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February 2023

Marvel's Midnight Suns

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Marvel's Midnight Suns'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Dec. 7, 2022 @ 1:17 a.m. PST

Marvel's Midnight Suns is an all-new tactical RPG where you confront the darker side of the Marvel Universe and live among its legends.

Buy Marvel's Midnight Suns

Marvel's Midnight Suns follows the story of The Hunter — or just Hunter — a legendary warrior who battled her own mother, the corrupted "Mother of Demons," Lilith. Their last battle ended with the two killing each other. Unfortunately for everyone, they live in the Marvel universe, so an evil organization came along, found Lilith's coffin, and resurrected her to do evil. A prophecy says that only Hunter can stop her mother, so some of Marvel's spookiest team up to resurrect the hero and form the Midnight Suns, a group of young heroes dedicated to standing against the supernatural. It isn't long before the Suns and the Avengers work together to save the world from danger. However, Lilith at her full power may be too much for the Earth's mightiest heroes.

How much you'll enjoy Midnight Suns' plot depends heavily on how much you enjoy modern comic books. It takes a lot from X-Men's soap opera-style, and interpersonal dynamics are interspersed with drama, humor and plenty of quips. It absolutely nails the feel, so it feels like a fun "big summer crossover event" comic in game form. Hunter may be an original character but fits in extremely well with the cast, and they put a lot of effort into making her feel integrated into the universe. The Blood and Caretaker might be some of the most obscure of the obscure parts of the Marvelverse, but the game does a great job of making everything feel natural. Hunter does suffer a bit from Commander Shepard's "everyone likes you super quick" syndrome.

At first glance, Midnight Suns might look like a strategy game à la XCOM, but it's more akin to Into the Breach or Fights in Tight Spaces. You're on a map, but it serves as more of a setup for using your attacks. Characters can move anywhere on the map at any time, and most attacks will hit no matter what. There isn't much in the way of cover; after all, this is a superhero fight. You don't see Iron Man hiding behind chest-high walls unless something has gone really wrong. Instead, the various obstacles and walls are there so you can slam enemies into them with a superpowered punch.

The combat is similar to that of Slay the Spire. Your three characters each have a deck of cards that represent their moves, and the three decks are combined to form your main deck. Each round, you draw a selection of cards and have three card plays to use. Each attack takes only one card play, but that means you're limited to three actions per round unless you use ways to get around that. Some cards are free and can be played without using up a card play. Other cards are Quick, so if you defeat an enemy, you'll recover the play used for that round. You can also redraw cards twice a turn, but redraws can be used for other things.

The most important resource you'll manage is Heroism, which is your resource for a lot of different things. As luck would have it, most cards build up Heroism when used. The amount earned depends on the card, but you can store up to 10 at a time. Heroism is as a spendable resource for powerful cards. The most powerful attacks require a minimum amount of Heroism, which means you need to build it up before you can use the attack. Thankfully, these moves are almost always worth it, and several of them are literally character-defining.

Heroism has other uses in Midnight Suns, and perhaps the coolest is environmental attacks. Each arena is littered with various environmental threats. Environmental attacks can include throwing a hunk of rock, pulling down a lamp post, setting off explosives, and slamming enemies into electrical boxes. Most of these environmental tools are single-use but can hit wide areas and add a lot of bonus damage. Most importantly, they don't take card plays, which means you can use them to finish off wounded opponents or set up damage chains.

Movement is important because of how environmental attacks impact your ability to knock opponents around the field. We're dealing with superheroes, so many of them have the power to send a foe flying with an attack. If the foe goes flying into another enemy, both take damage. If the baddie flies into an ally, the ally can do extra damage to them. If they're tossed into explosive barrels, they explode.

Of course, AoE and line abilities depend on where units are positioned. You can't freely move units, though; most actions will move a unit around the map. Once per turn, you also have a free move action that lets you position a character anywhere you want. Even this move is a precious resource; eventually, you'll unlock the ability to spend it on things like knocking around an opponent (for free) or curing allies of status effects.

These attacks are also important because enemies come in three types: Minions, Elites and Supervillains. Minions die in one hit, so they're great for generating Heroism, but if you leave them alone, they can deal out a ton of damage. Elites have a health bar and usually take more hits. Supervillains need to be taken down multiple times in a fight before they stay down. If you don't make good use of the environment, you can easily find yourself overwhelmed and low on resources. You need to clean up minions and use your resources to take down the heavier foes. Enemies also gain a constant flow of reinforcements unless you can finish battles quickly, so there's a lot to consider.

The character design is excellent. Each character has their own distinct gimmicks and abilities that help them shine. Blade is a high damage dealer who excels at causing enemies to bleed, which allows him to gain a variety of buffs and damage bonus options. Captain America is tanky as heck and can build up his defenses and draw enemy attention away from allies. Those two are probably the most straightforward characters in the game. The game puts a lot of effort into creating characters with gameplay mechanics that are fun to play and fit the characters well.

Spider-Man excels at utilizing the environment and bouncing from enemy to enemy. He can attack quickly and with low cost, and he unlocks powers that let him use environmental attack items at no cost. When you're using him correctly, he's bouncing all over the map while performing many rapid attacks on lots of foes. Iron Man is immensely selfish, so he needs a lot of Heroism to function. Some of his abilities are powered by redraws, which means you need to devote a lot of resources to him. He can inflict huge damage but demands the team make him the centerpiece. My favorite was probably Magik; she can open portals to another dimension, and her combat involves sending the enemy ping-ponging into traps, walls or her own allies so they can get in some extra punches.

