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Just in time to coincide with the North America launch of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Netmarble's latest free-to-play mobile game, Marvel Future Fight, is all about putting together a team of various heroes and villains from the legendary comic book universe, and then using them to beat the stuffing out of lots and lots of bad guys.
Anyone who has read my previous thoughts concerning mobile gaming knows that, for the most part, I'm not a huge fan of the free-to-play market. I only truly started diving into mobile gaming about half a year ago and immediately started consuming everything I had ever seen anyone recommend, especially in the f2p category. What I was greeted with was a veritable army of boring clones upon clones, the vast majority of which featured the same tired mechanics that have you playing a bare-bones match-three puzzle game or card battle-esque showdown that all but operates on autopilot.
Needless to say, I had my shields up when going into Marvel Future Fight, the latest free-to-play game set within the Marvel universe, making it about the millionth such title. Color me surprised, then, when I found myself actually enjoying the game.
For starters, it should be made very clear that Future Fight is 100 percent a free-to-play game, as far as the structure is concerned. There are a wide variety of in-game currencies needed to upgrade your army of Marvel characters, one of which (Gems) will cost you actual money. Those Gems can then be used to buy pretty much everything else in the game in decent quantities, or you can simply play through the game and earn all of those supplies as you go. In other words, you don't have to spend a dime on Netmarble's latest game, and Future Fight doesn't really beg you to do so, but forking over a couple bucks here and there will certainly get you to a Daredevil unlock a lot quicker.
The gameplay is also limited by the traditional energy bar everyone seems so in love with these days. Going on a mission will cost you energy. Use up all of your energy and you're done for the day. You can, of course, buy more energy in the in-game store. Then again, the energy bar is pretty generous with its allotment, meaning it dishes out enough juice to get in quite a few missions before needing to refill, so you shouldn't feel too limited here.
As far as the story goes, it looks like a group of villains are trying to destroy the multiverse, meaning that every Marvel hero and villain has a stake in the outcome of this epic war. Nick Fury has sent the robotic aid, Jocasta, back in time to lend assistance, guiding your team to new missions while trying to figure out what, exactly, is going on.
Your army starts off humble, boasting Black Widow, Iron Man and Captain America. By the time I was done with the tutorial, Hawkeye was added to the mix. Eventually you'll be able to unlock nearly 40 characters from the Marvel universe, including folks like Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Venom, Ultron (of course), Electra, Loki and members of the Guardians of the Galaxy. It's a varied roster, obviously boasting plenty of room to expand with future updates.
You'll unlock these characters by collecting Biometrics, which can be gathered through regular play or purchasing boxes with randomly generated rewards. Basically, collect enough Biometrics for a particular character and you can unlock them. Collect even more and you can make them much stronger.
That RPG progression actually runs pretty deep in Future Fight, with each character being upgradable in many areas. You can boost their gear or their basic stats, as well as equip gems that will give their abilities some extra kick. You can also master new abilities, letting you craft a version of, say, Iron Fist, that plays totally different from the Iron Fist your friend has.
Achieving these upgrades will take time and plenty of grinding or, hold your surprise, you can spend money in order to purchase packs of materials that speed the process along.
So far, Marvel Future Fight sounds par for the course, right? So, what sets it apart from the pack and makes it earn my personal seal of approval? That answer is simple: It has actual gameplay. More than that, said gameplay is actually fun, making me want to pick up Future Fight and play on a regular basis for enjoyment, rather than the uncomfortable, addictive “need to get in my plays for the day” feeling these types of games usually leave me with.
At its heart, Future Fight is a straightforward brawler. I'd call it a dungeon crawler, too, but the levels aren't complex enough to warrant the comparison. Imagine a light version of Diablo or the fantastic Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and you're headed in the right direction.
You can either use touch controls or a virtual joystick to get the job done. I actually preferred the joystick controls, another thing that caught me off guard in this game. I traditionally dislike the mobile “pretend controller” setup, but it works super well here. Your character's attack button and abilities are in the lower right corner and the thumbstick is in the left. The great thing about that left stick is that it moves to where your thumb meets the glass, rather than remaining stationary, so you'll never find yourself glancing down to discover that your thumb has drifted ever-so-slightly off of the stick, leaving your character immobile at a most inopportune moment.
The remaining members of your three-person party are represented by icons on the left of the screen, and a quick tap will switch them out. Doing so in clever succession can actually result in some pretty great combos. Land some solid combos and one of your teammates will randomly pop in to dish out a super attack. You'll also eventually unlock a team ability, as well as a Striker companion (pulled from your friends list or a rando's team leader) that can be called upon for a brief period of co-op fisticuffs.
The animations are great and the abilities are decently varied and, once the levels start turning up the difficulty, finding the right mix of characters with the right mix of abilities to tackle a challenge becomes half of the fun.
Along with having a solid soundtrack, Future Fight also looks really nice for a mobile game, with lots of details in the levels and fantastic animations. This all adds up to make for a very solid brawler, allowing you to run around levels beating up loads of goons, dodging the occasional trap or pummeling inanimate objects in order to grab additional loot.
The story is also far more interesting than a mobile game has any right to offer, penned by Marvel veteran Peter David and carrying you through nine main stories packed with a bunch of missions each. It'll take you a good long while to get through the full campaign, but there's plenty of additional challenges waiting for you at the end of the road. Along with the regular missions, you can also take on a version of every chapter that's had the difficulty cranked way up. There are also Dimension Rift missions to unlock and explore, Villain Siege Missions, competitive three-on-three battles and more.
In other words, there's plenty of meat on these bones to keep you coming back for more, as well as solid gameplay that makes you actually want to do just that. I'm still not a fan of the limitations of the free-to-play model, but Marvel Future Fight doesn't do anything insulting with the set-up, so I can't complain too much. As far as mobile games go, this one is definitely worth your time and attention.
Marvel: Future Fight is based on a review code pre-loaded with in-game currency. The reviewer chose to use it sparingly in order to get a more realistic feel for the “average” gameplay experience.
Platforms: Android, iOS