Marvel’s Midnight Suns review – superheroes, strategy and Gen Z banter

PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox; Firaxis/2K
Making good use of the comics, this turn-based strategy games gives players satisfyingly fiendish challenges – and room to chillax afterwards

Playing a turn-based strategy game developed by genre leader Firaxis, creator of the brilliant XCOM reboots, there were several things I did not expect to be doing. I did not foresee having to sort out the love life of macho vampiric superhero, Blade. I didn’t expect to be joining a book club with Captain Marvel (first read: Sun Tzu’s Art of War). At no point while the game was installing did I envisage going on a bird-watching trip with Doctor Strange.

Yet all these unlikely scenarios are very much a part of this latest Marvel video game spinoff, which takes as many of its design cues from the fantasy role-playing series Fire Emblem as it does from XCOM. Here, players take on the role of a new hero character, Hunter, a 300-year-old sorceress reanimated by a re-imagining of a character from the Ghost Rider comics, to battle an evil witch bent on galactic domination. That witch also happens to be Hunter’s mother – and she’s recruited a whole army of Hydra goons to help out.

Marvel’s Midnight Suns
Unlikely scenarios … Marvel’s Midnight Suns. Photograph: 2K Games

Usefully, you’re accompanied by two superhero collectives: the Avengers and the titular Midnight Suns, a group of mystical magic-weavers that includes teen goth Nico Minoru from The Runaways and fiery stuntbike dudebro, Ghost Rider. Between missions you all hang out together in an abbey, surrounded by a country estate laden with caves, graveyards and standing stones.

As in XCOM, you fight a series of turn-based battles: three heroes, an array of Hydra soldiers and the odd supervillain face off in small arenas. And as in the recent mobile hit Marvel Snap, you attack with cards. At the start of each fight, players draw random attack and skill cards from their packs, three of which can be used per turn. You might choose to have Captain America pummel a Hydra sniper with his shield, or perhaps get Doctor Strange to vapourise a demon hound with the Bolt of Balthakk. You can also pull off environmental attacks, perhaps exploding a petrol drum to take out a few nearby thugs, or squishing them beneath a heavy crate handily suspended from the ceiling.

It’s the clever combination of attacks, bluffs and defensive moves that make each battle so compelling. Working out just how and when to use skill cards takes several fights, but when you get it right and the cards fall into place, the thrill of completely destroying a whole squad of soldiers by summoning a burning muscle car and then driving it over them is exquisite.

At the same time however, the introduction of collectible card-game dynamics will be wildly frustrating to veterans of XCOM, Advance Wars or the Total War series. The whole meta-game around building a deck and the randomness introduced by the card deal at the start of each turn may be anathema to players who want to win on their battlefield tactics alone. It’s harder to build slow-burning chess-like strategies when you’re not sure what moves you’ll have in three turns’ time.

Amid all this, you can also just hang out as Hunter, decorating her bedroom, exploring the estate and improving her relationships with the other characters. There’s a bar where they all congregate to read and chat, and you can join in the conversation. There’s even a superhero social media platform where the team pile into group threads and occasionally DM you about what’s going on. One minute you’re organising a surprise birthday party, the next you’ve joined a cabal of Midnight Suns pals who like to go out after dark and do rituals. These sections are weirdly off-putting at first, and the Gen Z banter and self-deprecating humour do start to grate. That’s until you realise that Firaxis is bringing some Fire Emblem/Persona energy into the fusty old turn-based strategy genre, and then you just go with it.

Marvel’s Midnight Suns
Your new pals … Marvel’s Midnight Suns. Photograph: 2K Games

The abbey has many secrets to uncover, including a resident ghost and a lot of hidden crypts and altars, and it’s nice to vary the pace and structure so you’re not just endlessly battling on a turn-based game board. I liked the in-fighting and suspicion between the Suns and the Avengers, the former all based around magic, the latter around science. You can be an evil bastard to your teammates, which unlocks black magic powers, or you can be a saintly presence, helping you to unlock benevolent abilities.

It’s kind of brave of Firaxis not to just give us XCOM with an asset swap. Midnight Suns is its own thing, combining strategy and soap opera in a nod toward Japanese battle tactics games and the underlying frivolity of the Marvel universe. One thing Firaxis certainly hasn’t done is dumb down turn-based strategy for incoming comic book fans. This is a hugely challenging game, with dozens of hours of play and a narrative that wants to say interesting things about family, identity and sacrifice. Sometimes, it even manages it.

• Marvel’s Midnight Suns is out 2 December


Keith Stuart

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Fifa 23 review – EA’s final Fifa game bows out gracefully
Fittingly, this year’s final edition of the perennial branded football sim at last achieves its aspiration of enjoyable realism

Keith Stuart

27, Sep, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga review – a feast of fan nostalgia
Journey through all nine movies in this gag-filled crowd-pleaser that even makes The Phantom Menace bearable

Keith Stuart

06, Apr, 2022 @12:01 PM

Article image
Rainbow Six Extraction review – Call of Duty’s zombie mode crossed with XCOM’s alien invaders
This tense co-operative shooter is thoroughly entertaining, as much for the ideas it borrows as the ideas it comes up with

Keith Stuart

19, Jan, 2022 @11:17 AM

Article image
It Takes Two review – joyful family adventure for socially distanced duos
Inspired by family-in-peril adventures like Frozen, this engrossing if didactic puzzler uses old-fashioned teamwork to great effect

Keith Stuart

31, Mar, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Saints Row review – a vast, ridiculous B-movie caper
With its wonky sets, dodgy cameras and bizarre plotlines, this reboot of the gangster adventure series is haphazard but joyful

Keith Stuart

22, Aug, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Call of Duty: Vanguard review – nostalgic warfare that takes us back to the start
A band of inglorious stereotypes go on a covert mission to uncover a Nazi plan in a traditional instalment of the series

Keith Stuart

10, Nov, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
Cris Tales review – a magical realist tribute to Japanese role-playing games
Foes can be cast into the past or future in a whimsical time-bending throwback that celebrates Colombia

Nic Reuben

26, Jul, 2021 @2:35 PM

Article image
Overwatch 2 review – a free-to-play shooter for the rest of us
It’s not really a sequel, but Overwatch’s enthusiastic rejection of self-serious military shooters still draws you in

Keith Stuart

06, Oct, 2022 @10:42 AM

Article image
Fifa 22 review – a flamboyant multiplex of total football
The latest iteration of the all-conquering football sim favours more structured play and rains down a multitude of modes and options – but ethical questions about Ultimate Team remain

Keith Stuart

01, Oct, 2021 @9:01 AM

Article image
Outriders review – fountains of gore and hilarious carnage
Capturing exactly what makes the genre tick, this is perhaps the best looter-shooter game since Borderlands

Tom Bramwell

07, Apr, 2021 @12:00 PM