It really is a great feeling when a video game you thought nothing about winds up being better than you ever thought it would be. Such is the case for Eidos Montreal’s Guardian of the Galaxy game, which is a rather good time when compared to that other Marvel video game with the super team that has superpowers. It’s also a competent third person action-adventure romp when compared to most anything in video gaming as well. It’s a case of serendipity being the best of muses, and with Guardians of the Galaxy, you definitely don’t get what you expected.
If you’re like me, my expectations were on yet another phoned in cash grab from a studio that was in over its head handling an intellectual property, especially one that is now owned by the big D (that being Disney) and Marvel. The Marvel Avengers game left a lot to be desired, and for many the fact that it was the Crystal Dynamics branch of Eidos that delivered what we currently have was shockingly jarring. This is the team that gave us the amazingly well-crafted Tomb Raider reboot series trilogy after all. Surely, they couldn’t mess up something like the Avengers, right? Avengers unfortunately turned out to be a disappointing loot-based action-adventure game complete with an archaic leveling up system and an awful microtransaction heavy path that soured many and caused the community to leave the game flat out after its initial months. Tone deaf responses to this leveling path and microtransactions further upset the community and I’m certain the only people left playing this game are the developers themselves and the people they’re currently forcing at gunpoint to play it. Avengers was just capital “B” bad.
So, when Square Enix showed off Guardians of the Galaxy during one of its digital press offerings, there was an initial reaction of uneasiness. One small sign of hope was that this game was being developed by the Eidos Montreal branch (the Deus Ex guys) and not Crystal Dynamics. What was shown seemed decent enough, but it wasn’t stellar or amazing and overall looked like yet another superhero game. From the initial opening chapters and throughout the game’s climax, a multitude of emotions had hit thanks to excellent writing from the development team. I now realized why they didn’t showcase a lot of the game in trailers or teasers and instead chose to focus on the earlier sequences instead as to not spoil the more emotional moments. The stuff that comes out of Guardians of the Galaxy hits a surprising degree of gravitas, hitting home on the themes of trust, loss and teamwork to name a few. The game starts off with a teenaged Peter Quill remembering his mother, and frequently returns to this memory as an emotional anchor that turns him into someone more likeable; more so than the cinematic counterpart. I laughed, I cried, and I laughed some more at this iteration of the GotG and daresay I probably enjoyed this romp with them more than the two films they’ve been in over on the MCU side of things. I chalk that up to being able to spend more time with them across what is your average 12–15 hour single-player campaign, which is roundabout what this game’s runtime is across 16 chapters of sci-fi cosmic Marvel goodness. If you know what a Quasar is and who the Blood Brothers are, then you’re in for a real treat with all the easter eggs, cameos and set pieces the game throws at you.
What I loved best about the story is the occasional dialogue option prompts that popped up during cinematics and even exploration. As you explore the game’s many planets and space stations you’ll engage with the rest of the team and other characters in running commentary. The only choices that seem to matter are any that are made during the set-piece sequences that have a small effect on the larger narrative on display. Sometimes there will be funny quips and insults back and forth and others some endearing comments made about something you did. There are even pop ups like, “Rocket will remember this,” that give a similar feel to the TellTale Games style of narration. There is a ton of dialogue in this game, most of it thankfully funny. It all fits the tone established by the GotG films for sure and does enough to make it its own version that you’ll notice and appreciate it. Characters are expressive and the overall story does come across as very cinematic. Much like how the Insomniac Spider-Man game is the best movie we’ve never gotten, Guardians does a lot to make it feel right at home as an off-shoot of the MCU films, and the game’s narrative puts it above the films thanks to the more fleshed out nature a video game can offer.
What appears to be a standard third person action-adventure game is really an Action RPG in disguise, and there are some Deus Ex influences within this game in terms of upgrade paths and skill trees and the like. You’ll play as Quill the whole way through, with the rest of the squad mapped to context sensitive actions depending on what is happening onscreen. During exploration, Groot can create bridges, Rocket can get into tiny crawlspaces, Gamora can cut things down to allow for better traversal, etc. This also extends into the combat as each NPC has a cooldown attack to allow you to combo damage together or give you some breathing room as you figure out which enemies to prioritize when to go all in on a combo attack. The combat is serviceable if a bit repetitive at times and some of the longer fights against hordes of standard enemies and even some boss fights can feel a bit tedious. The combat is really simplistic mostly because you’re funneled into arenas where you encounter swarms of enemies who can sponge up a lot of damage, which can make these encounters drag. Thankfully the context moves look very cool, big numbers fly out everywhere and my personal favorite mechanic is the Huddle. When you’ve built up enough meter, the Huddle acts as a power boost of sorts, wherein you must first literally huddle with your team and offer words of encouragement. Pump them up enough, and you’ll have a full squad damage boost. Only a mild encouragement? You’ll at least personally get the damage boost. It’s fun when it pops up as its both a breather as well as a powerup. Combine all this with the skills and perks you can equip to make Quill zip around the battlefield and its just good simple-minded fun as you steamroll the weaker enemies, and it makes the boss fights a lot more bearable.
One of the last areas this game excels at is in its visual detail and music. From alien jungles to gigantic space stations, there is a lot of atmosphere to take in and admire. The ship designs all look fantastic and really fit the world and some of the boss fights (especially the ones against big monsters) are epic in scale and feel. I wanted to stay away from spoilers, but you fight Fin Fang Foom on an icy backdrop late in the game and its one of the more amazing visual experience boss fights in the game in terms of scale and epic-ness. There are even some Uncharted-esque sequences where you are falling, flying and shooting your way through them and it all feels natural and movie-like. There are even some moments where you pilot the Milano and those are exhilarating as you tackle an armada or escape an exploding space station. The visual spectacle on display is amazing to witness, only held back by the somewhat repetitive nature of the combat.
Alongside the visual scale and graphical fidelity in display, the game’s soundtrack is definitely noteworthy. Mixing it’s own fictional rock band (which is how StarLord gets his name in the game) with actual licensed music was a smart move, as playing the game with The Final Countdown blasting during a pivotal sequence cemented for me that this thing is just awesome all over. The licensed tracks are definitely a burden for streamers wary of DMCA strikes, but thankfully the developers included a Streamer Mode which silences the licensed stuff. The downside is the music often helps to sell the seen or cinematic it’s part of.
The Guardians of the Galaxy video game is very much like the nature of the team itself. You can’t judge a book by its cover and sometimes what you get isn’t what you expect. It’s sad that the Avengers game has the stigma it currently does, but do not let that dissuade you from trying this game out. If you’re a comic or MCU fan, this is a definite must have for your library, while others may want to wait for a lower price point as it is very much a one and done title with no microtransactions or planned DLC of any sort. I’m personally fine with this. We need more single player games that know what they’re about and sometimes the best kind of games are the ones that keep it simple.