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Upon Guardians of the Galaxy’s reveal, trepidation spread throughout the industry. After all, the last Square-Enix published title hasn’t exactly fared well in the minds of gamers and critics alike, with Marvel’s Avengers being panned for its poorly implemented live-service approach. I’m happy to report that Guardians of the Galaxy opts for a different approach entirely, making comparisons to Avengers more apples to oranges than one to one. However, in solving many of Avengers problems, Guardians creates several of its own.
Immediately upon booting up Guardians, it is apparent how much love and care has gone into the world-building and characters of the game. Players are quickly treated to a breadth of easter eggs and explorable areas that do well to establish the direction of the title. Make no mistake: Guardians of the Galaxy is a single player, third-person action title that puts heavy emphasis on narrative and world-building.
That narrative is a primary focus for the core of the game. Special attention was paid to each of the Guardians to see that they felt genuine, with ample dialogue and strife between them serving to showcase the bond they share. This is not the Guardians of the MCU nor that of the comics. This is a team developed and written by Eidos-Montreal that feels wholly unique, with only inspirations drawn from their comic and film counterparts.
To that effect, the game intentionally starts slow with combat only making intermittent appearances in favor of dialogue and discovery. You’ll spend all of your time as Peter Quill in the debatable role of Star-Lord. None of the other Guardians are playable, however you’ll make use of their various abilities and strengths for the entirety of the game. Need to cross a wide chasm? Groot’s roots can provide. Need to scale a wall too tall for Quill’s boots to take him? Gamora can anchor herself and provide a boost. Rocket’s technical prowess will be used throughout as you find yourself met with any number of locked doors and upgrade benches.
Dialogue choices pop up often and offer their own consequences for the decisions you make. Relationships with supporting characters can change the outcomes of a battle or whether you must battle at all. How much you enjoy the dialogue will likely depend on how much you identify with these characters as there is ample talking. A. Lot. Of. Talking. There were long stretches of the game where I was bored as cut-scenes dragged to near Kojima levels of length.
Sincere effort was put into the writing, but at times the crude and crass nature of the dialogue combined poorly with how long the scenes carried on, making for some cringe-worthy moments. For example, you will hear the word “flark” far too often. Contrasting these crude moments will be heartfelt moments of warmth and sadness. Peter’s story sees him return to his childhood home and memories of his mother. You’ll be treated to pop culture references, many of which will leave fans grinning ear to ear while others will be much more subtle. A clear allusion to The Last Starfighter saw me jump out of my seat with glee, while another saw me nodding to a clear reference of DC Comics Kent farm.
The story itself, though, is needlessly complex and equally ludicrous. A space church leader is gathering “Faith Energy” in corporeal form from the universe and storing it in batteries. He’s also imbuing it into a child for some reason. The child’s significance is debatable throughout, but suffice to say her reveal would be considered a major spoiler to the team. Also, there’s an Infinity Stone.
Whatever. It’s the Guardians of the Galaxy, and they specialize in the absurd.
Players will be treated to a host of appearances by other Marvel characters relevant to the Guardians universe but should not expect to see an Avenger nor any of the X-Men. This is a Guardians of the Galaxy story through and through. That said, plenty of Marvel fans will squeal with delight at the arrival of various characters and voices in their nearly twenty-hour playthrough of the game. That time will vary based on your desire to explore environments for various resources to upgrade your weapons, shields, and boots at the workbenches strewn sparingly throughout the sixteen chapters of the game.
The combat, however, stands out as one of the game’s best features… provided you’re enjoying it in the latter half of the game. Each of the Guardians can be upgraded with skill points that accumulate as the team gains experience, and investing in yourself or your team members will be a constant choice to be made. These skill points serve to provide your characters with new moves to be used in battle. Groot’s ability to ping enemies down with his roots couples well with Rocket’s AOE bombs and Drax’s area clearing charge.
The problem, though, is that it takes far too long for these skill points to accumulate, and as a result the initial combat encounters feel very lackluster. Quill’s guns can often feel like you’re firing NERF darts at an enemy rather than the high powered Quad Blasters they’re made out to be. It’s only once you’ve leveled up each of the Guardians with their full arsenal that the combat feels as though you’re actually a band of super heroes.
