After the whole Marvel’s Avengers fiasco, I was skeptical of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Like many, I was feeling burnt by one of the hottest properties. What should have been a sure-fire bet given the popularity the series is based on, ended up being a dud. Given how big the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown over the last decade, it was inevitable the success wouldn’t waterfall to video games. So, when Eidos Montreal revealed their latest project, I was equally excited and cautious. It wouldn’t be the first property I’d think of bringing to life as a video game, but I’m glad it’s the next series to enter the medium.
I yielded to my concerns after spending the last week aboard the Milano with Drax, Gamora, Star-Lord, Rocket and Groot. Unlike Avengers, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a full-fledged single-player experience, with a loot box, microtransaction, or lobby in sight. In fact, the game is something of a rarity given how few linear AAA experiences seem to be releasing these days and is a refreshing change for the space given how often we’re left exploring overstuffed fictional worlds.
It’s Star-Lord, Man
From the earliest moments when the game kicks off with a look at young Peter Quill at home with his mother, where we see the young hero combing through an old Rolling Stone magazine with the band Star-Lord on the cover. Eidos Montreal fires in all cylinders giving us a peek at Peter’s backstory from the start. There are some sweet moments between Peter and his mother, who states she’s a cool mom and how Peter’s father would attend concerts with her and jam out on the hood of her car. My favourite thing about this segment is how authentic and familiar Peter’s bedroom is with a Tron poster on the wall and the ColecoVision on the floor with a dozen games, comics, and soda on the desk. But the kicker is the wood panel walls I remember from my childhood at a relative’s home and the attention to detail packed into the game is pretty neat.
The Marvel brand isn’t the easiest to adapt, even the films have had to change the lore to fit the situation. In most cases, it’s been a successful change that fans, for the most part, have reacted positively to. Games, on the other hand, are a whole other beast and come with their own pitfalls. As far back as I can remember, we’ve had superhero tie-ins that were clearly phoned in. Over the last decade though, the shift to telling exciting, engaging, and fun experiences has led to games like Marvel’s Spider-Man and Injustice.
I knew was within the first two hours I knew the experience would be special. Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t the Avengers. It’s a smorgasbord of 1980s metal, comic books, and a dysfunctional team dynamic that only this group of misfits offer. Just like the movies from James Gunn, the music is sublime and the full soundtrack is an audible treat that is essentially its own personality. This isn’t just a playlist meant to be background music, it’s as much of a part of the team as anyone else.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is an exciting, linear experience that captures the essence of the group
Being who they are, the Guardians establish a crashing tide of events that sets the Universal Church of Truth after them, threatening the universe. This cult wants to bring their ideology to the universe, which if successful, will restore things lost during the Galactic War.
Along the way to stopping the Universal Church of Truth, the Guardians of the Galaxy will run into the Nova Corps, they’ll also encounter the Worldmind, a massive supercomputer composed of the minds and memories of the entire Xandar civilization.
This is where the Guardians need to step up and make things right, but it won’t be easy and will be the toughest challenge the team has faced up to this point. Together, the team explores the galaxy while meeting dozens of interesting characters along the way.
What I found enjoyable about the way Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy unfolds is it doesn’t rely on a massive open world packed with activities and collectibles. This is a linear experience that captures the essence of the heroes for hire, giving us a well-executed story, one that doesn’t overstay its welcome. I wish more games relied less on trying to create worlds packed with things to do and focuses on telling a story without a ton of gristle.
Never Gonna Give You Up, Never Gonna Let You Down
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is entirely single-player. In combat, you control Star-Lord while instructing your team to use their prowess in battle at any given time, and while it may sound disappointing you only control one character, it’s a ton of fun. You have to direct the team to overcome challenges as the pandemonium unfolds across the galaxy.
