After Square Enix announced its latest Marvel game during June’s E3 2021, Guardians of Galaxy has had a level of anticipation weighing on its shoulders. The hope that the game caters to fans who enjoy the Marvel films while selling a new take on these characters is a big one. On the other hand there is the pressure in appealing to those who’ve never engaged with any media involving Peter Quill and his band of rogues altogether.
As a single-player third-person adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy harbours many similarities with games that have come before. However, these familiar ingredients when combined with the game’s signature cast of characters, along with the gameplay tweaks that come with them, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy manages to be a truly unique experience – one that’s surprisingly as deep as it is fun to play.
What’s the Premise?
When things go awry, five misfits follow a chain of motion of events which results in the fate of the galaxy itself being at stake. All whilst needing to grow both individually and as a team in order to save the day. If you’re at all familiar with the characters of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy property then you know what to expect here.
Players who’ve only seen the Guardians in the MCU films will immediately feel comfortable with the identical cast of characters. Simultaneously, there’s something new offered with an alternate history that lines more with the comics than the team’s cinematic counterparts. Peter Quill’s is notable from the get-go with an entirely different parental heritage, a completely non-Chris Pratt appearance, and a more seasoned-but-still-carefree persona.
Comparatively, Rocket is still equipped with a jaded short temper and unfiltered sense of humour. Drax remains a muscle head who doesn’t understand metaphors. Gamora carries the same sharp-yet-guarded wit. Groot’s still a talking tree who can only say, well, “I am Groot”.
Do I Need to Be a Fan of the Films?
Still, even the most uneducated newcomer who’s never hasn’t heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy won’t get lost for long. Within the first few minutes on the Milano, Peter Quill and co’s spaceship base, the personalities and dynamics between each member soon shine through – with banter-laced exposition drops filling you in on the necessary story beats. Otherwise, the in-game menu features the Galactic Compendium, giving you everything you need to know on the characters, factions, planets, and the histories that come with them.
Throughout its 16 one-to-two hour chapters, Guardians of the Galaxy is an absolute rollercoaster ride of action, humour, and sci-fi drama. What starts as a casual monster hunt gradually becomes more and more off-the-wall, taking them to various planets and unique environments, all featuring a fantastic selection of intriguing alien races and a charismatic selection of characters; with narrative twists and turns that’ll even surprise some fans of the franchise.
A welcome surprise at the game’s announcement was the decision-making mechanic. Following its preview demo, dialogue options and teammate interactions resulted in RPG titles like Mass Effect being thrown around in critical comparisons. Now with the full version of the game, another impressive find was that not only can you optionally engage with your team between missions to learn more about them, but certain choices can alter the course of following chapters entirely.
An example is a particularly large choice made in the game’s early hours. In this case, picking Groot or Rocket to sell to a monster collector. Cutscenes play out differently, sure, but then the following mission becomes either a fortress-wide battle with guns blazing, or a stealth-infused heist mission. Not all choices carry the same weight, but there are others that can affect a character’s fate altogether. Those possibilities add a sweet layer of pressure to every decision. Instant replay value is another inarguable resulting benefit as well.
Sweet, sweet character development
No matter where the journey takes them though, it’s the relationships between this lovable band of misfits that keeps the adventure going.
As in other media, each Guardian is a flawed individual with a checkered past and scars to bear. Both literally and figuratively. Films and comics have usually done a good job of fleshing out those issues. But, it’s not until being in the broad scope of an action-adventure video game that each passenger on the Milano’s character development has been given the time to properly breathe. Letting even small optional-yet-meaningful conversations feed into the main story relationship with that character.
Although layered with humour and other vices as means of escapism, their issues organically and steadily come more towards the surface. Rocket’s trauma at the hands of experiments, Drax’s twisted grief, Gamora’s depression. Even Peter succumbing to the pressures of being a leader. Each have their own arc which all wonderfully come together as part of the main story. Part of an out-of-this-world tale, these space faring heroes are metaphorically dragged down to earth. Personalities clash. The tension felt throughout the particular levels is palpable, fuelled by a gripping sense of drama. And yet, the narrative still manages to effortlessly tread that fine line between intensity and comedy. Never do the next steps in a chapter feel misplaced with one element over the other.
Each tidbit of character development is a delight to watch – seeing your efforts into reaching out to each of your friends paying off. Then, it’s how they’re incorporated into the Guardians growing into a fully fledged team as a whole, that’s all the more heartwarming. Some of the levels you traverse with your team can feel a little bit too long. Nevertheless, it’s thanks to the Guardian’s ever-evolving banter and bonding that keeps the adventure continuously refreshing.
What’s the gameplay like?
This Guardians of the Galaxy story could make a compelling comic or series alone. So its multifaceted gameplay that much bigger of a bonus. Each level in Guardians of comes with a mix of exploration, combat, and puzzle-solving. Of course, there’s the ribbing between you and your fellow Guardians keeping you entertained along the way. A tool you’ll use a lot is the toggle to Quill’s highlighting the next path forward, collectibles, and crafting components. Displayed in a Batman Arkham-verse Detective Mode manner, you’re incentivised to explore each area as much as possible.
Another is a command system that players of other series, like Mass Effect and Final Fantasy, will be able to pick up very easily. Each Guardian has their own strengths and skills, the latter of which you unlock more of with skill points and crafting components. It’s up to you to determine how and where to utilise your teammates most effectively – causing successful combos to feel like a triumph.
