Marvel’s Midnight Suns review: winning hearts and minds
Fighting - and hanging out - with superheroes
On paper, Marvel’s Midnight Suns shouldn’t really work.
True, Marvel’s Avengers was a disappointing blockbuster (the game, not the billion-earning movie) but brawling with your favourite superheroes is an easier sell than placing them in some grid-based tactics game that asks you to flex your grey matter. And despite the recent success of deckbuilder Marvel Snap, having your heroes act based on cards will be a turn-off for some. Then there’s the fact it isn’t based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a more obscure 90s comic book run focused on Marvel’s darker, supernatural side.
Yet it’s also these factors that help Midnight Suns stand out from being just another licensed cash-grab. And while developer Firaxis is mostly associated with the super hardcore tactical XCOM reboot, complete with infamously harsh hit-rates and permadeath system, this is no mere re-skin. This is a role-playing game with deep character-driven storytelling that’s quite unlike anything the studio has previously done, making for one of the year’s best surprises.
Avengers and Midnight Suns Assemble
Not familiar with the deep cut of the original Midnight Sons? You needn’t worry: getting acquainted with left-of-mainstream heroes Blade and Ghost Rider, plus X-man Magik (seen in the New Mutants film) and Nico Minoru (Runaways) is a key part of the game. Naturally household names like Avengers Iron Man, Captain Marvel and Dr. Strange are along for the ride too. Both groups must work together to overcome a new big bad.
Terrorist organisation Hydra has resurrected Lilith, Mother of demons, then been swiftly enslaved by her all-corrupting power along with other super villains (Venom being one of the first you’ll encounter) and even other superheroes. Your player character, an original creation known as the Hunter, is one of her children, who managed to stop their mother once before. Having been ‘dead’ for a few centuries, they have a quaint, fish-out-of-water vibe as they familiarise themselves with modern tech.
Hunter is more of a blank slate protagonist than say, Mass Effect’s Commander Shephard, but has good banter with the other heroes, and a light/dark choice system that affects their development. That adds to some tension between heroes as well, as the Avengers typically hold onto altruistic ideals while the Suns have a more ruthless mentality. You’re also caught between a generational boomer/gen-Z divide, which adds some familiar Marvel humour.
Play your cards right
Missions take place in smallish arenas where you bring just three heroes into battle. The Hunter is mandatory apart from non-story-specific missions, and one or both of your companions can be dictated by the narrative. Fights are a world away from the ruthless battles of XCOM, seeing as Firaxis probably realised that superheroes do not miss and also do not die. They can, however, get KO’d and be handicapped by injuries if then used in a subsequent mission.
The randomness of battle instead comes down to what attacks or skills each hero can use, which are dictated by the cards in their hand. There’s a whole deck that can be cleverly used in conjunction with each other to maximise damage. Play Blade’s ‘Make ‘em Bleed’ and his next attack will inflict a status effect, which synergises with a card that lets you chain attacks on multiple enemies. Some powerful cards also require building up heroism points first, earned by playing other cards.
In theory each hero can make a move every turn, though you might find one doesn’t have any suitable cards to play, or you spend all three cards on a single hero (which does give a chance to refund a card). That might not sound like much, especially as enemies have a knack of calling in reinforcements to grossly outnumber you. However, you can also make each turn more effective using the environment. Shoving spongier enemies into electrical boxes to stun them, or using knockback effects to pinball goons into one another takes heroism points rather than cards. The possibilities only get more fun as new perks are unlocked over time or in unique story missions.
More importantly, this is no mere numbers game. All the actions look fantastic, making the most of stylised visuals that are more in debt to the comics than the movies. The cutscenes that bookend missions are just as good, hitting a good middle ground between what you see in the Avengers game and Ultimate Alliance 3.
Tactical combat is just one half of Midnight Suns. We’d say the real draw is before and after each mission when you’re at the Abbey, a gothic haven that seems to exist on another dimensional plane. More than your base of operations for unlocking new tools, cards, upgrades, and other prep, it’s also the heart of the game. This is where you hang out with your fellow superheroes, sans capes and costumes, and everyone’s on a real first name basis.
That doesn’t mean everyone’s all chummy. Indeed, seeing Avengers and Suns bicker is part of the fun, but spending time with your favourite heroes adds to the charm in unusual ways. You can forage for mushrooms with Tony Stark, play video games with Carol Danvers, lounge by the pool with Peter Parker, and even join a book club with Blade! Beyond the novelty of seeing superheroes doing mundane things, this bonding time is where the writing really shines. And unlike Mass Effect or Dragon Age, these friendships all stay strictly platonic. It’s quite refreshing, even if the thirstier part of the playerbase might be disappointed.
The same heroes also become your quest givers, vendors and smithies, instead of being left to nondescript NPCs, which adds another personal touch to the Abbey’s activities. Virtually everything you choose to do, be it exploring the surprisingly expansive Abbey grounds, getting to know certain heroes better, and even petting your lovable hellhound each day all feed into the game’s systems, improving your performance and expanding your tactical possibilities in battle.
While already lengthy, the campaign is stretched by having to wait for research and side ops to complete. You have to play general missions to progress time before the next story beat unlocks, but as that just means another day to shoot the breeze with this super endearing family, we don’t mind taking our time to save the world.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns verdict
If you’re getting superhero fatigue from screens both big and small, Midnight Suns is a refreshing antidote that genuinely offers something unexpected – even if the MCU has also been leaning a bit more on the darker supernatural side with this year’s Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.
The tactics system is ingenious, being challenging while also providing the awesome abilities you expect from these superheroes. But it’s the strong character-driven stories and downtime activities that resonate the most.
After carving a reputation for its merciless hardcore XCOM games, Firaxis has elevated itself into the same realm as the likes of Fire Emblem and Dragon Age. It’s a Marvel phase we can truly get behind.
Both an excellent tactical RPG and superhero friending simulator, Midnight Suns is the best Marvel game you can play
Clever battle and card system
Terrific presentation and action sequences
Chilling with dressed down superheroes
No superhero smooching (if you’re after that sort of thing)