Very early into my playthrough of Midnight Suns, Dr
Strange Spooky, Blade and The Hunter head to New York City to stop an attack on the Sanctum Santorum and try to protect Scarlet Witch. On exiting Magik’s portal from Limbo, Strange’s magic is on the fritz (thanks Lilith), three NPCs speak before anybody else.
“I’m walkin’ ‘ere!”
“I think I’ll grab a bagel.”
“I’m getting a slice.”
This over-the-top, broad characterisation of New York and New Yorkers is a brilliant microcosm of the overall design philosophy of Midnight Suns. Firaxis has gone all-in on the characters and the world of Marvel Comics. This isn’t the realistic MCU or a dark, broody 2000s take on things. It’s a comic book. A big, dumb, over-the-top comic book.
Midnight Suns is unashamedly 90s; when comics were big and loud and stupid and so were the characters and their artwork. Thankfully, Midnight Suns avoids the pitfalls of the more regressive elements of 90s comics — impossibly enormous breasts and skimpy costumes aren’t included — and instead focuses on what made them so good.
Violence. Action. Incredibly specific and detailed characters within a broad world and, of course, getting down to business.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns
Eschewing the standard world-ending threats of the MCU — i.e. outer space aliens and power-hungry jerks — Midnight Suns instead opts to focus on the supernatural elements of Marvel Comics. With Lilith raised from the dead by Hydra, Dr Strange and Iron Man join Caretaker and the Midnight Suns in resurrecting her child The Hunter. As an aside, how fucking dumb are “Nazis.” Do they really think the all-powerful queen of demons is going to share power with them? Whoever is pitching ideas at Hydra’s weekly team meetings needs to take a good look at themselves. Nico even comments at one point that although we live in a gig economy, surely there are better jobs than joining Hydra as a goon…
Midnight Suns is, so far, incredibly impressive. Outside of combat you take direct control of The Hunter and explore the Abbey in the third-person. Granted there’s no combat or platforming but I’d be very keen to see what Firaxis could do with a third-person action RPG. Whilst hanging out at the Abbey you spend time chatting up other Marvel heroes, catching up on the past few hundred years and patting your demonic dog. There are tonnes of collectibles, crafting items, lore and more to find and it feels like a natural evolution of the mission hubs in XCOM. It’s actually really enjoyable to just wander around, even in the very early stages of Midnight Suns, when everything is still locked off. It sets the scene and tone for the game, which as mentioned earlier is both earnest and ‘real dumb.’
When I say dumb, I mean it in the best possible way. Like how comics are dumb. They’re big, stupid explosive, fun things that present impossible situations and stories that get resolved in 10 pages. And that’s why we love them. Missions in Midnight Suns feel dumb in this way. They’re short and hectic and resolved quickly, while the overarching threat still looms large.
Big. Dumb. Fun.
Being developed by Firaxis, Midnight Suns was never going to be able to escape comparisons to XCOM, but aside from being a turn-based tactics game, the similarities stop there. Midnight Suns utilises a very different system of combat and abilities and it does away with everything that makes XCOM what it is. For example, characters don’t move on a grid. In fact, in the early stages of the game, you’re only able to move one character each turn. Abilities and attacks don’t have a percentage chance to hit either; they just hit. Superheroes aren’t likely to miss a close-up melee punch against a weiner Hydra goon so in Midnight Suns, they don’t.
However, to keep things interesting Firaxis has implemented a card system for abilities. Each character goes into combat with a deck constructed of abilities. As you level them up they can earn new ones and fuse duplicates to create stronger versions. On your turn, you draw cards from the deck and those are the abilities you have to use. On each turn, you can move one character, redraw two cards and, initially, play three cards. Firaxis doesn’t hold back on throwing new mechanics at you though. Almost right away you learn about keywords attached to the cards. Things like Quick, which grants you another card play if you get a KO, Taunt and Heroism.
Heroism can drastically alter how you approach combat. It’s used to play some of the more powerful abilities but is also used to perform actions on the field. Characters can TJ Hooker across a pallet or pick up and toss objects at enemies at the cost of some Heroism, which is generated through attacks and defeating enemies. In the early hours of the game, you can see the building blocks of the mechanics and combat systems falling into place, but you can’t quite take advantage of everything. It offers a tantalising glimpse of how you’ll be playing the game later on and creates this excitement for future possibilities.
On the presentation side of things, Midnight Suns is stellar. Visually sumptuous and a feast for the eyes, Midnight Suns‘ character designs and world really do hone in on that 90s comic feel. Iron Man, for example, doesn’t have a billion panels and edges and bevels. Instead, he’s pretty flat with a few different sections of his suit and some bold colours. Firaxis has gone with the less is more approach to character design, which really works and sets it apart from other recent superhero games. The environments are also a real treat. While you’re locked into a small combat zone, you can see off into the distance and pick out plenty of tiny details that make each area come alive.
The audio is somewhat less of a success but Midnight Suns is fighting an uphill battle. Even Marvel’s Avengers struggled to impress fans when it announced its absolutely star-studded voice cast and that’s thanks to the MCU. Voice actors in Midnight Suns are up against the wall and in an impossible position. They need to simultaneously sound like the MCU heroes fans have become accustomed to and come up with a new spin on the character.
It’s an impossible feat.
Iron Man sounds like Nolan North and Robert Downey Jr got had a bay and raised him in a 1920s speakeasy. It’s probably my least favourite performance in the game thus far, which is a shame since Tony Stark is such an important character. Dr Strange is also tough on the ear as he’s got this pompous, ethereal voice that is nothing like Benedict Cumberpatch. I know, in the moment, that Midnight Suns is not the MCU and different voices aren’t a problem, but they still hit my ear wrong.
Other characters fare much better, mostly because they have no MCU counterpart. Blade is great as the stoic, standoffish soldier and Magik’s dry sarcastic Russian delivery is perfection. Essentially, how you react to the characterisation of the heroes and villains is going to come down to how much of an open mind you have and how tainted by your preconceptions you are.
Having only played a dozen or so hours of Midnight Suns, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game thus far. Likewise, this preview barely covers everything. Midnight Suns is jam-packed with heroes, mechanics and ideas that it would be impossible to squeeze them all in and do each of them justice.
For now, I’m happy to report that so far, Midnight Suns has far exceeded my expectations and managed to truly shake up what I assumed a turn-based tactics game featuring superheroes could and would be like. There’s not much longer to wait before you can all get your hands on it but for now, I’d say it’s a safe bet to start getting hyped
Midnight Suns is launching for PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S on 2 December 2022.
Midnight Suns is being reviewed on PC using a Steam code provided by 2K ANZ.