Different entertainment mediums tend to have their own appeal to varying audiences, and where interactivity meets storytelling in videogames, it can be a delicate balance to achieve. For Square Enix and Eidos Montreal’s Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, characters and narrative shine brightly like an Infinity Stone, with gameplay that flatters to deceive.
With the green light given to mould their own version of the space-faring team, the developers definitely took advantage of that freedom. Not only are we getting an original story that is full of references and characters that will make a comic fan giddy, but also Guardians that feel more like their counterparts in the comic books than the movies. These are individuals that are increasingly fleshed out the more you invest, and that is a good thing.
It is quite similar to jumping into an established universe, be it comics or the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large. If you are only here for a bit, your takeaway is going to be much different as opposed to someone who is reading all the main runs and even the offshoot adventures. Suffice to say, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is designed to be the latter’s dream.
Picking things up 12 years after a massive galactic war waged by the Chitauri, the state of things is in disarray. Lacking order and peace, it is here where Peter Quill a.k.a Star-Lord and his crew, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot attempt to make a name for themselves and of course, profit.
Safe to say, there are going to be predictable moments, twists, as well as turns as you go on a 14-16 hour journey with this ragtag bunch of heroes. However, it does little to take away from the fact that this is storytelling that plunges its claws deep, driving you to keep going all the way to the end.
There are some instantly iconic moments that will impress and shock, cliffhangers that are satisfying to see through, and more of that lighthearted banter that is now signature for this group.
Players will meet curious creatures, forge bonds with familiar allies like Cosmo the dog and maybe the Nova Corps, or go up against the might of opposing forces such as Lady Hellbender or Grand Unifier Raker and the Universal Church of Truth. At the same time, just like our heroes, you will be growing alongside them, learning to appreciate the nuance and depth to each, and transforming into a well-oiled machine worthy of the moniker.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy definitely benefits from its extended runtime compared to the movies, just think of it as a proper comic run. This is a narrative that preps a great foundation, peppered with gratifying payoffs, and an ending that sets things up nicely for the future, and championed by characters that are engaging and fun to be around.
It would be hard to imagine how this is all possible without the fab five. Aside from the storytelling perspective, the Guardians all figure heavily in the combat, puzzle-solving, and exploration aspects of the game, with varying degrees of success. Unlike Crystal Dynamics’ Marvel’s Avengers, players don’t get to control every member of the team. Instead, they can only take on the role of the de-facto leader, Star-Lord.
As the so-called leader, Star-Lord abilities in combat are more towards setting up everyone else for success. His blaster shots are competent enough in the early stages, but it is only when the elemental shots come into play does he become more of a force to be reckoned with. Whether you are freezing enemies, shocking them for crowd control, burning down more hardy foes, or pulling someone closer using wind, it then allows the crew to come in and finish the job most of the time.
If you are looking at area damage and control, the pair of Rocket and Groot is your best bet. The former has a bunch of explosive grenades that can deal hefty damage, immobilise enemies, or make them more susceptible to Stagger damage, while the latter can hold foes in place and crush them, or send unwitting opponents launching into the air with some sharp branches.
For the hardier combatants, Drax is your go-to Destroyer. His various abilities deal significant stagger damage, and can open up otherwise impenetrable defences to more hurt from the rest of the team. As for hurt, Gamora is your best bet at dealing much of the killing blows, with her skills meant to target one or a few foes and dishing out the pain.
Your ability to spot weaknesses and take advantage of them will figure into your success in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. By combining synergistic abilities and using the environment, your heroes can bring down dangerous enemies in a stylish banquet of death. On the flip side, if you are not adept at reading the situations and unleashing the right skills at the right time, it can be hard to enjoy the combat.
The decision to go with just Star-Lord being playable is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Eidos Montreal gets to show off the beauties of a cohesive team and no one gets left out of the fun, but on the other, you will have to micromanage to a certain extent to achieve success and things will only get more hectic as you unlock newer skills and battle more difficult obstacles.
