Preview: Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’s story demo is infinitely bad

When E3 2017 came around, Capcom gave us all a chance to download a Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite story demo, just to give us a taste of what the game’s single-player content would be like.

We have entered a new age of fighting game narratives. Fighting game fans want a little bit of effort put into their single-player campaigns these days. Injustice 2 showed us that a fighting game could tell a DC Universe story better than Hollywood can. Tekken 7 showed us that even a bad story could be graphically pleasing. Street Fighter V showed us that even a bad story that isn’t graphically pleasing could put us up against a variety of interesting opponents.

But if Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’s story demo is indicative of the final product, it fails far short of any of these games.

Keeping It Formulaic

Let’s start with the narrative itself. We already knew it was going to be a work of crossover fanfiction, which implies a certain lack of quality, but Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite is a particularly bad example of crossover fanfiction. Every single scene in the demo follows this formula:

Character from Universe A: Hey character from Universe B, you are pretty cool, for a character from Universe B.

Character from Universe B: And you are pretty cool for a character from Universe A, character from Universe A. Now let’s fight some faceless enemies nobody cares about.

Don’t believe me? Let me give you a literal excerpt from the script.

Thor: Sir Arthur! Not bad for one so small.

Arthur: And you, Thor, are indeed mighty, for a heathen god.

Or what about this one?

Dante: Seven-six, eight-six, nine-six. Come on Hawkeye. Man, this is getting embarrassing.

Hawkeye: Let’s just call it a draw.

That is the entire demo!

Enemies That Bore You To Death

Let’s talk about these Ultron Drones for a minute. In Street Fighter V, we were put up against unique enemies with move-sets that you could only see in the story, like the Bison dolls. In Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’s story demo, you are put up against clone after clone of Ultron. It’s impossible to care about any of these fights because all your enemies are nobodies. They are goons, mooks, peons… the putties from Power Rangers! They only exist to fill time.

They are easy to beat, too. All of these enemies do pitiful damage and barely attack. They die in a few auto combos and they never block. Eventually, the game throws in “Xgardians” – corrupted Asgardian warriors taken over by Ultron Sigma, our main antagonist. They too barely attack. The only functional difference between them and the Ultron Drones is that they have a different move set (though not a particularly interesting one) and they have a ludicrous amount of super armor to break through. This teaches you to spam heavy attacks and projectiles rather than mix-up the opponent, which will get you killed in an actual match.

The only truly unique enemy the demo throws at you is Ultron Sigma himself, and he is totally unfair. Unlike any of the other opponents you have faced so far, Ultron Sigma blocks… practically everything. He even push blocks everything, making projectiles useless and opening you up for counter attacks at every moment. If you do manage to land a hit, you’ll find that he has a ludicrous amount of health. Even the most optimized combos take off barely a sliver of his health bar. To have any hope of defeating him you need to play perfectly, just as he does. Push block everything, retaliate with your strongest combos, command grab when he goes on the defensive, and you might stand a chance.

You are actually meant to lose the fight against Ultron Sigma, but I was crazy enough to try again and again until I could squeeze out a win. Do you know what you get when you win? Nothing! Not a single thing. The game stops you mid-match before you can land the final blow in order to force you into the losing cutscene. Why even make him beatable if you don’t get anything for it? Why not just skip the battle altogether and go straight into a cutscene showing Ultron Sigma destroying everyone?

Your Character Development Is Bad and You Should Feel Bad

We’ve established that the plot isn’t that great, and the battles aren’t that great, so the last place the story could impress us is in its presentation. But, sure enough, it fails there, too. There aren’t any nifty mid-match cutscenes or story-relevant dialogue like there was in Tekken 7.

Out-of-battle cutscenes are rendered with the in-game engine and they, too, are unimpressive. Character animations are stiff and robotic. The models aren’t even that great when you see them up close. Rocket Raccoon looks like something out of Five Nights at Freddy’s. Take my advice and never end a battle with Rocket’s level 3 super. His grin at the end is nightmare fuel.

It even fails to transition smoothly from battle to cutscene. Injustice 2 and Tekken 7 both managed to seamlessly integrate cinematic scenes with gameplay. Marvel vs. Capcom infinite, however, forces you to wait through long loading screens that break up the action. This loading should be done in the background while characters are spouting their snarky quips at each other. Some of these loading screens last longer than the cutscenes and battles that they are loading!

It’s disappointing that this story demo is such a train wreck because it had serious potential. Crossover fanfiction doesn’t have to be bad. But when you unite characters to fight one bigger evil, you cut off the possibility for interesting character conflict. Look at Injustice 2. There were three forces at play in its narrative: Superman’s forces, Batman’s forces, and Brainiac’s forces. Each character had their own deep and personal motivation for choosing their side, and even though everyone eventually came together to take Brainiac down, there was a host of interesting character conflicts leading up to that climax.

In Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, every character has the same motivation: kill Ultron Sigma. That’s it. In fact, the game goes out of its way to shut down any interesting side conflicts. At one point, Chun-Li says she’s “put away plenty of punks like you” to Rocket Raccoon. It’s used as witty side banter, but that could have been a serious conflict! Rocket Raccoon is an intergalactic outlaw and bounty hunter on top of being a Guardian of the Galaxy, and Chun-Li is a cop. Why are they OK with working together? Why not take the opportunity to explore that relationship?

The demo even goes out of its way to make fun of its own character writing. At one point, Chris Redfield ineffectively shoots Ultron Sigma in the back and the only thing he could say about it is, “You’re goin’ down!” Ultron Sigma himself notes that it’s a tired cliché and that he has nothing useful to add to the conversation. Instead of an empty taunt, Chris Redfield could have done something clever, like use the distraction to allow for a strategic retreat, or set up for an aerial strike. Both would be within character and would add something more than a tired cliché.

I’d like to note that the terrible story demo is not representative of the core gameplay. As a plain old one-on-one fighting game, Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite has ludicrously fun mechanics. I can see this game being very popular as an e-sport. After all, fighting games have survived without competent narratives thus far. But it’s so disappointing that Capcom, the world’s leading fighting game developer, hasn’t gotten on board with this new fighting game narrative revolution. We can only hope that the story improves between now and the official release, but with only three months before launch, I sincerely doubt that will happen.