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October 19, 2017

Let’s discuss Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (FINALE).


So I played some more Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, and I’m not 100% sure why.

The obvious reason would be “so I can get more training in so when my brother and I play again, I don’t get trashed”.  I know it’s coming up soon, given the DLC characters that are on the way.  But is that really the only reason?  Should it be the only reason?  I don’t know.  Being ready for my brother’s onslaught is certainly a high priority.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t be able to come to any final conclusions -- at least for the purpose of this post -- without playing more.

Beyond that?  I guess Infinite has made me do some soul searching.  The transition from Marvel 3 to this latest entry didn’t hit me as hard as it did others; the only regulars I lost were Phoenix Wright and Super Skrull.  Don’t get me wrong; those losses hurt.  Still, there are plenty of other characters to learn so I can fill in the gaps.  Maybe then I could find someone who isn’t as much of a liability as non-Turnabout Mode Phoenix Wright.


I started off with Captain Marvel and Haggar.  I’d decided well before release that I’d pick her up, since she WAS one of the new guys; Haggar was a no-brainer, considering I used him plenty in the past and I needed some solidarity to fall back on.  I think my win ratio with that team is the highest, if only because I’ve put the most time into them -- though if Filipino Champ is to be believed, both of them are in the game’s Top 10 tier-wise.  Still, I didn’t just want to play the same two characters day in and day out.  That would be lame.  So I figured I’d try to make some new teams -- you know, learn many characters instead of a scant two.

And that’s where the problems start.

The issue I run into consistently with team-based games is that I’m bad at making teams.  I just see them as individual characters to drop in whenever one goes down or needs to recover health, not as a cohesive unit that makes golden opportunities come to pass.  Team synergy eluded me in Street Fighter X Tekken, so my damage output was limited from the get-go.  Same goes for Tekken Tag 2.  And in Marvel 3, I probably hamstrung myself from the outset because I just barely tapped the assist system for the sake of better combos or tricky set-ups.  I did have a nice reset with Haggar and Skrull, but that was the extent of it.  So basically, asking me to come up with a good team is like asking me to take a course on quantum physics.


I know the basics.  I can come up with theories.  I know what needs to be done mid-match.  But there are two problems.  The first is that, as always, I don’t have the execution for it.  It’s not as if I can’t do a combo, but what you need to understand is that I’m almost always the defender in combat situations.  I’m on the receiving end of rushdown shenanigans all the time, constantly forced to wait my turn -- and when my turn finally does come, I’ve basically forgotten how to put up a good offense.  It certainly doesn’t help that, historically, I haven’t been the best at opening up opponents with a well-placed mix-up or frame-perfect punish.  So my offense, on the whole, is pretty weak.  In a lot of cases it feels like my wins are luck-based.

The bigger issue is that I play the characters I like -- and the characters I like don’t always have the tools I need to fulfill basic gameplay demands.  I went with Paul and Guile in X Tekken so I could rock The Flat Top Alliance, but at the outset Paul was one of the worst in the game, and Guile’s moveset wasn’t conducive to the game mechanics (or Paul’s either, in a sense).  In Marvel 3, I never went with some or even any of the good assists, because they were tied to characters I didn’t care about.  Wesker’s Samurai Edge and Deadpool’s Katana-rama had OTG properties to let you keep putting the hurt on downed foes, but I didn’t have that.  I’m pretty sure that I would’ve been a real threat if I’d backed up my Captain America with some Sentinel drones, but that would’ve meant I had to play Sentinel.


So in Infinite’s defense, the limiters are off in terms of what you can do.  Rather than choosing from one of three assists per character, you can effectively make custom assists with the same general effect (inasmuch as you can have assists, given that you’re tagging out each time).  You’re not forced to have Hidden Missiles or drones as a requirement, as long as you have the creativity to compensate.  So if I had to guess?  You’re free to do whatever you want, and make whatever you want. 

Was it possible to make a team with Thor and Ghost Rider (and somebody else) in Marvel 3?  Sure, if you had the skill and knowledge to make it work.  But here, I think it’s a lot more feasible to do so.  The changes to Thor’s moveset gives him a few more options to toy around with; he lost the beam properties on his Mighty Spark, but his new default attack serves as the perfect way to lock an opponent in a combo and switch out to your partner.  I’d wager that a lot of the cast has those “combo op” attacks in their toolkits, so it’s not as if Thor’s an outlier here.  Still, my drive to run Team Heavy Metal Album Cover could be rewarded with enough work and practice.


Put Ghost Rider on point, and you can wear down foes from long range, building meter all the while.  Once you’ve got your shot, you can move into a combo and end with his chain-swinging Hyper Combo.  But because of its duration, you can tag in Thor while it’s going and use his Mighty Speech to build more meter -- or, alternatively, you can use his Mighty Punish grab Hyper when your opponent isn’t in blockstun to land some almost-guaranteed damage.  Or, better yet, you can use the Mighty Speech to get some extra meter, dash a little further, and then start up Thor’s Mighty Tornado to tack on extra damage as they’re falling from Ghost Rider’s Hyper.  So let the records show that there’s a lot you can do in Infinite.

