The 6 Weirdest Choices Marvel Made In Their Online Game
Marvel just released an MMORPG set within their universe of superheroes, appropriately titled Marvel Heroes, because why screw around with people's expectations. You get to play as one of their famous characters and battle through endless waves of nefarious villains. I picked the Hulk, because after seeing him go apeshit in The Avengers, I don't understand why you would ever pick anyone but the Hulk. However, instead of fulfilling every superheroic daydream of my fat, lonely childhood, the game quickly devolves into a fantasy camp about being the worst Hulk that has ever existed in the history of the planet. Even worse than Ang Lee's Hulk, or Self-Conscious Naked Hulk from the Hulk Hogan sex tape.
There Are a Hundred Other Heroes Who Look Just Like You
So now I'm the Incredible Hulk, following in the footsteps of great men like Lou Ferrigno and Eric Bana. It's not something I take lightly, but the world is at stake and I must answer the call. I play through a short prologue mission wherein I attempt to thwart a massive breakout of supervillains from a maximum security prison and am then dropped into the main game hub of Stark Tower, surrounded by all the other players currently online.
The very first thing I notice upon my arrival at the Tower is that there are 72 other Hulks, and they're all better than me. Had I known this when I accepted the mantle of justice, I might've selected a different gimmick. The Significant Hulk, perhaps, or the Recognizably Familiar But No Less Incredible Hulk. Or Gamma-Ray Grundlepunch, the groin-hammering super giant with a heart of gold and a temper the bad guys don't want to mess with. Or maybe Spider-Man. But Spider-Man costs extra, so I'm sticking with the Hulk.
"One of us is going to have to change, and in all fairness, I was here first."
You Are Feeble for Most of the Game, and the Enemies Are Bizarrely Unbalanced
The Hulk is a 10-foot-tall jade Hercules with nuclear muscles. It shouldn't take me more than a stern glance to dispatch a bunch of bandanna-clad city toughs who look like they missed a turn on the way to an extras casting call for Streets of Fire and never found their way back home. However, low-level Mafia enforcers and anonymous gangbangers with guns and chains routinely murder the shit out of me. My superhuman status apparently makes me no less vulnerable to urban decay. I've died on a rancid subway platform more times than Vincent Schiavelli's character in Ghost.
And like in Ghost, I will now be slain by muggers.
But two levels later, I'm stalking through the prehistoric jungles of the Savage Land, tossing mutant velociraptors around like empty JOOSE cans and thunderfisting tyrannosaurs directly in their pointy scientific dragon faces with absolutely no problem whatsoever. Nine-story robots, giant gerbils, and rocket-mounted dinosaur heads are met with an equally judicious application of frontier punch justice while the Quad City DJ's "C'mon N' Ride It" plays in a continuous loop on the stereo of my mind.
That's a wildly inconsistent learning curve. The whole point of meta-human characters like the Avengers is that they have abilities placing them at a considerable advantage over mortal evildoers. That's why they became crime fighters in the first place. Otherwise they'd just sit at home like the rest of us. I'd understand if the dinosaurs gave him trouble, but the Hulk should be able to immediately rip pickpockets and hubcap thieves in half. He shouldn't have to spend five hours honing his goon-shredding skills to gain that ability. If you get bombarded with gamma rays and can't overpower a mugger on Fifth Avenue, you don't have superpowers. You have radiation poisoning.
You Will Frequently Be Upstaged by Lesser Superheroes
Here's how a typical mission goes for me in Marvel Heroes -- I, as the Hulk, stand with fists clenched, ready to storm a hovel of bloodthirsty rapists, when Hawkeye and Daredevil, two heroes renowned for their ability to be the least cool aspect of the movies in which they appear, suddenly blaze ahead of me and destroy every criminal in the seven boroughs of New York. That's like Richard Pryor meticulously going over his routine before a performance, only to get upstaged by a sudden impromptu appearance of Gallagher Two. Not even the real Gallagher. Gallagher Two.
And this happens all the time -- I frequently arrive at a location prepared to smash the holy hell out of the lawlessness within, only to find myself coming in on the heels of a squadron of Benjamin J. Grimms who have already consumed all of the Kingpin's nameless henchmen and are currently flogging him with table legs in the corner of his penthouse office. My Hulk shows up just in time to sweep up all the glass and take everyone's lunch order. I'm aware that the "late to the party" problem is a setting that can be switched off in the Options menu, but the game's default mode shouldn't be "watch everyone else have all the fun."
"Sorry I'm late, everyone! Wow, looks like you've got that Dino Rider pretty well taken care of, huh, Thing? You ... you want a water bottle or something? I brought extras."
If I recall the final sequence of The Avengers correctly, shit didn't get real until the Hulk showed up. Everyone was standing around wondering what in the shuffling pickleshit to do about that flying reptilian war slug until the Hulk rode up on his moped and punched it into rage dust. Hulkamania doesn't lace up his battle sandals to pick up toppled water coolers and take photos for the official Avengers Instagram feed. He's there to smack the mighty living fuck out of evil, and yet Marvel Heroes so often leaves me standing around picking my puissant ass while an unstoppable team of two Hawkeyes and one Scarlet Witch delivers the adjudicating blow to Doctor Octopus' jawbone, simply because I clicked on "Travel to Nefarious Warehouse" two minutes too late or didn't spend 18 of the past 24 hours leveling up my superhero.
