Familiar costumes and catchphrases appear in lieu of anything approaching actual creativity, the actors looking slightly off, but not so off as to be completely jarring - so long as you squint. It's warm and familiar, and audiences laugh out of recognition, because some people are sufficiently stupid for that to be enough.
Anyway, that's what Marvel's Avengers kind of reminded me of. It's Marvel's Avengers: The Comedy Dinner Show.
"Don't mention The Infinity War! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it."
Except here you have to pay extra if you want Iron Man to do that bit where he falls through the bar.
Marvel's Avengers is a game of two halves, and both of them made my fingers stink.
The first half is a single-player campaign, in which neophyte fangirl superhero Kamala Khan/Ms Marvel - possessed of the ability to distend parts of her body revoltingly - becomes a catalyst for the reformation of The Avengers.
Barring a fun little prelude in which Kamala wanders around an Avengers fan convention - a display of obnoxious commercialism that is presented without even a dab of irony or self-awareness - the bulk of Marvel's Avengers is set five years after a disaster apparently killed Captain America, and reduced the iconic heroes to tramps/fugitives.
Ms Marvel embraces her Avengers fandom, and starts digging into the mystery of what happened - which ultimately leads to the band getting back together, and operating out of a downed SHIELD helicarrier, somewhere in Utah.
Khan serves as a nice introduction to the world of Marvel's Avengers, as well as being an engaging and sort of adorable character in her own right. Perhaps because hasn't yet appeared on the big screen, and therefore can't be compared to a live-action equivalent, she's one of the more successful choices they've made. Contrary to much of the marketing, this is very much her game.
Plus, hats off to them for not offering up yet another take on the whole Thanos/Infinity Stones storyline. What a shame, though, that the story they have gone for is simply there to prop up a tedious grinder/looter.
In practice, you find yourself travelling the globe, fighting robots - and occasionally a bona-fide supervillain - gradually adding to your roster of characters, and selecting from them before launching into missions.
Those missions? They take a long time to arrive. The first god-knows-how-many hours of Marvel's Avengers are one big tutorial. It takes a long time for the game to really get going. Once it does, it's... well, it's almost okay, sort of. But even though there's a lot of single-player campaign here, it nevertheless feels like a bot-assisted warm-up for the multiplayer Avengers Initiative, an exercise in familiarising you with the relative strengths and weaknesses of the characters.
The locations and enemies are repetitive - one A.I.M. base doesn't so much look like the others as have exactly the same layout. Your enjoyment will hinge upon your capacity for doing the same thing over and over again, and whether you're able to ignore the nagging feeling that a different sort of game would've better benefitted these particular characters.
Weirdly, there's no option to play the campaign co-operatively, which means if you want to play with your special friends, the Avengers Initiative is your only recourse.
The Marvel's Avengers multiplayer attempts to Do A Destiny/Anthem, but with superheroes. What this means is mission after mission after mission of much the same thing, and tolerance for that sort of thing varies from person to person. Sometimes you'll be defending a location or something, but it all pretty much equates to the same ceaseless combat.
It's a fairly uninspired grinder, and the reward for your patience is loot, which will upgrade your characters - briefly - until the next mission, wherein you pile into another wave of enemies, and find yet another new ribcage for Hulk (no... I've no idea either).
And then, for the umpteenth time, navigate the slightly confusing menu system in order to implement that loot. Daily and Weekly challenges are starting to roll out, and they've promised a ton of free content - including new characters (hello there, PS4-exclusive Spider-Man), but... what might be most alarming to many players are the microtransactions.
Each character starts off looking like a dead-eyed, background actor, version of their movie counterparts, in shop-bought cosplay, and if you want to get them looking more familiar, you will likely need to purchase - with actual money - cosmetic upgrades. In addition to costumes, you can buy whimsical emotes, which is, y'know, fine... but still leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
Yes: in this age when microtransactions have been deemed worse than spitting at a parson's car, Marvel's Avengers embraces them without any degree of shame. Can you get through the game without them? Well, yeah. You can. Credits can be earned to spend on stuff, and - thankfully - powering up your characters is done through the gameplay grind.
