Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is going to be a very polarizing game. Even before its release it seemed like the entire FGC was split into two factions: people who thought it was going to be the best fighting game ever and people who thought it was going to be a barebones rush job.

After finally getting my hands on the game, I can confidently say that both sides are right.

Gameplay changes

The gameplay of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is the best of the series so far. It’s the most accessible VS. series game yet. Teams of two are far more manageable than teams of three. The addition of auto-combos and quick supers give mid to low level players the ability put up a fight before they sit down for some serious practice sessions. Most special moves are no more complicated than quarter circle motions or a double down tap. Finally, the new tag system is the simplest of all. “When can I tag in my partner?” you ask. “Literally whenever,” is the answer.

This new tag system is also what makes the game so deep and rewarding for more hardcore players. Being able to tag at any time means that there is no end to the amount of gimmicks you can think up. Lock the opponent down with a projectile, tag, then command grab? Sure. Endlessly tag back and forth to extend your combo? Why not? Come in with a slow overhead and then tag into a quick low. Yep! This is the type of system that is broken by nearly every team combination. It gives you almost infinite room to be creative with the way you fight.

When the game was first announced, many VS. series veterans hated that assists and tag supers were taken out of Marvel Infinite, but they really aren’t. You just have to do them manually. If you want to tag one super into another just do a super, press the tag button, and do another super. If you want to do an assist, do a move, tag, and the move will complete while your partner comes in. All the dirty gimmicks of prior VS. games are here, they are just executed differently.

Getting stoned

On top of this freeform tag system there is the new infinity stone system. Before every match players will choose one of Marvel’s six iconic stones to add to their team. Each stone grants you unique attacks and abilities as well as access to an “infinity storm” power-up. I cannot stress how important infinity stones are. They fundamentally change the way any team plays and many good teams are built around them.

Do you want to go for touch of death combos with the power stone? Maybe you want to chip people to death with the mind stone’s infinite meter? The soul stone allows you to bring in both characters at once, a throwback to the original Marvel vs. Capcom. Stones are just as much a part of your team as your characters are, and which stone you choose can mean the difference between a high and low tier pairing.

Together with stones there are 5,220 possible team combinations, not even counting the eventual horde of DLC that Capcom will eventually put out. That’s the best part about Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, the sheer number of possibilities. The community is going to be figuring out new gimmicks and strategies for this game ten years from now because the fighting system is so open and flexible. Yet newbies can still pick up the game and put up a semi-decent fight on day one. It nails that “easy to learn, hard to master” feel that other competitive games strive for.

The cast

I’d also like to take a moment to address the game’s roster. Many fans have had issues with the roster considering it includes no characters from the X-Men or Fantastic Four franchises. This was obviously a choice to make the game fall more in line with the MCU, but it meant that we couldn’t see the return of some VS. series staples like Magneto, Sentinel, Wolverine, and Dr. Doom. While, yes, the lack of these characters is disappointing, it didn’t matter much after a few hours of play. Returning characters have been completely overhauled making them feel refreshingly new, and the newcomers are a blast to figure out. I’m a particular fan of Jedah and Gamora.

A distinct lack of extras

While I cannot sing the praises of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’s core gameplay enough, it’s really  the only thing I can praise. Fighting games used to be nothing but a 1v1 competition meant to make arcade-goers spend a fortune in quarters, but they have evolved quite a bit since then. Games like Guilty Gear now double as all-purpose fighting game classrooms, boasting complex tutorials explaining advanced fighting game concepts. Meanwhile, games like Injustice 2 feature single player story modes that rival professionally produced animated movies as well as constantly updating challenges to keep players occupied even in single-player mode.

Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite has none of this. Its tutorial is a joke. All it really does is tell you what the basic buttons and controls are without going in to more advanced skills like mix-ups or higher concepts like combo proration.

Its mission mode is similarly barebones. Early missions are as simple as “throw a fireball” and then it suddenly ramps you up into complex tag combos. It does nothing to teach you proper timing like BlazBlue or Guilty Gear. The high level combos you are taught aren’t practical or damaging, making them basically useless in competitive play. Once again, it’s a far cry from the practical bread and butter combos that ArcSys games teach.

The story is horrible. I had high hopes after the latest story trailer, but I’m sad to say that it still feels like poorly written fanfic. They completely waste important Marvel characters, like Mistress Death by making them background motivators. Heck, the symbiotes are a major part of the plotline and we don’t even get to see Venom!

Nearly every conflict is solved by some all-powerful story macguffin, usually in the form of infinity stones, but even then they don’t accurately portray what the stones can do either in the MCU or the comics. Nearly every line of dialogue is groan worthy and, I kid you not, in the end the day is essentially saved by the power of friendship, complete with a “let’s all channel our power into the main character” trope. It’s just bad, bad on the scale of Street Fighter V’s story mode, bad on every possible level.

The fights aren’t even that interesting. Many of them put you against faceless drones or peons. The final boss is, once again, a giant head with hyper armor with a ton of health and unfair attacks. It’s a frustrating and uninteresting battle that makes for a pretty dull climax. I have no idea why Capcom built this up as such an important part of the game when it’s so much worse than story modes in other fighting games.

It has an arcade mode that doesn’t even have endings. It just boots you to the credits. It has a training mode but it doesn’t have any options we haven’t already seen in other fighting games. There’s no score attack, time attack, or challenge modes. The only in-game unlockables are stages, character colors, and pieces of info in the gallery, none of which are particularly motivating. The PS4 version doesn’t support legacy controllers (so pick up the PC version if you haven’t dropped 200 dollars on a current generation stick.) Certain animations (like Ghost Rider’s Penance Stare) appear unfinished. Even the menus are just slapped together still images. It looks like the menu of a mobile game.

At least the netcode is good. You find matches quick and they play smoothly. It utilizes rollback netcode, which is an absolute must for fast paced games. Its ranking system is fine as is its lobby system. Overall, as long as people are playing, you’ll have a decent time online.

As it stands, there is only one way I want to play Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, and that’s in local multiplayer with a group of friends. Played that way it is perhaps the best fighting game that has come out in the past five years. Played any other way, it’s a woefully spartan release that seems five years behind the times. Whether or not you enjoy Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite will depend on how often you can play it against other human beings regularly. The decent netcode certainly helps, but if you plan on buying MVCI, make sure you have a flesh and blood person to play against. If you do, you’ll have an awesome time.