Square-Enix’s second bite of the Marvel cherry, following Marvel’s Avengers, allows players to step into the jet boots of one Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord, in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
Whilst I read a lot of comics, I don’t recall ever reading an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy. The only Star-Lord comic book I ever read was a reprint of the original Star-Lord story from Marvel Previews #4, a story retconned out of existence. Like most people, I went into the Guardians of the Galaxy game with only the movies as reference.
The above means that, somewhat like Marvel’s Avengers, the game feels a bit like an off-brand depiction of the movie characters. It’s a bit unfair, really, but first impressions count.
Unlike Marvel’s Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy feels like a complete product out of the box. The polished presentation is as you’d expect from Square Enix, especially after being burned with their first Marvel title.
Guardians is a more traditional linear single-player action / exploration / shooter played in the third person. The game focuses on Peter Quill, the self-styled Star-Lord, and the crew of his ship, The Milano, together they are the titular Guardians of the Galaxy. Despite their benevolent moniker, the Guardians are really thieves, loveable rogues at best.
Quill is joined by the core Guardian’s lineup from the movies, each having their own specialty aiding the team in their adventure. The Mad Titan, Thanos’s adopted daughter, Gamora, is an expert with blades. Brutish Drax the Destroyer is the team’s overly serious heavy hitter.
Rocket is a cybernetically enhanced raccoon and serves as the crew’s tech expert, explosives specialist, and enterer of small spaces. Sentient plant, Groot, can trap enemies and use his extendable branch-like limbs to help the Guardian get to otherwise out-of-reach places.
The game draws heavily on the comic book mythology, the story namedropping a few other heavy-hitters from Marvel’s cosmic capers. The Guardians may, or may not have, unleashed an entity that will take over the universe if not stopped.
The threat is so dire that even Nova Corps Worldmind has given up. It’s up to the Guardians to save the universe, whilst pursued by bounty hunters, on a journey that takes players to places familiar (Knowhere, the space station curved from the skull of a dead celestial), and new.
The story is really good, capturing the humour and characterisations of the team, perfectly. Quill seems out of his depth, but faking it until he makes it, Drax is as stoic as in the movies and Rocket is a wiseass. Gamora collects dolls and Groot still has limited verbalisation for a planet with so much to say.
The conversations with the team members and other characters affect relationships, which translates into different opportunities and occurrences during the game. There are some nice visual gags, the fridge door, for instance, and there’s a space lama loose on the Milano.
There is a heavy focus on combat. Whilst players control Peter Quill, they get to occasionally command the other members of the team when exploring and during battles. The game tries to incorporate the team into the gameplay as much as possible rather than have the player’s Star-Lord as some sort of one-man army.
It kind of works and it kind of doesn’t.
During combat, Peter Quill’s participation is vital, as you’d expect, what sort of game plays itself, letting the player feel like a loose end? But in being the competent saviour of the group in combat, this goes against Quill’s character as being a bit of a doofus. Apart from taking direct control of the other characters, I’m not sure how they could overcome this.
And, after all, Star-Lord is the de facto leader of the team.
In commanding the team, players get to utilise the other character’s special abilities to help turn the tide of the battles. Combat sequences are pretty good but do lack a bit of finesse, especially early on. For a game with so much combat, it’s a bit chaotic and messy. Not, however, as messy as the starship combat in the Milano, which is atrocious.
Occasionally players get to command Star-Lord’s ship, The Milano. What could be a fun dogfighting sequence zipping around shooting the enemy instead feels a bit on rails with some weird controls.
Each character has a skill tree that can be unlocked as players gain XP. This allows for a better choice of special attacks during combat. Collected scrap can also be used to buff Peter Quill, with the help of Rocket, via a workbench.
There are also different costumes to find. These allow players to customise the team with other threads taken from the comics, the movies and designed especially for the game.
I can’t fault the game’s absolutely phenomenal visuals, The exterior environment look fantastic and some have a massive scale. The ship interiors can be a bit bland, but that’s to be expected.
The character models are very detailed and expertly animated. This is especially noteworthy considering the developer has managed to bring both a talking tree and a cybernetically-enhanced raccoon to life. The plot and voice acting are superb, evoking the style and humour of the movies. The 80s soundtrack is also very much in keeping with the styling of the big-screen adaptations with the like of Wham and Rick Astley on the playlist.
This is a game that is better when viewed as the sum of its parts. I loved the story and the idea. The linear nature of the game, whilst enabling the writers an easy time (which they’ve used to full and excellent advantage), makes it a bit of a missed opportunity.
They have taken a few cues from EA’s Mass Effect, but it would be a much better game if they’d adopted the same star-spanning mission-based gameplay and let the player explore the galaxy as they see fit. Instead, the story and dialogue carry the game over the actual gameplay a little more than I’d like.
Guardians of the Galaxy is not perfect, but when viewed as a complete package it’s a solid title and a game that shouldn’t be overlooked.