Preview: 'Marvel: Avengers Alliance' Brings Turn-Based Superheroics to Facebook

Social and online game developer Playdom (Mobsters, Gardens of Time) have been busy plugging away at their big social Avengers game in advance of the Marvel superhero team's big screen debut this summer. With that in mind, I had a chance to play Marvel: Avenger's Alliance, a turn-based RPG with the usual social hooks for a Facebook game (gifts, etc.). While the gameplay isn't a huge leap forward in social gaming, for fans of the Marvel Universe, it looks like it might be a fun, free way of having them duke it out with some of the publisher's major and minor characters.

It's surprising how much like a traditional turn-based RPG Marvel: Avengers Alliance is, with most of the gameplay having the usual back and forth pull of that particular style of combat. In the game's story, you play as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (Marvel's global defense organization headed by Nick Fury) to combat a rising tide of supervillains who are taking advantage of an unexplained galactic event. What this boils down to is that you'll have to team up with various Marvel characters and deploy from the floating Helicarrier base to global locations. Along the way, you'll pick up loot that can be used in battle, meet new heroes, and of course, upgrade your own character and allies.

Prior to actual combat, you'll select a hangar bay on the carrier which essentially launches you to a location with a current batch of missions. You'll start out with one hangar bay available and can unlock more as your character levels up throughout the game. With your hero(es) in tow, you'll drop down into a city map where icons indicate enemy encounters are available. Select one of the encounters and then you'll go into the up to three on three battles between heroes and villains.

Your attacks and defensive options are laid out on the screen while you have to keep an eye on yours and your allies' health and stamina (the latter can be managed by skipping an attack to recharge). Allies seem to mostly be recruited in battles at various story points—you might be taking on an enemy when the Black Widow will show up to lend a hand. After you take down the enemy, you can recruit that hero to help out in later fights. You can also train recruited heroes so that they can learn new abilities as well as get post-fight S.H.I.E.L.D. points from them or call them in using a Distress Call in fights. There's a pretty healthy roster of characters in the game right now, but Playdom promises more characters are on the way in the future.

Based on the version I played, there are quite a few tweaks to the formula which will keep things from becoming overly familiar if you've played a lot of RPGs. Part of it originates in the way that your inventory is managed, where essentially you can purchase offensive and defensive items through the game's shop in the middle of battle using gold which you've earned through combat (gold is one of a couple of types of currency that crop up throughout the game, and of course you can buy more with real money, if you're so inclined). So, say you're taking too many knocks from a Hydra agent with a bazooka, you can then jump into the store and buy health packs for your team to heal them right up. You can also send and request inventory items as gifts from people on your friends list.

The one real hitch to the whole experience right now is the non-combat interface which has the feel of early MMO menus, featuring a profusion of meters and icons. Pretty much all of them will be identifiable after some time with the game, but initially, it's a lot to take in and gives the impression that you'll be managing lots of resources (which, I guess is kind of the stock in trade for the social game industry).

Marvel: Avengers Alliance will launch sometime later this year from Playdom.

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