First Look: ‘MARVEL Powers United VR’ Gameplay & Hands-on

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Oculus has teamed up with developer Sanzaru Games (behind titles like VR Sports Challenge and Ripcoil) to bring the world of MARVEL to VR. Marvel Powers United VR is a four-player co-op focused experience that will let you step into the capes, claws, swords, and more, of 12 of the universe’s heroes. Here’s our first look at gameplay and hands-on impressions.

Marvel Powers United is all about bringing an authentic taste of the Marvel universe to VR. Marvel is said to be working closely with the developers to ensure a faithful representation for fans, all the way from original voice actors to officially sanctioned character models to lore-abiding superpowers and more. But will the game be more than just fan service? That’s the big question.

Our first hands-on time with the game came this week at an Oculus event in San Francisco. There I got to play a slice of the game with three others—the four of us embodying Hulk, Captain Marvel, Rocket Raccoon, and the newly announced Deadpool. All in all, the game’s roster will eventually include 12 heroes, though the others haven’t yet been announced. Each hero will have their own set of abilities which brings varied gameplay depending upon who you choose and what your team’s composition is.

Stepping into Captain Marvel’s shoes, I could shoot short bursts of energy from my hands using the trigger, aimed with a laser-like cursor that showed where I was pointing; holding down the trigger would charge the energy for a more powerful version of the basic attack. Holding the controller’s grip button would extend a pair of glowing energy shields from my hands which each had a bar that took several seconds to charge. Once charged, the energy from the shields could be discharged as a powerful continuous steam for a few seconds. Thanks to superhuman strength, I could also grab crates and other objects around the environment to throw at enemies.

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I could also ‘fly’ using the A button on the controller which would blink me to a position 20 or so feet off the ground, and I could continue to move around at that height to get a better angle on foes below, or to fly easily up to platforms above ground level.

With all ranged attacks and a flight ability to get me to a good vantage point, Captain Marvel is definitely a ranged character. That differs greatly from Hulk or Deadpool who use melee as a primary means of combat.

With a launch date still far away in 2018, what I saw is definitely an early version of the game. That said, gameplay consisted mostly of the four of us running down rather uninspiring corridors, using our abilities to dispatch uninteresting enemies of arbitrary numbers. At the end of the 10 minute demo, we were met with a boss (Ronan) whom we attacked from a distance until his health bar went to zero.

Battling against bland enemies with three different power levels of the same simple point-and-shoot ranged attack, I can’t say I felt like a superhero, mostly because pointing and pulling the trigger repeatedly was all I was doing—no need to aim for weak spots, prioritize targets, dodge incoming fire, or to use one attack over the other. You could have replaced my energy blasts with guns instead and I wouldn’t have noticed. I found it more gratifying to grab crates and hurl them at enemies than to spam my basic ranged attack.

I Want to Feel Like a Superhero, Not Just Dress the Part

From my discussion with the developers, much of the emphasis of Marvel Powers United is about making you feel like the given superhero. But for people who don’t have any special connection to the characters, gameplay will of course be the ultimate determinator of fun; I’m waiting (and hoping) for the game to make me feel truly super, which means being able to interact with the world in ways that are drastically different than the lore would allow for a ‘realistic’ VR FPS.

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The Avengers' Black Widow & Hawkeye Coming to 'Marvel Powers United VR'

In this vein, the game seems like it would benefit massively from deep environmental interaction. The world surrounding the players shouldn’t just be there to funnel us from A to B; I want to see the world like a superhero and exploit my powers (and the unique powers of VR) to manipulate the environment in extraordinary ways that don’t make sense in a simple shooter or melee game: let me punch the supports out from under a platform to send the enemies above toppling down; let my energy beam melt doors shut, or blow open walls to create new avenues for attack; let me expose rebar in the wall with my fists and then rip it out to use as a melee weapon; let me tear off a car door to use as a shield; and then let me throw it like a sharpened frisbee to cut a cable to drop debris on enemies—you know, badass superhero stuff.

For example, I feel much more like a superhero in Robo Recall: there I can grab enemies and rip off their limbs, then use the limb as a bat; I can catch enemy projectiles and throw them back with enough force to destroy them; I can throw an enemy high into the air and blast it to pieces; I can even repurpose each enemy as a unique weapon.

What can I do (from a gameplay standpoint) as a superhero do that a non-hero can’t? The answer is the experience that Marvel Powers United should seek to offer.

Experiments in Locomotion and Comfort

Some of you reading this will notice I haven’t yet talked much about locomotion. Marvel Powers United is the first game under Oculus’ watch to feature stick-based locomotion, which the studio has previously shied away from due to comfort concerns. A developer working on the game told me that Oculus specifically asked Sanzaru to ‘push the boundaries’ of comfort and locomotion in VR, apparently in an effort to get away from the comfortable-but-not-particularly-immersive teleportation method which has been found in many other titles.

