For a long time, story modes in fighting games were largely forgettable affairs that felt tacked on for the sake of checking a box off a feature list. Then Netherrealm rebooted Mortal Kombat in 2011 and implemented a cinematic story mode that was so well-received that it would appear in follow-up games, Mortal Kombat X and the Injustice series. Capcom wants to try its hand at doing the same, first with Street Fighter V and next with Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite. But after playing the 25-minute demo for the latter, the decision feels ill-conceived.
For me, the main appeal of Netherrealm’s story modes is the ability to learn a character by taking them through a series of successive battles. By the time a new fighter is introduced, you have a decent handle on the previous one. Marvel vs. Capcom throws that out the window by giving you two characters at once, making it more difficult to become intimately familiar with a single combatant. It doesn’t help that MvC’s bouts are faster paced than most fighters, so it’s harder to take your time figuring out button combinations. Exacerbating things further is that the story demo forced me to use a new combination of fighters in nearly every bout. Within 25 minutes, I went through 10 characters – nearly half of the announced roster – in rapid fire fashion. Since I was hoping to get a real taste for newcomers like Captain Marvel and Mega Man X, this drove me nuts.
Dialogue was incredibly lame. The script so far feels like it was written by a cheese-obsessed fan fiction writer, and the delivery isn’t much better. Iron Man teasing Arthur about his huge lance “compensating for something” nearly made me abandon the demo station in embarrassment. Some interactions felt out of character, such as Rocket asking Dante to loan him his handguns and Dante replying “For you Rocket, anything” with a cringy affection and no trace of the demon hunter’s signature snark. It didn’t help that everyone appeared to be largely familiar with each other, which took away much of the fun novelty of seeing these disparate universes collide.
The story’s tone feels weirdly straight-faced. Marvel vs. Capcom is an inherently goofy premise but Infinite seems like it’s trying to tell a serious tale and make sense of that absurdity. I mean, Thor expresses actual pathos at seeing Asgard defiled by Ultron Sigma. Instead of just being a silly thing that knows how dumb it is, it seems like they’re actively trying to explain something that doesn’t require any logic. Worsening things is that the stilted cutscenes and aforementioned rough dialogue negate a lot of the weight the story is attempting to establish.
One of the reasons Marvel vs Capcom works for me is that, outside of its stupidity, the character interactions are appropriately humorous but also relatively brief. They don’t draw out the joke for too long, leaving me wanting a bit more but not much. So far, Infinite feels like it may be stretching out that joke to its breaking point while also painting it in a coat of grim. You know what this story reminds me of so far? Modern day Sonic the Hedgehog plots, particularly Sonic ‘06. Then, we had talking cartoon animals in a convoluted apocalyptic narrative. Now, we've got Chris Redfield hanging out with Rocket Raccoon and they're getting mauled by a killer robot–and its no laughing matter.
Some fans have fussed about Infinite’s art direction and I can’t say I’m a fan either. While the game performs well enough, the more realistic and unified design removes some of the flair that the comic style brought. Certain character models appear just…off, with Chun-Li and Gamora being the most egregious examples. Gamora has a strangely blank expression and Chun-Li looks like a slightly melted action figure in some scenes.
During E3, Capcom released the Marvel vs. Capcom story demo for free on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, so you can check all of this out for yourself and see what you think. As for myself, the story mode feels like a bad move in an already divisive entry in the beloved crossover fighter.