You Are Under Constant Pressure to Spend Real Money, Like Some Kind of Superhero Team Membership Fee
When you aren't providing the background cast for somebody else's thrilling adventure, you get to hang out in one of three central superhero bases -- Stark Tower, the X-Mansion, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, where you can argue with yourself over how much money it is acceptable to spend on something that will only ever exist in the ethereal plane of Internet gaming. You see, the only way to get certain special items, power-ups, and costumes in Marvel Heroes is by spending actual currency in the game's store, a fact they go to great lengths to ensure you are constantly aware of. Consequently, I can't spend long in Stark Tower without giving out my credit card number. It's like Tony Stark is trying to keep the riffraff out by shaking everyone down for membership dues.
For example, the game's interface regularly encourages me to purchase new outfits for the Hulk, and I was under the impression that the Hulk never wore anything but tight purple pants struggling heroically against the faintly textured outline of a colossal radioactive penis. I soon discovered the error of my ways and spent $5 on Hulk's Planet Hulk battle armor, which consists of a pauldron and a pair of Roman sandals the Hulk wore while fighting an evil emperor in space, because comic books frequently make no sense.
But, it added a little variety to the Hulk's wardrobe, and I've thrown greater sums of money at way dumber things (I dropped 60 bucks for every single alternate costume in the current wave of Capcom fighting games and happily spent $150 on a giant Galactus action figure in 2004). You can also buy Avengers Movie Hulk, Really Old Man Hulk, or Gangster Pimp Hulk With Gray Baby Syndrome, if any of those Hulks are more to your liking.
Bafflingly, the game also tries to convince me to purchase pets, which are adorable little characters that do absolutely nothing but follow you around. I've been led to believe that, at some point, the pets will provide some invaluable service, but the only function they perform at the time of this writing is occupying a space in my inventory and serving as a visual reminder of the fact that I could have given $5 to charity. Sorry, Operation Smile -- I'd rather have H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot follow me around in a virtual fantasy world than donate money to fix a child's cleft lip.
Your Secret Identity Is Always on Display
Whether I'm roaming the halls of the X-Mansion or stomping through a massive firefight on Madripoor Island, my secret identity is hovering above my head at all times. It's like I'm wearing a giant name tag at a singles mixer, which seems contrary to the whole spirit of costumed vigilantism. I assumed anonymity was an understood aspect of the superhero game, but Marvel Heroes is more like a costume party at a studio apartment. Sure, everybody's wearing masks, but who gives a shit?
"... well, I can see everyone's name and the fact that Party City had a Hulk sale this weekend."
People can see my username and use it to send me messages and try to get me to join their ragtag groups whenever they feel like it, and I feel obligated to respond, because they can clearly see that I'm standing right next to them and have no real reason to ignore them outside of just being a dick. I work alone. Batman doesn't run around wearing a sandwich board with his email address written on it. I assumed none of us were in this business to make friends, but apparently crime fighting is just as much of a social contest as Facebook. I'm the Hulk, assholes. Let's just leave it at that.
Speaking of crime fighting ...
You Don't Fight That Much Crime (And the Game Rewards You for It)
When I log on to Marvel Heroes, I disappear for seven or eight hours each night, severing all contact with friends and family until the sobering light of dawn. On paper, this is a perfect representation of the life of a superhero, and if you knew nothing else about me other than my bizarre habit of completely vanishing every single night of the week, you might reasonably assume that I was donning a sculpted rubber chest plate and back-flipping across moonlit rooftops in search of banditry. With the amount of time I've poured into this game, I could've probably developed the necessary skill set to battle real, actual crime.
The thing is, I'm not even fighting that much make-believe crime, because the game barely rewards you for it. The main focus of Marvel Heroes is its loot system, which refers to the equipment, power-ups, and even extra playable heroes that various enemies have a random chance of dropping after they've been defeated. As I mentioned earlier, the only other way to get any of these items is by laying down cash for them in the game's store. Consequently, the majority of players who sign on to Marvel Heroes are just there to replay the same boss fights over and over in hopes that the boss will cough up a rare piece of loot, thus saving them from having to buy anything. This process is called farming, and despite my noble exterior, I am not above prioritizing it ahead of foiling purse snatchers or rescuing besieged street vendors from the fury of Electro.
See all that junk on the ground? Yeah, that's what we're playing for.
So, instead of actually providing any meaningful assistance to the downtrodden virtual populace, most of my time as the Hulk is spent punching Magneto in the face to try to get him to drop an awesome power-up that may or may not even be in his pocket since the process is totally randomized. Throwing that same set of dice over and over again is way more important to me than preventing arsonists from burning down Hell's Kitchen. That's an actual mission the game keeps trying to give me, by the way -- cops will come out and wave frantically at me, begging for my help to save innocent people from a wave of frenzied arsonists. But I jog right on by every time, because I've got to go re-kick the Green Goblin's ass and see if he drops a pair of magic boots for me to pick up. Maybe if the poverty-stricken residents of Hell's Kitchen could offer me an enchanted belt buckle, I'd consider dragging them out of their blazing tenement cave-in, but until then, the Hulk has better shit to do. C'mon, H.E.R.B.I.E.
"Call the fire department, lady. What do we look like to you?"
Tom can leap tall buildings in a single bound, provided they haven't been assembled yet. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.