Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite hands-on

The dream matchup between Marvel and Capcom will continue later this year in Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite, and fighting game fans are rejoicing. A return to a two-on-two fighting format, a brand new Infinity Stone system, and a story mode tying everything together is a lot to be excited for, but much of what sets this new game apart from its predecessors focuses on bringing new players into the fold without taking away the high level combat the franchise is known for. Having played the game at E3 2017, I can say that there is definitely more to MvC:I than meets the eye.

The Capcom booth offered two demos to attendees: the same Story Mode demo that is available to download now, and a more traditional Versus Mode demo. The Story Mode does a decent job of laying a narrative groundwork, but it’s mostly a string of cutscenes linked together by all-too-brief battles with predetermined teams against lackeys and drones. The depth of the game’s new mechanics is instantly lost, as the demo offers no agency for team selection and no time to learn the teams the demo does provide. As soon as a player discovers something unique or interesting, the match is over and the next cutscene is playing.  My hope is that this is just an introduction to the storyline and that the official offering will be more robust, but right now the Story Demo leaves a lot to be desired.

The Versus Demo provided exclusively to E3-goers is where the real meat of Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite is. The first major difference when picking up a controller is the switch in control scheme, changing from four separate attacks of differing strength to two light attacks (punch and kick) and two heavy attacks. This hearkens back to Marvel vs Capcom 2, and it does wonders for bringing the familiarity of that blockbuster hit back to the franchise. The second instantly noticeable change is the cutting of team size from three characters to two, meaning there’s one less life bar to depend on during battle. These two changes make for much more strategic matches which are easier to control, lowering the barrier to entry for new players.

This accessibility is heightened even further with the new easy combo system where seven seven quick button presses in succession, four of any one attack then one of every other attack, turn into an easy multi-hit combo for decent damage. It’s not the most complex combo, nor will it be revolutionizing the competitive scene, but it allows the newest Marvel vs Capcom player to have some sort of weapon in their back pocket at all times. Other than this new mechanic, the controls fall under familiar Capcom quarter-circle turns of the joystick for special and super moves, which comes with a bit of a learning curve for new players but nothing that can’t be learned quickly.

Seasoned MvC players have a few new items to look forward to as well, including one that takes strategizing to a whole new level. The most universal change to the core MvC formula in Infinite is the Active Switch mechanic, replacing the previous tagging-in of partners with the ability to switch teammates on the fly. A player controlling Ryu can activate his Shinku Hadoken super move, then press Active Switch while the beam is firing to bring in his partner and extend the combo. There is seemingly no parameter that prevents switching characters other than taking a hit, opening up all kinds of combo opportunities for capable players.

The Infinity Stone system, however, adds that aforementioned layer of depth to strategy, giving teams extra abilities depending on the stone chosen before a match. The Infinity Surge is activated by pressing the Stone button on the controller (L1 on PlayStation 4 in this demo). They aren’t entirely game-breaking; the Time stone, for example, activates a quick dash and the Reality stone fires a slow homing projectile. Filling up the Stone meter, however, unleashes the extremely overpowered Infinity Storms and that’s where things get wild. The Space Stone’s Infinity Storm places the opponent in a box about 1/3 the size of the screen and confines the poor soul into that box, making them a sitting duck. The Reality Stone’s Storm gives every attack button a different elemental boost, including a beam of fire that shoots from off-screen. Filling the Stone Meter is admittedly more difficult than filling the Super Meter, but whoever gets that meter filled first could easily win the match with one Storm. Those may need to be toned down a bit.

The roster for this E3 demo featured 21 characters, 11 from Marvel and 10 from Capcom. Most of the playable characters returned from Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, including Street Fighter’s Ryu and Chun-Li, Devil May Cry’s Dante, and Marvel’s Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. There were a few new faces, including Mega Man X, Ultron, and Captain Marvel, while Thanos skipped the previous games and returns from MvC2. Each character came equipped with their own unique moveset, including the flashy finishing moves that the series is known for, but no one really stuck out from the crowd in this early demo. Perhaps that’s because, despite the overhauled mechanics, so many of the choices played just like they did in the previous game. This is a problem Capcom might want to address before launch.

Marvel vs Capcom: infinite looks to be progressing smoothly in the leadup to its September 19 launch date. The battle system is familiar enough for veteran players to jump in quick but sports enough new wrinkles to give a new player the confidence to win immediately. There’s still some work to be done and some roster spots to fill, but right now Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite looks like it could be a battle for the ages.