When Marvel: Avengers Alliance hit the scene two few years ago, it turned heads with its accessible approach to turn-based battles featuring numerous super heroes and villains, along with a level of polish and production value that isn’t seen in many Facebook games. It later migrated to mobile, and while a sequel may have been the safe route, Disney Interactive came up with something even better.
That something is Marvel Avengers Alliance Tactics, and it takes things to the proverbial next level by combining some of the core concepts of its predecessor with squad-based tactical gameplay, all rendered in 3D graphics. It’s a marriage that’s “slap your forehead” obvious once you hear it, and one that was definitely inspired by one of last year’s big hits from the same genre.
“Something that we’ve always dreamed about is making something along the lines of XCOM: Enemy Unknown in terms of the gameplay,” executive producer Gabe Brown said to Gamezebo. “We really wanted to take Avengers Alliance to new and interesting gameplay outside of just a straight sequel. And so it’s just something that we talked about internally. When we started thinking about the next step in the franchise, this is one of the concepts that popped into our heads, and we said, ‘Oh man, we need to do this, this sounds great.’”
The new approach comes with a change of perspective. Avengers Alliance put players right into the action with a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent avatar participating in battles alongside Marvel heroes, but Tactics reassigns you to the commander level, pulling strings from above the battlefield. Squads can be made up of a mix of heroes and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and the developers worked hard to ensure there are reasons to include some of the latter.
“Heroes are definitely the biggest and the strongest, and they’re the guys you are going to want to send in first, and the agents will play more of a support role,” Brown said, mentioning things like heals and buffs. “They can also play a more active role, but it’s riskier because they’re not as powerful as heroes are. It’s interesting because it opens up a huge, huge variety of strategies that you can take into each combat and determines how you decide to play your characters. It’s something that we’ve been playing around with, and we really enjoy the depth and variety we can get there.”
Other twists include a S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ with various structures to build and upgrade. Yet there’s a lot that is familiar too, including the currencies, Command Points to recruit heroes and agents and S.H.I.E.L.D. Points to train characters up to the next level and purchase items.
ISO-8, the story device that ties all of the recent titles in the “Marvel Game Universe” together, also returns, albeit with some additional developments. The overall story, though, is new, starting players off in the Savage Land to investigate anomalies that arise from the impending collision of numerous parallel dimensions.
It sounds a lot like the saga that Jonathan Hickman is currently weaving in the Avengers and New Avengersseries, but while the prominent Marvel writer did give some feedback, Marvel Avengers Alliance Tactics isn’t dependent on what’s going on in current comics.
“The storyline really ties into a lot of what we’ve been doing with Avengers Alliance and the Marvel Game Universe,” Brown said. “It’s really centered around the fact that incursions are happening, these worlds are colliding, they’re coming together and all kinds of weird stuff is popping out: universes where mutants are the dominant race or universes where anything can possibly happen.
“We do the dialogue through Black Panther and other characters,” he continued. “They help us understand what’s going on. Through dialogue we reveal things, even to people who are more casual players who haven’t been exposed to Marvel before, in a way that’s approachable and understandable.”
The scope of the threat means that it’s all hands on deck, providing an in-game excuse for unlockable villains like Loki, Klaw, Ronan the Accuser and Taskmaster to be available for recruitment. And dimensional hijinks raise the possibility that different versions of familiar characters could pop up as well. Brown wouldn’t confirm or deny that notion, only saying that heroes from parallel worlds were “definitely on the table.”
Perhaps the only real surprise is that Disney Interactive chose to launch Tactics on Facebook, following the same path as Avengers Alliance. The company says it’s because even after the first title released on iOS and Android, it found the Facebook audience to be a larger, more engaged one.
Still, it’s difficult to imagine that if this game catches on, it won’t have a multi-platform future too. If the success of XCOM taught us anything, it’s that tactical games with the right UI can shine on mobile devices. Commanding heroes and agents on a tablet just seems like a natural next step.
For now, Brown really wants you to play Marvel Avengers Alliance Tactics where it just launched. Not only does his claim that “you’re not going to see many games that look like this on Facebook” ring true, he and his team believe the gameplay is just as special.
“Honestly, we’re super proud of this game,” he said. “We really love the accessibility and the depth that it brings to the tactics genre, and it makes it kind of a unique experience that you don’t really get very often. We love how well it plays and we’re really excited to share it with the rest of the world.”