The team combines for some fantastic battles, and there’s plenty you can do while swapping between the different attacks they’re afforded. Unlocking each character’s special brings about some incredible set-pieces as you’ll see Gamora darting in-between several enemies with her sword whilst Rocket unloads with an absolutely absurd cannon several times his size. All that to be capped off with Star Lord strafing the battlefield to cover Drax, whom you’ll see landing his massive daggers into a colossal beast. It can be surreal at times, making for some truly impressive heroic moments. That is, if you’re willing to invest the several hours it takes to get there.
On occasion, you’ll build combat multipliers enough that you gain the option to call a group huddle. In these sequences you’ll try your hand at rallying the group with a speech fitting that of Star-Lord’s most motivational dialogue. It falls flat every time, serving only to interrupt the flow of combat for an extended period which frustratingly does the exact opposite of its intended effect. At the very least, though, you’ll hear cool music as it all plays out.
Too sparingly used are combat sections that see players take control of the Milano and engage in dog-fighting. These sections towards the end of the game are very cool, visually impressive, and will make players long for the days of Rogue Squadron in space. It’s likely that many players will be reloading certain chapters just to enjoy some space fairing combat.
One of Guardians greatest strengths is undoubtedly the music. Players will witness many engagements enhanced thanks to the sultry tones of Rick Astley, Kiss, Twisted Sister, and a number of other 1980’s hit artists. Adding to that are ten original songs fronted by the band “Star Lord” created by Eidos-Montreal’s Senior Audio Director Steve Szczepkowski who leads the vocals. They rock. This fictional band from which Peter Quill takes his name genuinely makes some great tunes and is well worth a look for any rock fans.
The overall sound design is hit and miss, however. Quill’s guns feel limp not only for their limited effect, but for the flaccid sounds they make upon firing. Countering that, though, is the impressive voice acting by the entire cast. Top to bottom, from main characters to the most passive supporting cast, the voice acting is impressive. While the writing may be debatable among fans, nobody can deny that each of the actors threw themselves into their roles with gusto.
Fans are also in for a visual treat as well given the impressive lighting effects and character models for each of the Guardians. No doubt some will struggle with just how distinctly different Eidos-Montreal’s iterations of the Guardians are from their MCU counterparts. But once acknowledged, there’s no denying that sincere effort was made to do each character justice in their authenticity.
Each of the unlockable outfits is unique, with many taking clear inspirations from the comics or films. Not only that, but each of those outfits comes with a description of where that inspiration lay, being specific enough to list the month and issue number used for reference. This kind of detail is spread throughout the entirety of the Guardians campaign, including the Milano.
The Milano acts as the Guardians’ base of operation, which makes sense given how the story plays out. Each member of the team has their own room on the ship, and various collectibles gathered during missions will make their way back to the ship for Peter to interact with and gain insight to his adopted family. It can’t be understated just how much detail the developers have packed into these moments. Optional dialogue is available for players if they wish to learn more about the relationships between each of the team members which is particularly helpful in navigating the tension between the group that you’d expect while saving the galaxy.
Shout out to the Llama. Let’s leave it at that.
It should be noted that during the course of my playthrough I saw several moments of light flickering along with some odd clipping of the characters in certain environments. These occurred prior to the day-one patch and were not game breaking in the slightest, but I felt compelled to call them out.
Once you’re done with the campaign, you’re likely done with the game. A New Game Plus mode does exist, however, and you can certainly replay the story mode if you’re a fan. There’s a brilliant array of options with the in-game photo mode that can make for some dazzlingly impressive photos that many fans will likely spend a great deal of time with. Equally impressive are the accessibility options players can take advantage of from the onset. It’s fitting and appropriate that Eidos-Montreal makes the most of these options as they began accessibility customization several games ago, dating back to previous projects (most notably Shadow of the Tomb Raider).
No doubt, comparisons will be made with other Marvel projects, from Insomniac’s Spider-Man to Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers, but Guardians stands separate from them as its own beast. Some brilliant easter eggs pave the way for a sequel story to go anywhere in the Marvel Universe that Eidos-Montreal sees fit, and yet, they may not want to. Keeping the team confined to their own devices may better serve the writers if they choose to develop a sequel.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a good game. It doesn’t have the highs of Insomniac’s titles nor the lows of Marvel’s Avengers. There are pacing issues throughout that will no doubt turn some fans away. And yet, despite these flaws, it is apparent that this game was made with love and affection for the source material. The attention to detail cannot be denied nor should it be rushed through. Fans of super heroes have an enjoyable title here, and die hard Guardians fans will be enamored. For the rest of you, snag this one on sale and enjoy a third-person, narrative action title at your own speed.