HULK SMASH in Avengers Initiative

Avengers Initiative is the first of a new series of episodic mobile games from Marvel Entertainment and Disney Interactive dev studio Wideload Games. This first installment focuses on Hulk and is available for $6.99 (with additional in-app purchases) from the App Store. It is only compatible with iPhone 4/4S and iPad 2/3rd generation due to its impressive graphics.

Upon starting Avengers Initiative, players would be forgiven for thinking it had been developed by Infinity Blade’s creators Chair Entertainment, as the title’s basic gameplay and on-screen interface is ripped straight from the earlier Unreal Engine-powered games. Players move from predefined hotspot to predefined hotspot in a selection of environments, occasionally panning the screen around to locate hidden items, and then tap on enemy characters to engage them in one-on-one combat.

Combat is also almost identical to Infinity Blade. Players are able to block and sidestep to mitigate incoming attacks, which are clearly telegraphed by the enemy’s animations. Upon stunning the enemy through a sequence of successful blocks or dodges, players must then repeatedly swipe the screen to unleash combos in an attempt to deplete the enemy health bar. After successfully beating an enemy, the player is awarded with experience points according to their performance in the fight; leveling up allows Hulk to upgrade his various statistics — health, attack power, stamina and “rage.”

The “rage” function marks one aspect where Avengers Initiative does differ from the Infinity Blade formula, which it otherwise follows extremely closely. Upon building up a “rage bar,” the player is able to tap on an icon in the corner of the screen to unleash various unlockable special attacks, most of which require a sequence of specific gestures to be performed. These attacks generally carry impressive animations and either deplete the enemy’s health bar more than usual, or stun them for a short period.

Hulk can also be upgraded with items scattered around the levels, and by purchasing equipment. Items cost various amounts of the in-game “ISO-8” currency, which can either be collected by completing a simple minigame where Hulk smashes crystals and must collect the shards that are not red, or acquired through in-app purchase. Items which ISO-8 may be spent on range from “augments” that enhance Hulk’s basic statistics to the more expensive costumes, each of which carries their own special “buffs” to make life easier for the player. In practice, most of the costumes are far too expensive to afford without a lot of grinding, meaning that an already relatively expensive game has a strong focus on in-app purchases to see all its content.

The game makes use of Marvel’s proprietary “XP” network, which allows players to get additional background material on the world of the Avengers and other Marvel heroes. Achievements in both Avengers Initiative and the Facebook game Avengers Alliance are tracked using this service, and making progress in both games allows players to unlock new content and discover how the unfolding story is reflected in all of Marvel’s available XP-connected games.

In short, Avengers Initiative is a decent game with some absolutely stunning visuals, but its similarities to Infinity Blade are a little too close for comfort at times.

It will be interesting to see where the episodic Initiative story goes from here — at present, it’s not been made particularly clear whether the additional Avengers will be added through free updates, in-app purchases of downloadable content or completely separate paid apps. It’s also not yet obvious whether the other Avengers will see differing gameplay styles — if this indeed turns out to be the case, the fact that Hulk’s component is an Infinity Blade clone will be a little more forgivable; if not, the final product will have little to distinguish itself from Chair’s established series save for the recognizable license, and thus may struggle to pick up users given the relatively high price of admission and the fact that Infinity Blade is regularly reduced in price to $0.99.

Avengers Initiative is not yet ranked on our tracking service AppData at the time of writing. Check back shortly to follow its progress through the App Store charts.