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Oculus Launches Its First Retail Bundle: Rift + 'Marvel Powers United VR'

In Marvel Powers United, you use the thumbstick on the Touch controller to move your character, very similar to a traditional FPS. The movement is relatively slow, and remained comfortable in my time with the game (even though I’m typically sensitive to this type of movement).

The game is also one of the first Oculus titles where you can look down and see your entire body (including your arms and feet) in the first-person view. The vast majority of VR games today show only floating hands with invisible arms, and no torso or other parts of the player’s body (again, for comfort reasons). This choice was of course to make the player feel like they really are the superhero in question.

In my case, I could see my red gloves, arms covered in a blue suit, and looking down I could see ‘my’ breasts, torso, legs, and feet. When you look down and move around it’s easy to feel disconnected as your feet move in VR despite being still in real-life; otherwise the fully modeled body didn’t bother me much.

The game also plays with scale quite effectively. If you are Hulk, you will feel like you’re huge. If you’re Rocket Racoon, you’ll feel tiny, and players will have to look down at you to talk to you.

It will be interesting to see if the remaining cast of superheroes can offer more varied gameplay through unique kits and abilities, and how they might take advantage of the varying scale and possibly unique locomotion opportunities *cough*Spider-man*cough*.

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  • Dr. Lee

    Sounds like it still needs a lot of work. I’m sure they can address it, but my main concern is that by the time this comes out we would have much better games and this would be pale by comparison.

    • Mane Vr

      Much better games like what? This comes 2018 i am sure oculus knows what coming since they fund a lot of them

      • Dr. Lee

        I have no idea what you are trying to say… please be more coherent.

        This game looks like it would be cool last year. Coming in 2018 is way too late. We don’t have to wait til 2018, there are already better games now with this genre (e.g., Raw Data). The only selling point is really Marvel branding. I hope that’s not the extend of it. I hope there’s more to it than what we saw today when it comes out next year.

        • No one knows how this game shall grow/evolve/improve upon days until release.

        • Mane Vr

          the game is still in development we won’t know just how good it will be till 2018 when it comes out. it’s an oculus game they know what it is up against seeing as a lot of the vr games coming are funded by them. raw data is an good not great game as long as this game doesn’t become a wave base game I will see it as a better game than raw data but to each his own

  • J.C.

    Well, hopefully it’s still early enough in development to allow for more interactive environments. Still leaves a lot of questions unanswered: Is there any sort of progression system for the characters? Is this a timed, or permanent exclusive? Is there going to be a story, or will it just be a few environments that you run around in with no purpose? The visuals are currently extremely impressive, no way this runs on Oculus’ bare minimum 1050 ti. Even with great optimizations…no way.

    I’m surprised they let the press play the game in such an early state, unless it’s exactly what they’re going to release, and the only work left is more characters. I hope not, because it doesn’t sound like there’s any gameplay draw; they’re banking on the Marvel name to sell it.

    It sounds like I’m all down on this game…I’m just expressing concern. I really hope this game gets more people interested in VR, it’s got the characters and license to really catch people’s attention.

    Question for Rift users, (I use a Vive, so I’ve never ventured onto Rift’s forums). On Steam, every single VR game that isn’t a tech demo has people in its forums crying about “why is it only for VR? Make this for those of us who can’t afford a headset!”. Are there any of them on Rift’s forums? I imagine this game in particular will draw people to complain about it.

    • Get Schwifty!

      Depends, I am pretty sure this is naturally an issue on say the Reddit forums, but on Oculus’ own forums (which I hardly ever post in) they have a few but not much.

      The reality is, I WANT people who haven’t invested in VR to want the games; if they can’t get in standard 2-D then you know, maybe I don’t know, get VR HMD?

  • *incoherent screaming* XD

    • benz145

      Unfortunately the recording didn’t separate the game audio and mic channels. You should have heard what I had to cut out… the folks next to us were having a raucous game of Echo Arena.

      • Looks like fun though, I’m a pretty hardcore RecRoom Quest addict these days and thats even more cartoony.

  • JonBishop

    Ripcoil, AKA throw up all over yourself-coil.

  • Jonny

    The gameplay looks so boring. I can imagine it just consisting of clearing room after room of enemies, and then face a boss where you all have different tasks in order to expose its weak spot and attack if for massive damage.

    • Mane Vr

      o u mean like most games

  • So, we’re not impressed by the trailer nor by the first reviews. There’s still a long road to go, hope they’ll make the game btter

  • Coyoty

    “Abe” showed the user in the character’s body when it came out last year. Which wasn’t too pleasant, considering what happened to the character.

    • Kei Loper

      Haha, yea that was an ummmmm…..different experience lol.