What kind of skills?
For example, Groot’s ideal for crowd control – letting you immobilise multiple enemies at once, to simultaneously strike with one of Rocket’s long range grenades. Alternatively, Gamora is ideal for singular, high-damage attacks. Meanwhile, Drax delivers stagger damage, leaving bad guys more vulnerable to follow-up attacks. Star-Lord himself has his own abilities, including jet boots and elemental guns – the latter of which is essential for hitting certain enemies with their weakness to stun them more easily.
Guardians of the Galaxy’s gameplay similarities to other games is apparent. Even the animation when picking up crafting components feels identical to the same in 2018’s God of War. Surprisingly, all of that actually works in this game’s favour. Instead of needing time to pick up new basic mechanics, you learn how to make most of each Guardian’s attacks. As a result, you can execute the best and most deadly combos that much quicker.
Each AI companion can fight on their own – in a way tailored to their personality. They just won’t be anywhere as useful without your command. In a full-on, often chaotic battle, taking on foes yourself whilst avoiding damage, also being aware of what companion attack to use, where and when – it’s a lot to take in. Like the Guardians themselves as a team, you’ll stumble and take a few hits. Sooner than later, as you get more in-tune with Peter and his comrades, the muscle memory kicks in, making you feel like a complete powerhouse and each encounter more of a blast.
The cherry on top is the unique huddle mechanic. This is a featured command that gives you the opportunity for a pep-talk and team-wide power-up. In it, the other Guardians give you their impressions on the battle so far. Then, you pick the right response to either psyche them up or reign in their overconfidence. Pick the right answer, and the whole team delivers higher damage with shorter cooldowns. Making it better is it’s all to the sounds of an audibly delicious selection from the game’s 80’s-featured soundtrack. I’ll never get tired of blasting monsters in the face, commanding Drax to throw a giant rock on someone’s head, to the melody of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Iconic.
Speaking of Tunes…
Music, specifically 70’s to 80’s pop and rock, has been a big part of the Guardians brand. This game’s take on the heroes is no different. That’s courtesy of a varied and grand selection of songs in its soundtrack. KISS, Iron Maiden, Hot Chocolate, Gary Newman, Bonnie Tyler, and many more; along with successful huddles, can be played after successful Huddles or anytime whilst on the Milano. It’s unfortunate these can’t be played anytime. All the same, having such a diverse soundtrack for downtime and key moments in combat is still a delight.
Having such a large amount of licensed music playing at certain times is nice. Of course, though, it’s a content creator’s nightmare for copyright claims. So, the audio setting’s Streaming Mode is a fantastic addition. This mode turns off any licensed music, leaving only the selection of the game’s own tracks. A handful by the game’s fictional and Peter’s namesake band, Star-Lord. On the other hand, the absence of more substitute stock music made for some empty moments in the game. In a particular spaceship chase during one of the early acts, one of the licensed rock tracks was replaced with mere silence. With no copyright-friendly replacement, it made the sequence that much more lacklustre.
Look and Performance on PS5
Despite playing without the upcoming patch that includes ray-tracing for current-gen consoles, Guardians is still visually impressive. Its well-made style from character models and plethora of environments they adventure in are made even better in 4K 60FPS. It might not be the most graphically stunning title on the market altogether. Nonetheless, the detail that’s gone into each level really immerses you into a futuristic galaxy that’s been scarred by war. It’s brimming with life and futuristic tech, that’s also worn down and rustic.
The post-release patch will include more detailed haptic feedback for the DualSense. At the time of this review though, Guardians of the Galaxy’s DualSense integration still provided some great sensation whilst playing. Integrated into Star-Lord’s abilities like the trigger resistance during the Rapid Reload, the haptic feedback so far makes Guardians’ combat all the more satisfying.
Where the game does falter sadly, is with the large motley of technical bugs encountered throughout the playthrough. The odd glitchy alien corpse could be forgiven. Unfortunately, there are numerous instances of shaky animation transitions, frame rate drops, and being trapped in place. The latter of which needing me to reload to the last checkpoint. All are detrimental to the immersive experience many more times than one would like. Although having the recent Day One patch installed, I was still met with Gamora doing glitchy star jumps in front of me whilst trying to shoot an enemy down. In the grand scheme of things, these are nothing the next patch (and maybe the one after that) couldn’t fix. It doesn’t hamper the overall vision of Eidos-Montréal either. Howbeit, it does seem like Guardians of the Galaxy could’ve used an extra week or two in the oven.
After the credits roll and you’re back on the main menu, you might feel an immediate draw to jump right back in at the start of Guardians of the Galaxy on New Game Plus. That’s understandable. That’s because the tale of Star-Lord and his dysfunctional family of former-criminals hits hard in multiple ways. Dealing with assorted forms of grief, reeling from the consequences of our actions, and facing the unknown with impossible odds.
Magnificently, Eidos-Montréal also captured the light at the end of those dark tunnels. Support from your friends, laughter, music, adventure, and life. It’s about making the most of what you have left with who you have left; and most importantly, kicking ass together.
There’s some frequent but minor performance issues aside. Be that as it may, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most enjoyable games you’ll play all year. You might have never gotten into one of the comics or films. Still, there’s something in this space-adventure epic for everyone. You could wait until the last of the technical creases are ironed out, but none ruin the core experience. If you’re looking for a game that’s brimming with heart in both story and gameplay, this is one for you.
A PS5 copy of the game was provided by PR for review purposes.