Avengers Initiative is Infinity Blade starring the Incredible Hulk. At least right now. Marvel, their parent company Disney, and developer Wideload promise more Avengers will be assembling to join the fray in future updates, including Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, and the Black Widow. If that sounds a lot like the cast of this summer's blockbuster Avengers movie, directed by Joss Whedon, that's probably not a coincidence. This is meant to be mainstream superhero game, but it hides a ton of comic geek love inside as well.
The story starts off simply, and familiarly for anyone who's read Brian Michael Bendis' New Avengers series. Instead of the Raft, however, it's the Vault that gets broken wide open, but rest assured a slew of villains still escape to wreak havoc on the Marvel Universe. Instead of assembling a new team of popular, if non-traditional characters like Wolverine and Spider-Man to track them down, however, Ultimate Nick Fury calls on the classic roster. And first up is the Hulk.
Hulk is given one job and one job only in this game, and I'm sure you can already guess what it is -- SMASH!
More precisely, to track 'em and pack 'em for SHIELD to come and collect. And that's where the Infinity Blade part comes in. I don't know if it's licensed from Chair and Epic, but either way, that's what it is.
With Avengers Initiative, however, Wideload has added an extra layer of sophistication. You have to have more precise timing to succeed with Avengers Initiative than you did with Infinity Blade. You have to block and dodge and parry nearly perfectly, and then counter without missing a beat. It makes every battle both more challenging and engaging, because you literally can't take your attention away for a micro-second. And that makes for a mixed bag.
For advanced gamers, it's a better, sharper experience. For casual gamers, however, it's a more frustrating, more difficult one. You can't just swipe and slash your way to victory. You have to earn it. (And then some, because the detection isn't always perfect.)
There's another problem brought over from Infinity Blade -- repetitive enemies. Right from the start you have to fight two Kronans (remember Korg from Planet Hulk?) and two Skrulls (what became the Chitauri in the Avengers movie, though equally absent their shape-changing powers) back-to-back before you even get to the first boss-level bad guy, a Wendigo (think cannibal Sasquatch). iOS is a constrained platform and models are expensive, but variety is the spice of gaming, especially when you want to lure in a brand new gamer.
It's also awkward. Hulk isn't made of strategy and tactics. Hulk is made of rage. Hulk doesn't block or dodge or parry Skrulls. He flicks them away like you would a gnat. The Infinity Blade format might have suited Captain America more than Hulk, at least at the beginning levels. But let's chalk that up to artistic license and move on.
For added depth, you have a full-on leveling system available to you, and you can increase health, damage, stamina, and rage as you collect experience. You can also buy new powers. You start out with World Breaker and you can buy more as your purple crystal collection grows. You can also buy costumes straight from the comics, everything from King Hulk to Fear Itself Hulk to Maestro Hulk to... you get the idea. Items like medical packs and rage boosts, augments, and more are all for sale.
Which brings us to the in-app purchases. Avengers Initiative costs $6.99 up-front, and you can collect purple crystals in the game as you go. Like any enterprising title these days, however, you can also spend money in-lieu of time. Want 10,000 crystals? $0.99 and they're yours. Want 800,000 crystals? $49.99 will get them for you. Want to level up? $1.99. Want to redistribute? $4.99. No questions asked. (Tell 'em Joe Fixit sent you.)
Balancing those who want to win at gaming vs. those who just want to win a game is tricky. I like the option to pay my way, even if I choose not to use it.
As mentioned above, there will also be additional characters added to the game in the future, which should increase replay value substantially. It'll be interesting to see how Wideload balances their various abilities with in-game play as well. They may all be persons of mass-destruction, but their payloads clearly vary. A lot. Black Widow and Hawkeye are highly trained humans, but they're still humans. Captain America is a super soldier -- the ultimate human -- but still human. Iron Man is one-man Air Force, however. And Thor's a Norse god. It's the classic Batman/Superman problem. How does something that can go toe-to-toe with the Hulk not turn Hawkeye to paste at the slightest incidental contact? Will Marvel and Wideload have an answer for that, or will we simply have to suspend disbelief as usual.
Back to the Hulk. The graphics here are outstanding. Marvel claims console quality and while that's not exactly true compared to the latest, greatest Play Station 3 games, they do look fantastic on the Retina display iPhones and iPad. There's a touch of lag at times on the new iPad, but the quality and quantity of pixels they're pushing is impressive.
It's also a lot of fun. If you ever played the old Xbox Hulk game -- the free-world one where you just walked around and smashed the living hell out of an entire city -- there's a taste of that here. You're the strongest one there is, and you get to unleash it. The World Breaker. The Green Scar. The Sakaarson. He's come home to iOS. And soon, his friends will be coming with him.
Avengers initiative is good but not great, and will appeal to fans more than regular folks. If you love Marvel, the Avengers, and the Hulk, get Avengers Initiative and revel in it. If you like fighting games in general, and Infinity Blade in particular, you'll get a lot of the same action here, but with a new flavor that's more challenging if not quite as smooth or balanced.
If you could care less about the Hulk or Infinity Blade, and are just looking for a new game to try, Avengers Initiative may not be for you. It's not as casual-gamer friendly as some other games, and requires tolerance and perseverance to get into. You might be happier with something sporting a frowning fowl on the splash screen.