There are also other systems at play during combat, like the Momentum mechanic. Essentially, you need to always be doing something to keep busy, such as pulling off combos, exploiting weakness, or using environmental dangers to cause damage. The better you do, the more likely the Guardians can utilise a fatal team attack, or reduce the efficiency of an opponent by disabling one of their advantages.
An early example is the Grenadiers, who come packed with shields and annoying shocking grenades. If you do not want to be constantly stunned, then they should be your topmost priority. You can use Drax to stagger them and bring the shields down for a window to deal damage, or if Momentum is with you, a special attack becomes available where their shield generator is taken out for good.
Throughout Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, there are always opportunities to pull off such moves as long as you are keeping up Momentum. The added XP bonus at the end of encounters is also a nice carrot to motivate players to be involved.
Then there are the times where you might find it hard to keep fighting, which makes it perfect to call a team Huddle. Sure, it may seem weird for everyone to come in for a pep talk when they are obviously fighting dozens of foes, but such silliness works when it is this particular team.
By listening to what the team has to say, you will have to pick the right dialogue option to either inspire them or get them to refocus. The added charm of Star-Lord using song lyrics to do so is just the cherry on top. Get it done correctly, and everyone gets reduced skill cooldowns, their health restored, and all ready to do battle. Fail, and only Star-Lord gets the buff. Clearly, there are certain elements from the movies borrowed here, but it adds to the team’s uniqueness that audiences have come to know.
As mentioned, learning and mastering all of these elements is key to enjoying the main bulk of the gameplay in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The cohesiveness in which the various systems work when everything is in place makes for an enjoyable time, even if you are battling a somewhat small pool of enemies. Just like most things, the more you practise, the better you will get.
Outside of the fisticuffs, the light platforming and puzzle elements also make use of the Guardians sufficiently. Need to create a bridge out of nowhere? Groot has you covered. Electronics are Rocket’s things, Drax’s strength is unparalleled, while Gamora is all about high-flying maneuvres. Such implementation may not be essential, but it does feed into the whole team concept well.
Heading off the beaten path is also highly encouraged within the confines of the various chapters and locations you will visit. Here, you might uncover more resources to unlock new combat perks for Quill, additional costumes that can evoke more Guardians’ nostalgia, or more importantly, artefacts that bring about deeper conversations back on the Milano.
It is such hidden souvenirs that provide an eye-opening into the intricacies of this version of the Guardians of the Galaxy. For those that are not keen on uncovering such secrets, you are missing out on some key character moments that will allow you to appreciate every one of our heroes even more.
Making the decision to keep such character development optional could not have been easy, but it sure makes the payoff much sweeter for invested players.
That said, the main meat of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy remains an ever enticing meal that has pleasantly surprised. With combat an interesting and strategic mix, broken up by exploration and visits to exciting locations of lore, this is a comic book come to life in your hands. The game goes further by involving the player in various dialogue options and pivotal decisions, each that can potentially shape how your adventure will turn out.
While those changes may just be facing lesser enemies or learning new information, there are definitely key moments that you can see your own influence on the events to come. It is no Mass Effect, but being even remotely close to that experience is praise well enough when it comes to fleshing out characters and making decisions matter.
On the visuals and sound design aspects, the game looks absolutely gorgeous during cutscenes, although lip-syncing can be a hit or miss. The various worlds and locations are well realised, even without the ray-tracing that will be added post-launch.
Audio is in the same boat, with a Day-1 patch set to improve things further. However, the banging 80s soundtrack is amazing to listen to, complementing the mood of the story well, and pumping players full of adrenaline for the action to come.
There has always been some apprehension when it comes to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, especially with the direction Marvel’s Avengers is taking. Yet, it is perhaps this lowered expectation that allows this game to shine even brighter on its own merit. The gameplay might not be as strong as the tale being told, but it is still excellent in the grand scheme of things.
For an adventure that players can call their own, with Guardians moulded by their own hand, Square Enix and Eidos Montreal have successfully added another substantial chapter to the legacy of this outfit. Needless to say, we cannot wait to suit up for hopefully another chapter of such galactic goodness.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The legendary band of misfits embarks on an adventure that is largely successful on all fronts, marking a new chapter for the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 9/10
Presentation - 8.5/10
Value - 8/10