The question that follows is a simple one: do you want to do a lot?  Are you willing to sit down with the game, again and again, and put work into learning the ins and outs of the system, the characters, and the Infinity Stones?

It’s here where I have to make a confession: I’m just about ready to tap out.  I recognize that the gameplay is Infinite’s strong suit.  I know that there’s depth to the system that deserves a deeper look than the average coal mine.  I know that what’s here is, by and large, good.  And yet, despite all that, I’m tired of the game.  I want to move on to other stuff.  Any more time put into it feels less like a choice made from my free will, and more like a formality.  An obligation.  Maybe even an act of kindness -- or pity.


For me, playing Infinite at this stage feels like more work -- and more trouble -- than it’s worth.  I’m happy to be able to use Mega Man X, but I want to be able to do more than the most basic of basic combos, and it’d take a lot of effort to reach that point.  And to what end?  I tried looking for combo videos and tutorials to get ideas on what to do (along with the odd video of tournament footage here or there), and was left wanting.  At the time, I only found a couple of instructional materials.  More pressingly, the tourney footage showed an X who got utterly demolished by rushdown shenanigans -- and so he got dropped in an instant for Dante.  Because of course.

Even if the cast is primarily old, the changes made to the veterans have nearly turned them into new characters -- for better or worse.  Haggar’s manageable, and I’m down for the new Thor, but Captain America and especially Hulk feel foreign to me.  Cap’s rolling sobat can push his combo potential and offense beyond the norm, but for whatever reason his standard money-maker of a combo string (sweep into upward Shield Slash) will drop smaller characters.  And by “smaller characters” I don’t just mean Rocket Raccoon or X; Strider Hiryu and Hawkeye will drop out, while Iron Man will stay stuck in.  And Hulk?  They flat-out dropped most of the follow-ups on his Gamma Charges, his Gamma Tsunami doesn’t have the speed or properties needed to OTG like it used to, and I’m legitimately too afraid to use his armored punches for fear of their inconsistency getting me hammered.  Maybe someone can make him work, but it likely won’t be me.


I know, I know.  I’m probably wrong on plenty of accounts.  I’ve only done so much testing, after all, so I wouldn’t dare claim to be an expert on the game.  On the other hand, why haven’t I gone out of my way to test everything and learn as much as I can about the system?  The answer to that is pretty obvious, I think: I don’t want to.  I’ve tried, for sure; I thought that I’d be able to get stronger (and/or have some fun) if I took the fight online.  So far, I’ve only been met with frustration, and weariness over the fact that I even bothered to sit down with Infinite.

I’m no stranger to losing matches in fighting games.  I’m no stranger to winning them, either, to be fair.  But when I lose in something like Street Fighter or Tekken or Guilty Gear or anything of the sort, I’m ready and waiting for my chance to have my revenge.  If I lose a best of three clash, then I’m still frustrated, but that anger gets turned inward so I can try to understand where I went wrong -- so I can pick myself up and do better with my fighter of choice, and become stronger as a result.  A win in any other fighting game makes me go “Yes, I did it!” however briefly.  A win in Infinite makes me go “Yeah, okay, sure.”  And when I lose, the only thing I feel is that frustration -- in the worst way possible.


I’ve heard that the netcode is pretty good, so not everyone has had to suffer through lag or online wonkiness.  But I’m not one of the lucky ones, in this case; nearly every match I’ve gone through has had (with varying levels of severity) issues that hamper my ability to fight offensively or defensively.  And even when they don’t?  I still have to deal with the fact that, at the end of the day, Infinite is still a Marvel game.  Despite the pedigree, it’s revisionist history to pretend like every entry is an unrivaled masterpiece or a masterclass in game design.

One clean (or lucky) hit is all it takes to potentially do massive damage to a character.  Because of the frenetic pace of the game, one viable option is to smother an opponent with as many attacks from as many angles as possible.  In theory, I’d assume that you can accomplish something like that with Cap and Doctor Strange; have the latter use his Bolts of Balthakk to pin down a foe with lightning from long range, but tag in Cap to Backflip past a foe and attack from the other side to bust up his/her guard.  In practice?  Keep attacking until you land a hit.  Hammer Square like your life depends on it, or just fly in over and over with Ultron.  It’s not like anyone can stop you.


The GamesRadar review for Marvel 3 suggested that the game flow in general wasn’t about strategy or nuance, but rather about going full tilt with crazy attacks.  I’m probably choosing the wrong words to explain that, but I’m inclined to agree on a general principle.  Marvel, Infinite or otherwise, is a very offensive game; you’re likely at your safest when you’re pounding on foes with your own strings of attacks.  But in exchange?  Whatever defensive options you have probably aren’t enough.  Advancing Guard doesn’t exactly give you the breathing room you need, especially when your foe’s just going to come at you all over again. 

