Marvel's Avengers: Accessibility Review
The copy of the game used in this review was provided by Square Enyx at no cost to the reviewer.
Superheroes have been a great force for motivation and positive influence over the years. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a pop culture juggernaut the likes of which has never been seen before and Spider-Man's 2018 PlayStation outing was wildly successful. With Crystal Dynamics and Square Enyx's latest title, Marvel's Avengers, the focus isn't on the big screen portrayals of the popular comic book team but, in an understandable move, on an original story.
Like probably a large majority of people, I play videogames to immerse myself in new worlds and experiences, including being a superhero of some description. The question is, does Marvel's Avengers allow everyone, regardless of disability, to #EmbraceYourPowers?
After playing a demo of this title at EGX in London in 2019, where I needed sighted assistance, though thoroughly enjoyed throwing Mjolnir around where I could, I was granted the opportunity to play the beta both on PS4 and Xbox One.
Unfortunately, said beta, just weeks prior to the game's launch, had no accessibility features that would directly benefit gamers without sight, with those that might having limitations (such as target locking only having either "off" or "manual" as options.
So How Does The Launch Build Compare?
When I started the game, after a 50+GB download as well as a 9.9 GB patch, I wasn't sure what to expect, including in comparison to the beta. However, I was met with the same or similar screens that, as they weren't narrated, required Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to get through.
I had feared this game, before playing the beta, would include cursor-based navigation as the only mode of working with menus. However, I was pleasantly surprised that, even though the navigation audio cues were extremely quiet (such that they might as well be inaudible in places), I could use the DPad as well in the menus I tested.
That being said, once I'd got into the game after modifying some settings, including seeing an introductory cutscene that wasn't present during the beta, I still needed sighted assistance to navigate the environments and complete objectives. The movement, compared to something like The Last Of Us Part II, is comparatively simplistic, meaning that traversal assistance and objective cues have the potential, if added, to greatly improve the accessibility of this experience without sight.
If the amount of sighted assistance needed changes in the future, including for the multiplayer missions when I get to that point, I will endeavour to update this review.
Lock-on targeting has seen various implementations in a number of titles over the years, the most recent I've played being The last Of Us Part II. Whilst this game's version isn't as effective, it does still work (though there is no audio cue for entering a locked-on state). Fortunately though, it does seem to allow you to switch between targets quickly and take them out with relative ease, so I can only hope that this extends to the multiplayer when I am able to try that. It did only seem to function for light and heavy attacks though, as opposed to aimed ranged ones, which puts gamers without sight at a major disadvantage without assistance.
An Audio Description Dilemma
For a while now, audio description has been a talking point in the videogame industry, with several companies releasing audio described trailers. However, no game has yet added audio description to cutscenes or in-game events, with that being left to community efforts such as the #TranscribingGames Project.
Marvel's Avengers, however, presents a very interesting scenario which I've never seen before, described best by my sighted CoPilot during our time with the game's campaign: "The Closed Captions are describing things that any gamers who use them can already see. If these were narrated, it's pretty much audio description." Hopefully Square Enyx and Crystal Dynamics, developers of the title, realise this and look to see what avenues there might be for adding narration to this feature in future updates and improving on it so that everyone, regardless of their level of vision, can enjoy this story.
A cinematic score fitting of the Marvel universe and the story being told
Sound design that, at least for the most part, feels consistently impactful and well-scaled to each character.
Menus are navigable via the DPad, at least from what I've tested
Lock-on targeting that, though it's a little inconsistent, is definitely useful
An implementation of closed captions that is close to audio description, if it were narrated.
Single player missions are required to be completed before having access to the multiplayer component.
Lack of menu/UI narration of any kind
Though Marvel's Avengers is a great concept, with top-quality scoring, sound design and acting that fit the tone well, the unfortunate truth is that at the current time, gamers without sight will need sighted assistance to engage at all with this experience. I am disappointed that, in a game about uniting everyone as a positive force, there are going to be numerous gamers who are not included, at least not yet. I hope that Crystal Dynamics can learn from feedback that gamers without sight and other disabilities provide and, in time, allow anyone who wants to do so to embody any of the various characters that are available and enjoy what is a great Marvel gaming entry.
Back to the main reviews, guides and articles page