Star-Lord uses dual elemental pistols and is able to lock onto targets. One tap of the D-Pad and you can freely swap between ice, lighting, wind, and fire. Star-Lord’s pistols don’t have any ammo to worry about; instead, they will overheat if overused but also uses an active reload mechanic. A mix of melee, team and ranged attacks is the key to building enemy stagger gauges. If I could compare combat to any other game, it would be Final Fantasy VII Remake — which sounds like hyperbole but it isn’t. While it isn’t as heavily focused on navigating menus, issuing commands and tasks from a radial menu is about as close as it gets, and it works well.
You can request assistance from your team by issuing orders to them. In some cases, you can even choose sides when talking with your team and elements of Telltale’s Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy make their way back with your team remembering things you say and do. Surprisingly, the AI adjusts on the fly and always comes through in a clutch. Groot’s abilities include being able to constrict opponents in place, giving you the freedom to rain attacks down on them. Gamora uses her assassin abilities to deliver major damage. Drax’s specialty is building the enemies’ stagger gauge while dealing light damage.
Kickstart my Heart
Building your momentum meter allows you to huddle up with your team and as Star-Lord needs to say the right thing to your team. If you end up saying the right thing like “Laugh in the face of danger”, the entire team gets a damage buff, otherwise, only Star-Lord gains the benefit of the huddle by saying “Don’t get cocky, just because we know the game.” You can even use your cassette player to jam out to classic hair metal from the 1980s and really get the team excited for the battles ahead.
Guardians mode allows each member to contribute to exploration. Groot can build bridges from his limbs allowing the team to move forward and Rocket can hack into terminals, maneuver vents and overall sass Peter on everything happening. Each Guardian operates on a cooldown, leaving you unable to spam their moves against enemies, encouraging you to think through a situation rather than rely on brute-forcing your way through a situation.
Spread around each area are basic and advanced components used to craft new perks. Rocket will help you at a workbench to unlock new abilities and skills like rapid reload, low life buff, or charged shot. I found a lot of the moves Peter learns to be downright exciting to use in battle, some might offer charged shots, melee kicks and uppercuts, with his wit and prowess making short work of the various enemies the Guardians face.
Peter can scan the environment and pick up lore about each area. These explain and enhance the world by offering digestible tidbits whenever you’re left to your own devices. Star Lord’s visor gives off a red hue used to discover and explore the area around the team by looking at the surroundings.
There’s just so much happening in the game and with so many systems unfurling I find everything to be well-balanced. Every choice I made speaking to the team or how I gave instructions on the job, even when exploring the world — my decisions shaped my experience and I was rewarded by my choices with some cool moments. And somehow, even with so much happening at once, the more time I spent playing the game, I more I found myself feeling confident in battle.
Furthermore, Eidos Montreal establishes a familiar but different Guardian team where both movie and comic fans will find a team worth rooting for. My biggest concern was expecting the characters to be caricatures but I was happy this wasn’t the case. There are some wonderful performances by the actors who often drive home the characters. Rocket in particular is a standout throughout the entire campaign and one of my favourite Guardians.
A lot of the magic between the heroes happens on the Milano, the home of the Guardians. A good comparison would be comparing Mass Effect’s Normandy, being able to check in with your friends, exploring the ship and finding a space that truly feels lived-in. Even stopping by the jukebox to listen to the fictional band Star-Lord keeps things fresh, you can learn a lot about your team on the ship and see some neat easter eggs while rifling through each bedroom on the Milano.
One of the biggest issues I’ve encountered while playing is where cutscenes are often hit with a delay and the scenes are affected by the poor timing on lip sync. However, this seems to have been alleviated during my review period given I was about two-thirds of the way finished when the day one patch was released. The gameplay’s been smooth on current-gen hardware and I haven’t noticed anything of concern for players.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is an unexpected surprise that’s been on the radar for less than six months. Eidos Montreal’s take on the miscreant misfit is one of the most authentic takes in some time and the writing elevates the performances. Combat has a lot to offer but you’ll need to pay attention and work as a team to overcome the challenges and it’s particularly refreshing there’s no open world to worry about, giving us a cohesive campaign that cuts out a lot of the bloat. Everything about Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy could have gone terribly wrong like the Avengers, instead, it delivers one of the most surprising and entertaining games this year.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]