Counter Switching (i.e. bringing in your partner to try and break a combo) is just as likely to land you in a Happy Birthday as it is to save you.  At best, you can only rely on your characters’ specific defensive or reversal moves -- which carry with them a MASSIVE risk, or otherwise won’t come out when you really need them to (turns out that the DP motion is a lot more crucial to combat than double down motions.  Who knew?).


To be clear: this isn’t some objective condemnation of the game.  It’s my conclusion mired in subjectivity -- because whenever I’m forced to deal with an opponent’s shenanigans, I’m left thinking “Ugh, what a pain in the ass.”  It’s not as if that was untrue of Marvel 3, but at least there I felt like I was in the game -- like I had to struggle alongside the characters I really cared about.  I wouldn’t mind struggling, suffering, and getting soundly thrashed if I could do it with Phoenix Wright.  I’m used to it.  But when I have to deal with Dante, and Jedah, and Gamora, and Ultron, and others going through their motions to overwhelm me into submission, I don’t feel like fighting back with all my heart.

My very first online match in Infinite -- early into its release week, no less -- was against a team of Captain Marvel and Ultron.  I dipped my toe into the pool to test what I had learned so far, only to have my foot torn off by piranhas.  I never felt so powerless, so overwhelmed, and so humiliated by my loss, partly because it put my fledgling Captain Marvel to shame.  It made me think “What’s the point?  The gap is way too wide now.”  I still kind of think that.  And I’ll think it even more once my brother busts out his Gamora/Strider team so that the former can get in free (and stay in) with her jumping gun antics and the latter can seemingly break the OTG limit just by using the same two moves to sap a decent chunk off of my health from the other side of the screen.

People have found tech that defies belief, and I respect that.  It’s a testament to what the game can do.  But I just don’t care anymore.  Why should I, now that I have ARMS?


I don’t know how long of a lifespan ARMS will have.  Maybe a decent one, given that it’s still adding updates and teasing new characters almost half a year down the line.  But even if it’s got no hope and is doomed to languish in obscurity as a quirky little side project, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still much more interesting to me than Infinite.  It looks better.  It plays differently.  It features an eclectic cast.  It has a lot to offer, and a lot for players to learn -- least of all because of the double-whammy of its control scheme(s) and gameplay mechanics.  But I’m excited to learn more because of how fresh it feels.  Admittedly that’s also made possible because I adore the cast in general (#MinMin4TheWinWin), but then again, characters create opportunities.  That’s the golden rule in pretty much any work of fiction or entertainment.

So yet again, we have to come back to Infinite’s roster -- the talking point that’s been circulating since the leaks came out.  How much better off would this game have been on all fronts if it had a stronger cast?  Whether it brought back the X-Men or had more newcomers, would it have made a difference?  Or did the production values (and lack thereof) sink it?  Or did the PR turn away the fans?  What was it?  Why couldn’t people get on board with Infinite?  Why is it a whipping boy and laughingstock up and down the industry?  Why have its sales been abysmal and its popularity on shaky ground?  Why are people turning against it?  Why am I turning against it?

I guess the simplest answer is this: with this game, we’re all seeing behind the curtain.


Whatever quality there is to Infinite exists in spite of everything.  We’ve known about the problems for months now, and we’ve all been worried, and suspicious, and wary of what was coming prior to release day.  More importantly, we’ve been able to use this game to see the truth -- to see that sometimes, the business aspect overrides anything and everything in its path.  At its worst, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite feels less like a bold new entry in the franchise, in a medium loaded with tapped and untapped creative potential, and more like a product.  It’s the personification of business practices and industry vices loaded onto a disc.

It’s the output of a company that’s been on the ropes for a good half-decade.  It’s a vehicle for DLC -- be it characters that should’ve been in the game to start or costumes whose quality varies wildly -- so that Capcom can wring more money out of a game publicly tarred and feathered in the sales charts.  It’s a price-tagged affair that, if rumors and testimonies are to be believed, cost as much as half of Street Fighter V’s DLC budget.  It’s the victim of an ongoing dispute between executive heads at Marvel, Disney, Fox, and more, because suddenly they’re not so keen on letting fan favorite icons mingle -- because spite, I guess.

It’s the lame excuse used to justify lame PR that either misses the point, or outright shrugs off the justified complaints of the fans.  It’s a holier-than-thou braggart who thinks that its mere existence will force people to buy in and play the “hottest” entry in the market.  It’s a pretender that tries to mimic the style and successes in another medium without understanding what made those entries good in the first place.  It’s a bizarre, misguided attempt to appease players -- putting in effort where it didn’t need to, but skimping on the effort where it was needed most.  It’s a function designed to reap the most profits with the least amount of effort -- and with it, love and care.

It’s a product.  It’s a disappointment.  And in the end, nothing more needs to be said.  Except for one thing.


Sorry, guys.  Better luck next time.


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