Like many 40-somethings, my comic-collecting period came in the early '90s. One crossover storyline that I remember fondly was The Midnight Sons (yes, the slight change in name here was deliberate). So it was a surprise when I learned a game somewhat based on that storyline was in development, but here we are.
Marvel's Midnight Suns, from strategy specialist Firaxis Games, takes the developer's XCOM: Enemy Unknown experience and throws in a dozen Marvel characters to sweeten the deal. It works well for the most part. But unless you're heavily into strategy games, especially since this concentrates on a specific kind of deck-building card strategy, there's not enough meat on the bone here to provide a compelling experience to accentuate the tactics.
The big limiter for the game is the player-controlled character, The Hunter. While Midnight Suns features some of the biggest names in comics -- such as Iron Man, Wolverine and Spider-Man -- they all play supporting roles to The Hunter, whose gender and appearance you customize. While this allows more rigid, comic book characters to maintain their traditional roles, it places significant weight on a brand-new, unknown character to carry the narrative.
Midnight Suns adds what can only be described as dating sim elements to its strategy, allowing the player to interact with specific characters away from the field of battle. These interactions can improve certain heroes' abilities when the time comes to kick some Hydra butt (yes, them again). Thing is, I want to hang out with the more prominent characters like Captain Marvel and Blade, but characters like Nico Minoru from the Runaways, Magik, a minor X-Man, and Robbie Reyes, the current Ghost Rider, get pushed throughout the game as if the developers are over here playing matchmaker trying to get you to "date" them instead.
It works like this: The Hunter can hang out with a certain character for a day in the Abbey, the Midnight Suns' superhero hideout. They can do some meditation, work out, play cards or even pick mushrooms. Pick the right activity for the right hero and they'll gain more friendship points to unlock more abilities and outfits. The relationship part of the game is almost as important as the combat.
Battles take place on a small field and consist of three heroes. Most of the time The Hunter will be required, but there are side missions when they can be benched. In battle, the heroes will take on several enemies usually consisting of weak one-shot-kill minions, beefier elites and the occasional boss. Each hero has eight action cards, typically with two of them requiring a certain number of heroism points, which build up with the use of other cards. Some cards do direct damage to enemies, push enemies into environmental objects like barrels or walls, buff or heal a hero and so on.
My main issue with this card-based gameplay: You can easily get stuck with a bad set of cards. Each round of battle you're given a certain number of card moves and if you only have heroic cards but no heroism points to play them with, your hand is kind of useless. There is the ability to redraw cards, but if you need a healing card, for example, you can be stuck there hoping one shows up so one of the heroes doesn't die.
Aside from that hang-up, Midnight Suns' battles are thrilling and challenging. The battles require just the right amount of strategic thought. The number of enemies in a fight can be daunting and sometimes other objectives have to be completed in order to win. You might have to stop a Hydra helicopter from taking off or grab an item defended by a shielded soldier. This takes time, so it's a matter of finding the right strategy to keep the other bad guys at bay in order to survive long enough to complete the objective and then take out the rest of the enemies. Win your battle and your characters and squad level up, giving you a ton of new cards that you can further improve and customize (if you ever played Slay the Spire you'll be right at home).
Midnight Suns is not a great game for most people. Its card strategy combat is unlikely to win over those who don't play strategy games, and the game's story doesn't have enough pull to keep nonfans engaged. Fans who fit in that Venn diagram of being a fan of strategy and Marvel comics, especially of the Midnight Sons storyline, will find the game to be well worth the time and money.
Midnight Suns is out now forfor $60, and and for $70. It will launch on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch sometime in the future.