As far as intros go, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is right up there when stacked against the word “polish”. And it’s not just in the visuals, which are terrifically slick. Nor is it being able to listen to the entire debut album from the IP’s fictional Canada-based hard rock sci-fi-enthused lyricists, Star-Lord. An album, mind, you can also read the lyrics for, from an old-school inlay you jostle with while lounging on your bed in first-person. Oh, and if you’ve had enough of following the interstellar-inspired stories backed to wailing guitars, you can also pick up a recent edition of Rolling Stone magazine which features a double page spread on the up and comers you have blasting in your ears from your Walkman.
This is 13-year-old Peter Quill’s bedroom, and it is prototypical 80s teen at its best. Unnamed transformers, a Flying V axe and full stack setup, sci-fi posters and comics. A wookie figurine. There’s even a Samantha Fox-like poster on the wall alongside the requisite box of tissues beside the bed accompanied by a very full waste paper basket.
All of your movement and engagement in here is stunningly realistic, and throwback gorgeous and true, all at once (trust me, I was an 80s pre-teen). You can interact with a handful of items in the room and you have a great conversation with your mum, a single parent trying her best with a quasi rebellious kid. Oh, and your 13-year-old 80s mullet is the thing dreams are made of.
"This fits snuggly as part of the slowly-growing list of comic book videogame adaptations that get the respective license right...”
All of the above, which only plays out as long as you allow it, stands as a testament to the care and reverence taken with this outing as more than just a seeming cash-in on Marvel’s current world domination. The game itself transcends the films and the comics without ever forgetting they came first. This fits snuggly as part of the slowly-growing list of comic book videogame adaptations that get the respective license right, and in this instance where, when judged against Square Enix’s other team-based Marvel venture, Marvel’s Avengers, it really shouldn’t be as good as it is. Scratch that. As incredible as it is.
This is the real deal, gang, and as far as team-based action-RPGs go, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is right up there with the best of them.
In persistent celebration of all of the above, it must be said this game is heavy on story. But the measure of a good RPG, in my opinion, isn’t so much in how it drives you to pursue your next level, but in how it crafts a desire for the player to reach the next conversation, the next lore entry, the next narrative block, the next arc -- when you crave more dialogue and a deeper understanding of the world built around you, over hearing a pavlovian ding tied to numbers, the developer has won more than half the battle.
"The XP you gain throughout also isn’t specifically tied to a level per se, rather it all goes towards ability points which you can then invest in the team...”
What’s interesting about that is the RPG side of the game is very lite outside of story. You only control Peter as your main character, and use the rest of the Guardians to perform tasks in regular world progression, or abilities in combat. The XP you gain throughout also isn’t specifically tied to a level per se, rather it all goes towards ability points which you can then invest in the team. There are four abilities per character, while Peter has 15 perks you can unlock through the game’s fairly basic crafting system. This is powered through two types of components found out in the world, and perks can only be gained at the Workbench through Rocket.
In many ways, the other Guardians in combat are just living abilities you’d normally find on a deeper character in more in-depth RPGs, only here they talk back at you and can also fight pretty well autonomously. As with other actions of this ilk across the genre, a cooldown is applied to utilisation of them to avoid spamming, while each is disparate in use allowing for plenty of tactical recourse in how you go about the game’s utterly satisfying encounters setup. Groot, for example, is best used for crowd control, while Drax is your tank-style archetype. In continuing the trend, Rocket is ranged and Gamora could be classed as a Rogue-type.
"There’s even a Huddle you can perform to help buff the team mid-fight, provided you’ve met certain criteria...”
In addition to using your abilities wisely, the game rewards a more varied approach to combat. So spamming a certain style and not mixing things up will make that approach less and less effective every time. However, a solid mashup of everything in your arsenal gets you plenty of accolades and a bigger bump in XP rewards when the last foe has fallen. It’s a fairly unique approach to what isn’t the deepest of combat setups, and helps with its refinement, of which there’s a lot here. There’s even a Huddle you can perform to help buff the team mid-fight, provided you’ve met certain criteria. In these moments you have to pay close attention to what the others are saying. If they’re down and feeling defeated, you need to pump them up. If they’re flying high and feel invincible, you need to bring them back down to earth.
All of this is super-easy to digest and manage once you’ve been through a few skirmishes, and as I mentioned above it’s not super in-depth, but what’s there is thoughtful and engaging. And how it’s contextually delivered in macro through the game’s personality and micro with each of its characters is something that definitely ought to be applauded.
Sometimes simple is better, especially if that simplification feeds satisfaction and empowerment, which is entirely what happens in Guardians.
"And speaking of conversation, the writing in Guardians is absolutely top-notch, with lots of laugh out loud moments (with Drax in particular), while each voice actor delivers beyond stellar performances...”
As far as pacing and gameplay structure is concerned, the game itself is fairly linear in its narrative path. You have time on your ship, the Milano, to chat to each team member, and more conversation options will be made available if you find certain trinkets out in the world. These are also collectibles that wind up in the respective quarters of those they’re tied to, and all do an awesome job of peripherally filling in the world around you. And speaking of conversation, the writing in Guardians is absolutely top-notch, with lots of laugh out loud moments (especially with Drax), while each voice actor delivers beyond stellar performances. Rocket in particular is a standout from all aspects of the creative piece.
There’s a relationships system that comes with certain conversation decisions you make throughout the journey, and the game will prompt you often to take a side in one of the game’s myriad heated back and forths. It never gets tired and everything is delivered in a dynamic and fluid way, so you never feel like any outcome is a binary one based on the choice you made. It would have been good to have seen this fleshed out further, but honestly, my reasoning for that is it’s such an integral part of the experience I started to think of expansive ways it could have been elevated. At a base level though, it’s leagues above a lot of other titles attempting the same level of character and personality as Guardians.
"It’s an utterly stunning game with just a few hiccups here and there in performance with delayed texture loads, some pop-in and a bit of clipping, but none of that takes away from the experience...”
I honestly didn’t expect a lot with Guardians, but it had me right from the outset. It’s an utterly stunning game with just a few hiccups here and there in performance with delayed texture loads, some pop-in and a bit of clipping, but none of that takes away from the experience (and could easily be addressed in post-launch patches). And that’s the bulk of what I can express as negative. There’s always more that can be added to a concept, but in keeping the experience lite-on and directed, Eidos-Montreal has managed to bolster the game’s strongest component without getting bogged down in all of the could have beens.
"This is a pure videogame born from the paper and ink flesh of the comics before it, imagined as an interactive slice of the IP’s universe...”
There’s no cash-in on the overall success of the MCU here, or on the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in a standalone sense. This is a pure videogame born from the paper and ink flesh of the comics before it, imagined as an interactive slice of the IP’s universe. And it absolutely works. The action-RPG lite approach was conclusively the right decision to make, which allows the game’s absolute strength: its story and characterisation, to truly stand out. This is a surprise hit for me, and one of the most enjoyable games from a written and performed perspective you’ll play this year.
What we liked
Some of the best writing of a comic book videogame ever
Stellar performances from all voice actors
Incredible art-direction and stunning visuals
A simple yet elegant combat system
Fantastic pacing with an emphasis on characters first
What we didn't like
Some performance issues here and there
Some worlds can feel a bit emptier than they ought to have been