This variety does wonders for keeping the combat fun and engaging in Midnight Suns. Different team combinations work in extremely different ways, and it's a ton of fun to figure out the best way to make wildly different characters work together. Hunter serves as a jack-of-all-trades who can fit in pretty much any team, but some of the most fun I had was excluding them and setting up three different classic heroes to see how they bounced off one another. Nico, who can minimize Heroism costs, might be at odds with Tony during the story, but they make an incredibly good pair in combat, since they allow Iron Man to use high-damage attacks much more easily. Magik's ability to teleport and reposition foes combined with the Scarlet Witch's area-based hex powers means they can deal a lot more damage together than they can apart.

The combat is a lot of fun. Fights are not exceedingly long, but each one involves near-constant adjustment to different situations. Trying to figure out how to eke out a little extra damage from any interaction keeps things constantly interesting and engaging. The game is a bit slow to introduce them, but there are a huge number of different enemy types to create many different scenarios. One can clone itself and its allies, so if you let it go too long, it'll go wild; attack it without killing it, and it'll split. Another is a pair of enemies who Soulbond with each other and must be defeated in the same turn, or they revive. If you leave them too long, they start Soulbonding with other enemies, increasing the number of foes you need to beat in a single round.

Between combat missions, you'll return to The Abbey, which serves a similar purpose to the base between XCOM missions. At The Abbey, you can upgrade characters, engage in research to unlock new perks and abilities, train and level up units who may be falling behind, purchase single-use items, and so on. This is probably the part of the game that has the most similarity to XCOM, and if you played that game, it's pretty easy to understand the myriad of resources and items. There's one key difference: The Abbey is a fully explorable area instead of a series of menus.

The Abbey features two big things: friendships and a fully explorable environment. Hunter can talk to and interact with various characters, take them out to locations, and do side-quests. It basically turns The Abbey into the school from Fire Emblem: Three Houses. You're not exactly romancing Captain America, but you get to form friendships that let you learn more about the characters, their backstories, and their personalities. In turn, you unlock bonuses in combat and new cosmetics for Hunter and for the characters. At max friendship, you even unlock a special costume and skill as the character truly becomes one of the Midnight Suns.

How much you enjoy this is going to depend a lot on your love for the characters, but it's very clear there's a lot of love here. While not every character's backstory or history is the same, it's more akin to something like Marvel's Spider-Man, where they approach things with a clear intent. To use Spider-Man as an example, Peter is presented as a young newcomer, and this is his first real experience being part of a team. While he may drop references to Battleworld or Civil War, it's clear they weren't the same as they were in the comics. They use his novice nature and relative outsider status to form a connective tissue between the Avengers and Midnight Suns. Magik's backstory has the same rough beats but changes enough to fit the game's narrative. It's genuinely enjoyable to see each character represented, and comic fans should be pleased.

The Abbey has a fully explorable grounds. By leaving the abbey, you can poke your nose into mysteries. You'll find out more about Hunter, the Caretaker, the backstory of their family, and the history of the area. There are a lot of collectibles that can be used to craft resources or unlock special gear. There's also an ongoing series of plots where you unlock new exploration powers to open new paths for your character. There are even special combat challenges where you fight alongside your adorable hell-dog, Charlie.

Scattered throughout are Arcane Chests, which almost exclusively contain new cosmetics for Hunter and the cast. This is the best way to find new colors and looks for your party. This part of the game is hit-and-miss. It can be fun to poke around and explore, but a lot of it amounts to wandering down paths and looking for an object you can use your powers on to gain a chest or a key for a chest. It's easy to burn out on trying to do everything in one day, and I can't imagine it's as fun on a replay. It's fun enough that I spent a good chunk of the game poking around for more lore and more loot, and if you need a break, it's a nice diversion from the combat system.

Midnight Suns looks quite good in combat. The character animations are excellent and do a fantastic job of capturing the characters. There are plenty of cool callbacks to each character's history. (Wolverine has some animations right out of Marvel vs. Capcom.) One area that I found kind of disappointing was the character faces. Some are good, and others look odd. Tony Stark has a mustache that looks like a piece of plastic glued to his upper lip. He's one of the characters you see the most, so it's disappointing that he doesn't look a little better.

For the most part, the game looks great. I wish there was a wider variety of significantly different costumes without needing to buy DLC, but at least there are plenty of color options. It also sounds excellent, with a ton of fun references and callbacks. Yuri Lowenthall reprises Spider-Man from the PS4 game and does a great job of making a young Peter sound different from an older one. The voice acting carries a lot of weight, and thankfully, it's pretty much universally top-notch.

Marvel's Midnight Suns is probably my top shocker for the year. I'm surprised at how well everything comes together. It almost seems like a bit too much on paper, but it feels amazing once you get your hands on the game. The combat is addictive and incredibly fun, and the story is pure comic book schlock in the best sort of ways. If you are looking for Marvel XCOM, you'll be disappointed, but that's the most significant "flaw" I can think of. Marvel fans of all types will be delighted with Midnight Suns, which is a love letter to the spooky side of the universe. It's a game that I easily see myself coming back to time and time again.

Score: 9.0/10

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