If you have the willpower, you can ignore the microtransactions entirely. What's harder to ignore, is how bland Marvel's Avengers is. How lacking in its own identity. How wrong the level designs feel. How ill-judged its entire structure is.
And, most significantly, how it suffers from game-breaking bugs, and a rubbish camera.
How badly busted is Marvel's Avengers? Get a load of this:
Early on, I had to guard a "node", while J.A.R.V.I.S. hacked into it or something, and waves of enemies teleported in. The first half a dozen or so times I attempted this, I got within a few percentage points of securing the "node" before failing. I couldn't understand why I kept failing - I hadn't died or anything - and then on a subsequent attempt I noticed that the enemies also had a percentage bar... and when theirs reached 100% before mine, I would fail.
Now that I knew this, I assumed I thought I could plan accordingly, except... in practice it meant that my strategy was exactly the same, because in every encounter of Marvel's Avengers you're only ever really expected to do one thing, and that thing is smash wave after wave of enemy robots. Except somehow, now that I'd noticed the enemy percentage bar, on every single subsequent attempt - bar the final one where I somehow succeed (but only after walking away from the game repeatedly, while swearing and kicking things) - the enemy percentage bar would fill up rapidly
Sometimes it seemed to fill up even before the enemies had teleported in. Was this a bug? Some arbitrary objective I wasn't aware of? I didn't know what was going on, and I still don't know what I did differently on that final attempt.
Marvel's Avengers is full of broken stuff like this. Elements that I'm not sure are an issue of unclear design, or sheer brokenness.
My first go using the world map, I spent 10 minutes scouring the globe for the mission start icon - which was supposedly on some tundra, and marked with an "A", but couldn't find it. I switched off the game (because, of course, I couldn't even quit out of the world map). When I went back, the icon had magically appeared, and I was able to start the mission.
Frequently, my characters would get stuck in ranged attack mode, which - in the case of Hulk - meant he would just manically rip stuff out of the ground. Not entirely out of character admittedly, but when you're being punched in the stomach by a robot, and your avatar's only response is to lob rocks at the horizon, it's an issue.
So, whichever way you look at it... it's broken, and that's before you get into the stuff which is, unquestionably an issue of design.
The characters, in isolation, all feel like their movie/comic counterparts. Their abilities, their move sets, even how they get around, are all faithful, though the outcome of their different attacks are largely the same.
The problems arise when you put them together. Essentially, Black Widow - a character who, in the real world, would be able to kick anyone up the anus - is supposed to be feeble next to The Hulk. However, for the game to feel balanced, they're essentially as powerful as one another. A Hulk smash deals more or less as much damage as a Black Widow slap. Admittedly, the variety of moves between characters is great, but in the midst of battle - and again, the battles are all largely the same - there's not a great deal between them.
Instead of structuring the single-player game to capitalise on the merits of the characters - say, giving stealth missions to Black Widow, and full-frontal assaults against enemy tanks to The Hulk - the nature of the genre they've gone for means they all need to be balanced out.
Add to this the mission arenas - big, open plan - lacking any focus, barring platformer-ish sections where you're getting from one place to another, and the nature of every mission being, basically, a chaotic brawl, results in so much of its potential becoming muddied.
That's the biggest issue with Marvel's Avengers: for a game featuring some of the most iconic characters ever created, it lacks a character of its own. It borrows from so many other games, without any real attempt to think about how best to serve these characters. Any one of them - especially Kamala Khan - would shine on their own, but by choosing to lump them all together in the way that they have, using this format of game, Marvel's Avengers feels completely wrong-headed.
It exists as a sort of halfway point between the comics and the movies, and on a couple of occasions a cutscene might even manage to capture the spirit of them. Unfortunately, whereas the recent Spider-Man and the Arkham games very much established their own tone and aesthetic, and worked hard to make you really feel like the character you were playing, Marvel's Avengers doesn't do that beyond the most basic efforts. It just wants to remind you of other things. Many other things. All bundled together and stuffed inside a box that used to contain something else.
Which has then been dropped down the stairs.
SCORE: 616 out of 1218