When Marvel’s Midnight Suns was announced, it was one of the least expected Marvel crossovers for us – venturing into the realm of turn-based tactical combat. We couldn’t wait to see how it would turn out, and played the PlayStation 5 version to find out more.
And however unlikely this seemed as a concept, expectations were also high because Midnight Suns was developed by Firaxis, masters of franchises like XCOM and Civilization that have helped define the genre. Because of that, we were assuming that this was going to be something akin to XCOM but with a Marvel look and feel, though our biggest questions there were about how they’d deal with squad vs character dynamics because the Marvel IP is much more character driven than what we typically see in an XCOM game.
We never got to see Marvel’s Midnight Suns on the trade show circuit this year (2K opted out of them this year), so the final product was our first time going hands on with it – and it wasn’t long before we got our answers and realized this is actually much more than an XCOM reskin. It’s still a turn-based tactical game, and it leans heavier into the RPG elements because of the Marvel angle, but the actual gameplay mechanics are quite different from what XCOM players are used to.
Deck-building is a major difference in this regard, with each superhero having their own set of cards that bring unique abilities with them. Which heroes you take into battle with you is therefore not just a matter of assembling a squad and sticking with it because you like their base characteristics, but also a matter of looking at the cards you have available to you and seeing which combination of cards would make a good deck for the upcoming fights.
It’s a mechanic that’ll feel different to XCOM players who were expecting something similar from Firaxis, but of course we’ve seen deck-building as a major gameplay mechanic in other tactical RPGs and even newcomers will quickly feel at home with it. What makes things easier is that the available cards (which often denote attacks you can trigger) are numerous and varied, rather than having a small set of core cards where you have to learn the intricacies of how they’re balanced against each other. As a result, the game is and stays engaging even if you’re not looking to go very deep into its mechanics, and never felt repetitive.
What also makes Midnight Suns an engaging title are its narrative elements and social dynamics – sometimes even evoking memories of the Persona games. The Hunter, the protagonist of the story, was resurrected by Doctor Strange and Iron Man, so besides heading into battle you’re also spending time getting to know many of your new Marvel buddies. This means plenty of conversations in between the battles, so if you’re merely after a new Firaxis strategic/tactical experience and aren’t into Marvel lore, that might be a little much.
If you are into Marvel, however, then this is an excellent crossover that leans heavily into its source IP while still offering a nice dose of tactical combat. The card-based mechanics work very well in making this feel different than XCOM, and the presentation is on point – the voice acting and cutscenes in particular breathe a ton of Marvel-life into the game, which the original narrative provides a fresh look at the franchise that’s different from the movies you might be familiar with.