Great fighting, but a drab art style and disappointing roster of characters let the side down.
The arrival of a new Marvel vs. Capcom game should be an event. It should send shivers down the spine. It should spark fingertips a-plinking on the buttons of fight sticks. Infinite, though, does none of these things.
I put this deflation down to Infinite's roster of characters. There are 30 characters - 30! - but so many fail to set the pulse racing. This is in part because we've seen loads of them before in previous Marvel vs. Capcom games, and in part because many of them are uninspired, both in art style and design.
Take Chun-Li, for example. I guess any Capcom fighting game needs Chun-Li in its roster, but I can't think of anything interesting to say about how she appears, or how she works or sounds. And while Capcom has fixed her face, she still looks kind of ridiculous. In fact loads of the character faces look ridiculous, as if Capcom drew them deliberately badly to fuel some sort of viral social media uproar.
Dante's eyes look like they were lifted out of a dead man's skull and plonked into his head. Captain Marvel looks like she was run through that Meitu app everyone tried for five minutes earlier this year. In fact the only characters who looks remotely passable are those without human faces - Spider-Man, Rocket Raccoon, Nova etc - and those whose faces are unavoidably stylised - Dormammu, Thanos, Jedah etc.
Speaking of Jedah, the popular Darksiders villain is the only character to emerge from the disaster that is Infinite's art style with any semblance of self-respect. He looks and sounds cool, and his moveset is all whirling blades and demonic hand slaps. His level three super is the best in the game - a giant hand emerges from an interdimensional portal to slam his opponent into a giant will, their character outline impressed into the scroll. Awesome!
Only four of the 30 characters at launch are women, which is another roster issue. When Captain Marvel, Gamora, Chun-Li and Morrigan are the only members of the opposite sex in your fighting game, you've got a diversity problem. I struggle to think why this has happened. There are a huge number of female superheroes and Capcom characters that might have appeared in Infinite, and would have made the roster feel more exciting. Why are Black Widow and Monster Hunter DLC characters? Why not chuck Scarlet Witch in there? And on Capcom's side, what about Jill, Claire Redfield or Trish? Why not give Ada Wong or Shiva or Maya Fey a shot? The mind boggles. Imagine if the Marvel film series only really featured movies about the men...
Then the elephant in the room: the lack of X-Men characters. Marvel vs. Capcom has had a long history of including X-Men characters (indeed the series spawned from X-Men: Children of the Atom), but for whatever boring legal reason, Infinite has none. So no Storm, no Wolverine, no Sentinel and no Cyclops. Their omission is a dagger in the heart of every Marvel fan - one that there is no recovering from.
I've mentioned the art style but it's worth reinforcing: Infinite looks drab. After the sumptuous black lines of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Capcom, perhaps in a desperate attempt to appeal to fans of Marvel's all-encompassing cinematic universe, has created an abomination of a look that neither appeals to movie nor comic book fans. It certainly doesn't appeal to this fan of the Marvel series. Everything's so flat, which neatly brings me to Infinite's story mode.
Infinite's story mode is terrible. The plot, which revolves around the coming together of the Marvel and Capcom universes and a big bad villain called Ultron Sigma, sees cheap-looking cutscene after cutscene spliced with fights involving various characters and drones. Oh god, the drones! Please, someone make them stop.
The dialogue seems written for a child. The voice acting sounds phoned in from half the world away. The lip sync is off and the motion capture is laughable. And the action lacks so much punch that it washes over you. I found myself browsing Twitter and checking my emails during most of the cutscenes, so bored was I by the mind-numbing exposition. At one point, an exasperated Dante pleads with Jedah to stop talking. I thought, I'm right with you, buddy.
The budget feel of Infinite's story mode extends to the whole game. An example: when Infinite matchmakes you with an online opponent, the phrase "Here Comes A New Challenger" displays on-screen, but the voiceover man says "Here Comes New Challengers". Capcom, please.
And while Infinite avoids the disaster that was Street Fighter 5's launch by including a story mode and an arcade mode from the off, there's little to do in the game if you're not into competing online. Once you've finished the story mode, you can practice, fight the computer and that's about it. I can't stand fighting games that put little effort into their tutorials and unfortunately Infinite barely lifts a finger to help newcomers learn how everything works. Apart from the odd control system warning during story mode and a barebones tutorial that teaches you how to jump, there are character-specific missions that are more like combo trials than a learning experience. There is nothing in the game to teach you how to actually play Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, nothing that explains how to chain normals into special moves, or delves deep into character-specific strategies, or prepares you for venturing online. And when there's little to do but venture online, that's a problem.
This is particularly disappointing because Capcom's done good work to make Infinite immediately accessible. I was at first worried about the button-mashing ground to air combos, the auto jump and the easy super system, but have come round to considering them all great ideas. Serious players will never use these easy mechanics anyway as they cause the least amount of damage possible. So why not take these fantastic newcomer mechanics and use them as a jumping off point to introduce more advanced mechanics to the player? A missed opportunity.
It all sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? Well, here's my biggest frustration with Infinite: it's actually a really fun fighting game that's let down by everything that revolves around the combat. Capcom's reduced the number of characters you have access to from three to two, which calms everything down for the better (MvC3 could get a bit ridiculous at times). But the combat still feels silky smooth, super responsive and incredibly exciting. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, like previous games in the series, is fast and frenetic and packed with high-hit, high-damage combos. When you're in the zone, when you're jumping all over the place and opening up your opponent with dirty tricks and screen-filling supers, there's nothing quite like it.
Other changes make sense. The previous assist system is ditched in favour of a system that lets you call in your standby character at any time. You can burn meter to switch characters while blocking, which is a great "get off me" option. And then there's the introduction of the game-changing infinity stones, which are actually really interesting.
Take the soul stone, for example. This lets you cast a whip attack that drains life from your opponent and refills your own health bar. Fully charge your infinite meter and you can trigger your stone's ultimate power, which in the case of the soul stone, revives a downed standby character and brings them on-screen for a two-versus one situation. It's pretty cool!
Each stone works in a different way, and so there's a strategy to their use. This adds variety to the combat, too. And, crucially, it makes for an expressive combo system that's full of possibility. After Street Fighter 5's one-note combo system, Infinite's varied fighting is a breath of fresh air.
So, like so many Capcom fighting games, Infinite's fighting is superb. But like so many Capcom fighting games, everything else is either pointless, budget or just outright annoying. Playing Infinite, I craved a bit of NetherRealm. Why not have some cool stuff for the single-player to do? Why not have meaningful tutorials? Why not have character faces that don't look like they were dragged out of the bins outside Madam Toussauds?
In Infinite's story mode, Dead Rising photojournalist Frank West is charged with fighting Marvel supervillain Thanos. "Woah woah woah, you want me to go up against him?!" he protests. "He'll kill me!"
Iron Man retorts: "Well, they say journalism's a dying profession."
Well, if it weren't for Infinite's great combat, I'd have worried more about Marvel vs. Capcom, Tony.