One of 2022's best games now has a demo – and you need to play it
One of the best games in 2022 really didn't sell as well as it should – here's hoping a new demo can turn that around.
“Midnight Suns is 100 per cent the game I wanted it to be. Take Two and 2K gave us all the time and resources we needed to make the game of our dreams. There is a free trial now on Xbox and PS Plus Premium, so go play it. No excuses at this point”.
The game has sold badly (as explained below) and the developer and publisher are keen to show all of us why it deserves a second chance. You can read my thoughts on that below.
Gaming has a long history of critical successes that are also commercial flops: there’s Beyond Good & Evil, Brutal Legend, and Sleeping Dogs. Then there’s Dishonored, Dishonored 2, Prey, Deathloop… well, anything made by Arkane, sadly. Sometimes, the games press at large falls in love with a title, but the consumer base fails to pick it up. There are various reasons for this; release windows, competition, taste levels, cost. 2022 was home to some massive video game successes – the most obvious being Elden Ring – but behind the golden glow of gaming’s newest cash cow, there were a couple of games begging for just a drop of consumer recognition.
And one of them was Marvel’s Midnight Suns.
A cast of beloved, classic characters, a gothic school of the arcane nestled in a pocket dimension, and a great betrayal… Marvel’s Midnight Suns had everything it needed to make it big? So what went wrong? Per new information from Jason Schreier, it’s become clear that the latest 2K/Firaxis game was a critical success, but a commercial failure, something Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick hopes can be recovered by Firaxis games’ traditional ‘long tail’.
The promise of the game is simple: command some of the world’s greatest superheroes – and some of their angsty, pissed-off C-tier friends – against the forces of Hydra and hell, and stop a cataclysm that would see the world ushered into an age of unending eldritch terror. Sounds dramatic enough, right? En route, you’ll need to harness the power of friendship and Tony Stark’s ludicrous tech in order to subdue and suppress this supernatural threat.
Iron Man, Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Captain America, Dr. Strange, Wolverine, Spider-Man, and more of your favourite Marvel icons join forces with the more niche weirdos you’d find hanging around whatever the Marvel version of Hot Topic is. Magik, Nico Minoru, and the new Ghost Rider all live in a peculiar abbey away from the prying eyes of the rest of the world – mourning the loss of the Scarlet Witch, who disappears in an accident right at the start of the game. From this explosive narrative beat, the groundwork is established: the Avengers don’t trust the magic users, and the magic users don’t trust the Avengers. But everyone needs to band together to, y’know, save the bloody world.
Couple all of this with an age dynamic – the crusty old superheroes don’t get the plucky young upstarts and their kooky illogical powers – and you’ve got the foundation for one of the best comic arcs since the Dark Phoenix Saga. But this isn’t a comic arc; it’s the setup for a game. And the writers orchestrated everything so well that I think this is my favourite Marvel experience since the Civil War run in 2006 – including the MCU.
Yes, it’s a big statement. But I mean it. Midnight Suns does everything I want from Marvel; it clashes well-established heroes with lesser-known personalities. It delves into the weird goth horror stuff the X-Men did so well in the 90s and 00s. It leverages the occult side of the mythos with the science-fiction side – and does it with confident aplomb. Like all good nerd stuff, Midnight Suns is aware of how ludicrous everything it’s doing is, and having some characters call it out (Strange) whilst others deal with it all po-faced (Blade) really works to rationalise the state of the world.
The game is funny! An actually funny game, imagine that. With this and Pentiment, we were spoiled with genuinely humorous games last year – I don’t think there are many years where you can say that in this industry. The quips and banter between characters feels authentic – as authentic as it did in Guardians of the Galaxy – and it’s all brought to life by an all-star voice cast that deftly stays away from MCU impressions in order to bring their own flavour to the egotists and neurotics that populate the complicated, weird Marvel universe.
Bringing in your own character as the central figure in this game (you’re just called ‘The Hunter’) was a bold move, but one that works well. Being revived after centuries away from the world, The Hunter is the perfect narrative vessel for us; a player coming to terms with a Marvel world unlike anything we’ve seen so far. Wresting a lot of agency within minutes and clearly establishing yourself as Someone Not To Be Messed With, you start to shape this story around yourself with ease. Even someone as cocksure and mighty as Carol Danvers is cowed by your presence. Talk about a power fantasy.
And this is all before we even get to the gameplay! It’s a Firaxis game. Automatic 10/10 for combat. Deftly weighing up power versus risk, every encounter plays out like one of Kevin Fiege’s wet dreams; guys get bonked off buildings, heroes jump and slam into goons, Captain America’s shield whizzes around an impossible number of creatures from beyond the void before clicking back onto his arm with a satisfying sound effect. Blade says something glib then impales a Hydra drone. Scarlet Witch yells curses and something green swells and explodes. Spider-Man does something embarrassing.
As all this delightful eye candy fizzes and pops on-screen, there’s a very considered and serious numbers game happening under the hood. You need to constantly run the odds: what’s the probability of surviving this next assault? Can Magik portal that soldier into that heavy unit to interrupt his attack? Will that give Wolverine enough space to put the boss to bed? What happens if I make that barrel explode, instead of targeting the sniper?
The pomp of the action mixes with the mechanical precision of the numbers with ease, making every combat encounter a satisfying, exhilarating experience. The semi-random nature of the deck-building that underpins it all makes it feel like a more fleshed-out version of Slay The Spire, and the utility afforded to all your heroes via the environmental interactions means that even the most dire situations can be salvaged if you’re creative enough in your execution.
For my money, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is one of the best games of 2022. It does everything I want from both a Marvel game and a Firaxis game, and compromises nothing in the process. In a landscape full of rote stories, homogenised open worlds, and one-dimensional characters, Midnight Suns offers something refreshing and bold.
I hope Zelnick’s prediction of a long tail proves to be true, because this is the sort of game that everyone should play at least once. Even if you hate card games.