"Just one more game," I tell myself. It's midnight and I'm bleary-eyed, but I simply can't resist another frenetic match of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.
Capcom's latest crossover brawler has its share of flaws - namely an uninspired roster and less-than-stellar visuals - but none of that matters once you have it in your hands. Infinite is simply a delight to play, thanks to a brilliantly open-ended combat system that's accessible, chaotic, and endlessly strategic all at once.
Factor in a solid story mode and a decent amount of extras, and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is a strong package for casual players and combo scientists alike - even if it lacks the polish of some of its peers.
Like previous Marvel vs. Capcom games, Infinite is defined by fast tag-team fighting, flashy combos, and a roster of icons that includes Captain America, Spider-Man, Ryu, and Chun-Li. On paper, the gameplay has been simplified significantly from 2011's Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 - fights are 2-on-2 instead of 3-on-3, there are no assist attacks, and special moves and combos are generally easier to pull off.
But Infinite hasn't sacrificed the series' signature level of insanity in the name of accessibility. In fact, the game's two main mechanics - the ability to switch characters on the fly, and the power-enhancing Infinity Stones - add a level of strategy and open-endedness to Infinite that somehow makes older Marvel vs. Capcom games feel static by comparison.
Infinite's new Switch system lets you tag your partner in at any moment 0 even in the middle of a combo or during a big super move. This opens up endless tactical possibilities, allowing you to rack up dizzying attack chains and or create devious tricks and traps that are only limited by your imagination.
Complementing this system are the six Infinity Stones that you can choose from (Space, Time, Reality, Power, Mind, and Soul), which alter your character's playstyles in significant ways. The Time stone, for example, can turn The Hulk into a teleporting speedster, while the Power stone allows little guys like Mega Man X to send their enemies bouncing off the walls.
Because of these new mechanics, I've spent most of my time with Infinite gleefully mashing away in training mode, thinking "oh my god, that works?" as I discovered new ways to interlace Gamora's sword slashes with Hawkeye's myriad of arrows. And when I finally started landing crazy tag combos and making smart use of the Infinity Stones in online matches, I felt a rush that I haven't gotten from any other fighting game this year.
Fate of Two Worlds
Infinite features the first story mode in the history of Marvel vs. Capcom, and while it's not the gorgeous hollywood blockbuster you'll find in Injustice 2, it's still a pretty enjoyable b-movie.
The game's plot sees Marvel and Capcom heroes banding together to stop Ultron Sigma: a fusion of two villains that are hell-bent on turning all of humanity into a bunch of evil cyborgs. Despite some cheesy writing and cutscenes that look like they belong in 2011, Infinite's story has a certain goofy charm to it, and packs in plenty of fun team-up moments that had the Marvel and Capcom nerd in me geeking out.
More importantly, Infinite's roughly 5-hour campaign serves as an excellent tutorial, steadily introducing new mechanics and Infinity Stones while letting you sample the majority of the game's roster.
Considering the woefully anemic state that last year's Street Fighter V launched in, it's refreshing just how much there is to do in Infinite. Arcade mode gives you a traditional ladder of opponents to blow through, while Mission mode does a nice job teaching you basic mechanics and character-specific combos. There's also a beefy gallery mode packed with concept art, character models and a surprising amount of lore to read up on.
Infinite offers an impressive stable of online options, including ranked and casual matches, a robust lobby system and a "beginner's league" that matches newcomers together. My matches have been mostly smooth so far with just a few moments of lag, though I'll report back if that changes significantly post-launch.
While Infinite's gameplay pushes the series forward, the game's presentation feels stuck in the past. Its cheap-looking interface is a far-cry from the vibrant comic book look of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and its graphics are a mixed bag of gorgeous, colorful stages and bombastic in-game effects but mostly bland character models. The Arcade mode is also strangely devoid of a scoring system or character-specific endings.
Infinite's 30-character roster feels uninspired, with only six characters that aren't recycled from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. New fighters such as Thanos and Captain Marvel are a blast, and returning brawlers like Iron Man and Frank West have plenty of new tricks, but Marvel and Capcom missed a big opportunity to inject some fresh blood into the franchise.
Characters At Launch:
Marvel: Captain America, Captain Marvel, Dr. Strange, Dormammu, Gamora, Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iron Man, Nova, Rocket Raccoon, Spider-Man, Thanos, Thor, Ultron
Capcom: Arthur, Chris, Chun-Li, Dante, Firebrand, Frank West, Haggar, Jedah, Morrigan, Nemesis, Ryu, Spencer, Strider Hiryu, Mega Man X, Zero
Characters "Coming Soon:"
Marvel: Black Panther, Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Venom
Capcom: Monster Hunter, Sigma
I'll forgive the lack of X-Men (that's part of a larger Marvel problem), but where are favorites like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, or Ant-Man and Falcon? What about characters from newer Capcom games like Resident Evil 7?
The game's first wave of post-launch characters - which will include Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Monster Hunter, Sigma, Venom, and Black Panther as part of a $30 season pass - seems like a step in the right direction. But it's a bummer that we'll have to pay extra to make Infinite's so-so roster more interesting.
Thanks to a brilliantly open-ended combat system, a surprisingly enjoyable story mode and a healthy amount of features, Infinite manages to rise above its flaws to become one of Capcom's most complete and ruthlessly addictive fighting games in years. While it might not out-punch the likes of Injustice 2 and Tekken 7 in terms of polish and presentation, it's a must-play for Marvel fans, Capcom fans, and anyone who wants an over-the-top fighter that they can sink their teeth into for years.
Incredibly open-ended fighting system
Fun story mode
Healthy amount of content
Rating: 8 out of 10