Midnight Suns Is A Suprisingly Cinematic Experience
Midnight Suns has snuck up on me. Initially I dismissed the game, partially because of the trauma inflicted by Marvel’s Avengers, but mostly because of the card mechanics. It's a card game from the X-COM guys, but with Iron Man instead of aliens? Just feels like a heap of ideas all folding into each other until they become a pile of sludge. Fortunately, the cards aren't used as they would be in the genre usually, but instead as a pool of turn-based moves like a more varied Pokemon or Final Fantasy, the battling is less like the hyper-technical and percentage based X-COM and more like a faster, more fluid Fire Emblem, and Iron Man is not a parody of Robert Downey Jr., but instead an interesting and layered hero. Midnight Suns is a contender for best game of the year, even with two heavyweights opening and closing 2022 in Elden Ring and God of War Ragnarok. What has surprised me the most, though, is how cinematic it all is.
My initial fears were melting away even before I had started playing. Our reviewer, Eric Switzer, was full of praise for the game, and we share a similar taste for all things good. Hearing comparisons to Persona for its life-sim elements, that the heroes were more textured, and that Magik is there from the start and a major player in the story all helped sell me. From the tutorial, I realised the cards weren't your typical deckbuilding fare, and that things would be zipping along faster than hardcore titles in the genre. But I still expected it to be a little stilted.
Having released the same weekend as The Callisto Protocol, where the in-game Karen Fukuhara is indistinguishable from real-life Karen Fukuhara, and Midnight Suns' graphics would have been underwhelming as a PS4 launch title. I've never cared much for graphics, so this didn't bother me, but I thought it hinted at a game that would keep things visually safe. But without the loyalty to photorealism, Midnight Suns affords itself much more freedom.
For the first few missions of Midnight Suns, your abilities are restricted. Blade shoots people in the chest, Captain Marvel punches people in the face, that whole deal. It looks fine, but mostly I wanted to get them out of the way so I could watch movies with Nico Minoru. But as you start getting better cards, and unlocking more heroes, the battles open up. Magik can summon portals and place them by explosive barrels, then thwack enemies through them. It takes a while to set up, but over time, she can lift entire armies off the ground and slam them through to oblivion. Doctor Strange starts off just pushing enemies back into obstacles, but soon after he summons magical axes to slice them apart. Once you get Captain America, he can bounce his shield off Hydra skulls all day without a care in the world. A true patriot if I ever saw one.
Stronger moves also come with better animations, so you're not only dealing more damage and taking out more enemies, you feel like more of a superhero watching yourself unleash the violence. This isn't an origin story, so all of the heroes are already established warriors – even player character The Hunter has been freshly revived and canonically has all of their strength and experience still – but the game justifies your new attacks well. It's a union of the Midnight Suns and Avengers, plus a few hangers on, facing hardship that has taken their friends, so they're learning from each other and training harder than ever before.
The best part is the team up attacks. Though they can take a while to charge up, when you get the chance to use them on your strongest foes, you feel more like a team than any moment in the Avengers game, and ahead of most in the MCU too. Two of the characters from your team will attack with synergy, racing towards a mighty villain as the screen flashes with bright lights and comic book ink splashes before a devastating blow is dealt. Despite using cards and tactical movements, Midnight Suns relishes in the power fantasy of being a superhero, and captures that magic better than possibly any superhero game to date.
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