Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch (Via Cloud Gaming)
A year ago, Square Enix’s partnership with Marvel brought us the Avengers game – a visually gorgeous but mechanically bland adventure with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, where the single-player campaign served as a dull lead-in to an even duller game-as-service multiplayer offering. It did not bode well for future collaborations.
Thankfully, the new Guardians Of The Galaxy title is almost the antithesis of that disappointing effort – a bright and breezy cosmic superhero romp that is entirely focused on its story and characters, without a whiff of wretched multiplayer or toxic microtransactions ruining the appeal. That story is pretty great too, starting off with an appropriately light-hearted monster heist before dragging the team into a battle against ominous galactic threats.
Essentially an action-RPG, players control Star-Lord – aka Peter Quill – while issuing action commands to the other members of the team. Tri-syllabic tree Groot serves a heavy defence role, whose default move restrains enemies allowing others to blast them. Rocket is all about heavy munitions, blasting entire areas. Stoic Drax deals punishing stagger attacks, while Gamora is focused on precise strikes with high damage. Their combined abilities make for an interesting and varied battle system, allowing for unique combo attacks as you mix and match skills across the whole team, or unite for whole-team attacks.
Generally, the combat in Guardians Of The Galaxy is fun, but it also feels increasingly over-complicated as more and more mechanics get layered on. Between controlling Quill – who alone has a mix of ranged shots, elemental special moves, and up-close melee attacks – issuing commands to the team, and keeping focus on what can be very visually busy fights, it’s too easy to lose focus and be overwhelmed. Healing is also a problem, as Quill picks up all health drops regardless of necessity, often leaving the team high and dry when they are needed.
This is frequently a genuinely funny game, with sparkling dialogue throughout.
While the line-up is taken straight from the MCU, this isn’t exactly the same team as the onscreen rogues. Instead, this is an essentially original incarnation, with different origins – early on, Rocket discusses that Drax and Gamora are new to the group – while also drawing on backgrounds and events from the original comics. There are plenty of Easter eggs for long-time fans as a result, including alternate costumes and references in game lore to past events from the printed page.
By combining the different incarnations of the team though, developer Eidos-Montreal is able to really focus in on the quintessential aspects of the characters. This is frequently a genuinely funny game, with sparkling dialogue throughout. While Quill will often have to make conversational choices – siding with one character in an argument, or choosing which teammate needs to serve as bait, for instance – the interactions that follow are always a delight. It’s impossible to play through the campaign and not fall in love with the entire cast.
What really impresses, though, is the effort Eidos-Montreal seems to have gone to for 1980s-infused authenticity. Beyond creating a whole new hair-metal band to provide a good chunk of the game’s soundtrack – Star-Lord, here the inspiration for Peter Quill’s codename – the rest of the playlist is filled with period-appropriate bangers from actual artists including Billy Idol, Soft Cell, and Bonnie Tyler, along with references to ’80s films (a Tron poster early on) and classic video games such as Pac-Man. It all adds up to help create Quill’s ‘Lost Boy’ persona, a man no less ripped out of time than Captain America, his only memories of home rooted in what is dated pop culture to us here in 2021. It’s a fantastic approach, and the expanded duration of a video game allows the developers to build this facet of the character beyond what Gunn was able to offer in the cinematic outings.
While Guardians is occasionally blighted with the same linearity as Avengers – there’s rarely merit in going off the well-indicated paths, beyond perhaps finding some scrap to use for crafting – the plot and the characterisation more than make up for it. There are a few moments where it feels as though Eidos-Montreal is trying too hard to dazzle players – mini-games layered into the main progression, sudden sliding-and-shooting moments, hacking challenges using Star-Lord’s tactical visor, and multiple other distractions – but the core is strong. Where Avengers left us reluctant to see more from Marvel’s gaming multiverse, Guardians makes us excited to see what might be next.