A common critique of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that many of its entries can feel like forgettable fluff: fine and fun in the moment, but will immediately vacate your head the minute those post-credit-scenes stop rolling. Avengers: Damage Control might come in an interesting format, but it would do little to assuage that critique.
A new VR experience being presented by The Void—the same outlet that helped bring ILMxLab’s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire to life—Avengers: Damage Control is set in a fascinating side-splinter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s a post-Endgame world, and you (alongside three other people who’ve just spent 10 minutes getting to know each other while being hoisted into VR headsets and backpacks that make you feel a bit more like those flamethrower Hydra goons from The First Avenger than they do Iron Man) are a visitor to one of several Wakandan Outreach Centres set up by King T’Challa to spread his people’s technological advancements to the wider world.
After being personally introduced by Princess Shuri (played once again by Letitia Wright in specially shot live-action footage), you’re tasked with testing out one of her design group’s newest experiments: an Emergency Response Suit. It’s...basically the Black Panther and Iron Man suits having a baby, a hybridisation of Wakandan and Stark Industries design tech to honour the legacy of the dearly departed Tony.
But after a hacking attempt on the Outpost’s network reveals that Ultron has made a shocking return to the world, you’re put into action as the latest recruits to the Avengers, blasting your way through the robotic hordes of Ultron’s drones to fight alongside the likes of Ant-Man, the Wasp, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and more (only some of which are voiced by their MCU counterparts).
And...really, that’s it. You shoot some Ultron drones, stretching your hands out (either one at a time or together for a more powerful, sniper-esque shot) to fire repulsor blasts, or lifting both of your forearms up to project a shield to avoid incoming damage. You’re ushered from one Avenger to the next, starting with an awkwardly extended trek through the Sanctum Sanctorum—made awkward mainly because you’re presented as walking down several flights of stairs to meet Doctor Strange despite traversing across a flat floorspace—before meeting up with Ant-Man, Wasp, and Spider-Man. After some more shooting, you hop onto a SHIELD Helicarrier above New York to take the fight to a gigantic Ultron, who you shoot pretty much like all the other robot drones you’ve been shooting in between these meet-cutes.
It’s satisfying to do all that robot shooting, of course—Damage Control’s mechanics are simple, but effective in making you feel like a facsimile of the Iron Avenger. But it’s still all very similar, and the interactions with various heroes are far too brief to make an impact between all the blasting—although Damage Control has its moments, like a visually-inventive moment of Pym-particle-based shrinkage that is incredibly cool to see in virtual reality, or a climactic assembly of Avengers that, while not quite Endgame, is a pleasing bit of fanservice. But that’s all Damage Control is: idle, empty fanservice, one that is set in a potentially interesting scenario for the MCU (how are our heroes at large coping in a world without the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow?) but does absolutely nothing with it.
Considering you essentially step into Tony Stark’s legacy, operating an Iron-Man-esque suit to shoot up a returned mistake from his own past—at the behest of a bizarre evangelisation of a man Shuri barely even knew, and wasn’t exactly entirely full of praise for from a scientific perspective—in the wake of his death, it’s kind of awkward that he’s barely even acknowledged in Damage Control, outside of a nod towards his company providing templates for Shuri’s new suits.
A VR game with an audience strictly limited to whoever can get to one of the Void VR locations across mostly the U.S. or Canada might not be the best place to interrogate the legacy of Tony Stark in the wake of his death, but that Damage Control does nothing with it feels less like an acquiescence to its video-game nature and more like a missed opportunity for some interesting storytelling.
It would’ve been nice, considering the spectacle involved in having to actually go to a place and get strapped up in an absurd amount of technology to even experience Damage Control, if it strived to be a bit more than a mindless shooting gallery. The Marvel films pride themselves on a sense of absurdist spectacle that celebrates the inherently grandiose drama of comic book superheroes—and it’s something that Damage Control can only briefly touch at times as it quickly ushers you from one shootout to the next (the exerience takes about 20 minutes, not counting the tech setup).
But at the same time, it’s easy to see why it goes for this broad, simplistic approach: VR is a daunting, disorienting prospect to newcomers, and the simplicity of standing still, holding your arm out, and blasting fake robots is an easy enough premise for anyone to grasp onto, even in this still relatively nascent format.
For many, it’ll be enough—like a lot of the Marvel movies themselves. But for those wanting something a little more Endgame than Age of Ultron, you might want to wait until you can bring Earth’s Mightiest home with you in the hopes that new PC and console game out next year can offer something meatier.
Avengers: Damage Control is available for booking at Void VR locations in the U.S. and Canada from now until sometime in early 2020.