you can pretty much ignore all the exposition and Abbey based gameplay if that’s not your bag, but for those that invest the time and the effort, not only do you get some cool stories and threads coming from it, but you’ll also get invaluable gameplay boosts as well.

If you like XCOM-style games and like social simulators, but don’t like deck building or card games, is Midnight Suns the game for you? Honestly, probably not. The deck building and card game aspects are such a fundamental and integral part of the game that if you’re not a fan of it, you’re going to struggle. Sure, it’s not as deep as a Hearthstone (naturally), but each character has their own deck with strengths and weaknesses that need to be assessed, and if you don’t, you could come unstuck rather quickly. That said, I’m not the biggest card game genre fan either, but after a few hours with Midnight Suns, I was hooked. I was completely nerding out on card builds, to see what complemented what, and work out the proper nuances of each character and their deck of cards. Of course, I am a sucker for anything RPG, and this fits the bill.

To their credit, Firaxis have done a fine job of delivering a range of characters with very different play styles, which also cater for different player abilities too. Iron Man, for instance, is definitely more accessible and easier to get your head around than Ghost Rider or Blade, whose play styles can be incredibly complex. The former has a ‘Soul’ system while the latter can be formidable if you master the art of the bleed. Sure, there are some missions that require you to play with a set of characters, but those missions are few and far between, so if you want to use Captain Marvel and Iron Man for pretty much every mission, you can.

Where I'd say Midnight Suns falls short of the XCOM games is in its delivery of its core gameplay. Part of the joy of XCOM games is working your way through a level, tactically assessing your best options in terms of routes and strategies, and then enacting that plan. Bouncing from cover to cover and then sweeping through a building, only to be surprised by an alien ambush, was what I lived for in the XCOM games. The truth is, the XCOM games deliver a level of tension rarely rivalled in games - especially with its permadeath as well - and that just isn’t present in Midnight Suns.

For this game, however, it makes no sense for Captain America to hide behind some waist-high cover, or to be wasted by some guy with a gun who catches him off guard. Instead, Midnight Suns’ battles often take place in relatively small and rectangular areas, opting more for toe-to-toe combat, with far more environmental interactivity than you’d normally expect from a Firaxis game.

Midnight Suns’ gameplay is more action-oriented, sure, but it loses that sense of exploration and trepidation that you'd get from an XCOM game. As a result, the unpredictability and tension is gone, and the gameplay can get terribly repetitive after a while - every level is just: here’s an arena, kill this lot of enemies, oh, what’s that? There’s reinforcements coming. Rinse and repeat for 50 hours, and that’s pretty much Midnight Suns. Don’t get me wrong, the core combat loop is fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game - I was definitely addicted for a good week or so until the credits rolled - but it’s just not on the same level as Firaxis’ XCOM games.

Granted, the deck building and card system does result in a little unpredictability, as does the characters you choose, but if you’ve built a set of strong enough decks for your slate of characters, after a while that really doesn’t matter.

There's also a lot not to like about Midnight Suns, whether you're talking about the game breaking bug that set me back two-hours; the boss fight where one of my main deck cards discarded a key card I needed to end a boss fight; or the last boss fight that went on for 2-hours, only for me to die and be set back to the beginning. It’s a game that’s certainly not what you would call polished. There are rampant audio issues as well, like lines of dialogue not triggering (thank the gaming lords for subtitles!) and sound effects that just stopped working entirely until I rebooted the game. Neither of which are ideal for a game that puts so much effort on its audio aspects.

Despite all of that though, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is actually a really fabulous game. Sure, it has its issues and foibles, and may not be as standard-setting as Firaxis’ XCOM series when it comes to isometric, turn-based RPGs, but it’s a game that’s an incredible amount of fun to play. What actually makes it great, though, is the balance of gameplay types, how they fluidly work with one another, and the surprising depth of its RPG mechanics. It’s a little bit of isometric, turn-based RPG; a little bit of a deck building card game; a little bit of a social sim; it’s got a little bit of an exploration in the Abbey grounds; and it’s got a lot of RPG. What’s not to love? 

So, if you’re looking for a Marvel social simulator game, chock full with a ton of Marvel superheroes to get cosy with by night, and kick ass by day with, you can’t really go wrong with Marvel’s Midnight Suns. 

Marvel's Midnight Suns

Marvel's Midnight Suns is a strangely complex game to explain. It’s equal parts isometric turn-based RPG, social simulator, and deck-building card game. But you know what? It actually works! Sure, it’s not as tense and as gripping as Firaxis’ XCOM series, but this is a nice action-oriented offshoot.

Form widget
80%
Audio
80%

When the audio worked, it was delightful. Emphasis on when. It does boast a fantastic original score, with some great voice acting on the whole. Honestly, we're not sure why Firaxis cast Yuri Lowenthal as Spider-Man (yes, the same voice actor as the PS4 game) alongside William Salyers as Bruce Banner (who was Doc Ock in the same game) though, as it's the most immersion breaking thing I've ever experienced in games. Josh Keaton as Tony Stark was sublime though.

Visuals
65%

The problem when you take an isometric game like this, and then get up close and personal, and go all third-person, with a free cam and proper cutscenes in-game, is that you start to see the cracks. This is as far away from next-gen as you can be at this moment in time. Still, it looks okay. Nothing more, nothing less.

Playability
85%

The fact we don’t talk about controls, and how PC-centric games control on consoles these days, shows how far we’ve come. It works and plays great. Across the board.

Delivery
75%

The combat can get a little repetitive after a while, due in whole thanks to a lack of variety, but we were big fans of the duality of gameplay offered by Midnight Suns. Crime fighter by day, explorer and superhero best-mate by night. Could have done with less filler content too.

Achievements
80%

The achievement list is actually pretty great, as far as these style of games go. Plenty of variety, loads of breadcrumb achievements and not too much grinding. It’s how it should be. However, you will need 1.5 playthroughs if you want to get the lot though, thanks to achievements that force you to max out the light path and dark path, which is rather annoying.

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