PUBLISHER: Square Enix
REVIEWED ON: PlayStation 5 from a copy purchased by the author. The game was played on a TV not equipped for 4K resolution.
This was assuredly a reaction that would’ve been rightfully warranted after Rocket Raccoon stole a slot in the roster from the likes of Gambit, Cable, and Cyclops in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. What a difference a few years make though, as now the character who’s NOT a raccoon, his tree friend with a 4 word vocabulary, and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy are part of theme park attractions, a multi-million dollar grossing film franchise, not to mention a merchandising empire. What was once a team composed of an obscure cast of misfits now share the same level of cultural awareness as fellow Marvel alum like Spider-Man and the Avengers.
Ever since the Guardians of the Galaxy’s breakout film in 2014, they’ve slow begun to integrate themselves more and more into video games. They were of the few Marvel properties to get their own play set in the second edition of Disney Infinity and received their own episodic adventure series courtesy of Telltale. Now the Guardians biggest interactive adventure is finally in the hands of players with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, a big-budget, AAA project hailing from Eidos-Montréal, a studio that has worked on franchises like Dues Ex, Tomb Raider, and most recently offered support on another Square Enix published Marvel outing: Marvel’s Avengers. Don’t let your feelings of that title deter you from trying Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, however, as it easily stands next to games like Marvel’s Spider-Man thanks to great writing, fast-paced, easy to learn combat, and a frankly refreshing single-player, linear adventure that goes against the trend of nearly every other blockbuster offering it shares store space with.
The Guardians of the Galaxy, hard up for units, take a job that finds themselves in a graveyard known as the Quarantine Zone that remains as a reminder of a long and ugly war. While trespassing on this scared ground, the Guardians inadvertently unleash a being that is linked to a cult-like organization known as the Universal Church of Truth. Now with the fate of the entire cosmos hanging in the balance, the team must put aside their petty squabbling, or else succumb to the Church’s freewill stealing Promise. For those whose exposure to the Guardians of the Galaxy comes mostly from their cinematic outings, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is welcoming – Star-Lord has his cassette player and Drax is extremely literal – but it never strives to just be a copy of James Gunn’s take on the property. Rather, it uses similar ideas of friendship built upon shared tragedy and found family to connect you with its cast without ever coming across as a mere soulless retread.
This is helped by strong writing and a cast of mostly unfamiliar performers that never take you out of the experience like many video games sometimes do. It must not go understated that the likes of Nolan North, Troy Baker, Laura Bailey and others are exceptionally talented, but after so many projects that feature their voices, it’s hard to tell where the actors end and the character begins. This is not the case at all with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy as you’re hearing fresh talent that are inhabiting these roles without trying to impersonate the likes of Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista.
No matter where you are in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re surrounded by your team and they’re rarely quiet. Surprisingly, you never actually want them to stop bantering back and forth as what you’re hearing is not only informing the story, but is also quite funny. It’s hard not to take about specific moments, but at one point Rocket lets it slip that his internal calculator is broken. Drax, taking advantage of the situation, keeps throwing out simple equations that frustrate Rocket greatly as he can’t correctly answer them. It’s moments like these that will make you stop progressing just to hear what will come up next. Depending on how you play, you might not even hear that interaction at all which encourages replaying and discussing with others about their own adventures.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy leans the hardest into the comic book source material than any other of the games under the “Marvel’s” brand released up to this point. This is a very story driven experience that either features or name drops character’s from the first and second movies, but it hints at a much bigger world outside of the one you get to play around in. This owes greatly to the run on the comics by Andy Lanning and Dan Abentt, but also what was added by Brian Michael Bendis when he took over writing duties on the book in early 2013. Though this recent crop of Marvel video games don’t talk to one another like the films in the MCU, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy brazenly mentions its fellow “Marvel’s” brethren, with one line in particular that will make the wait for an upcoming Marvel title even longer.
Though the name of the game is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, this is strictly a single-player outing where you inhabit the role of Star-Lord. While you do have a simple melee attack, it’s mostly useless until later in the game, and your best form of offense is your trusty blasters. Don’t expect to be hiding behind waist high cover – even when a Gears of War-esque active reload is introduced – as you’re meant to zip around the battle field with the aid of Star-Lord’s jet boots. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is cleverly designed in such a way that it slowly rolls out abilities, so just as your familiar with one, it will open up the toy box and give you a new one to play with. As the campaign moves forward, new elemental powers are added to your arsenal that mix-up both combat and exploration. An ice shot can freeze enemies but also geysers you can use as platforms, while the wind power allows you to pull enemies towards you and manipulate objects in the environment.
The way in which Star-Lord’s abilities roll out works similarly with your team. During combat, you can issue commands to your team and knowing when to summon each Guardian becomes essential in toppling bosses and winning skirmishes. Gamora and Drax are experts in dishing out heavy damage while the duo of Rocket and Groot work terrifically together in managing crowds. Everyone will eventually settle on a favorite load out that will work most of the time, and getting to that point when your muscle memory takes over is half of the fun in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
The moment when you’re pulling in enemies with a carefully placed grenade from Rocket that sets lines them up to be knocked down like bowling pins by Drax never stops putting a smile on your face. Eventually you’ll learn the huddle command which can slow down battles somewhat as you stop to give your team a pep talk, but when you return with a fresh track from Star-Lord’s playlist, you’re near always amped. This is true even when the song is “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. Your choice of words determine how much of a buff your team gets in these situations, and outside of battle, you’re given the option to exercise this further with outcomes that generate diverging story paths.
Clearly inspired by the likes of Mass Effect, between levels you can explore your ship, the Milano, and talk with your teammates. Dialogue choices not only affect your relationship status with your fellow Guardians, but also alter the course of the game in subtle ways. Early on for example a decision will change how your ship develops, again encouraging you to start over with a new game plus file once the credits roll. These instances also pop up from time to time within levels, encouraging you to explore them to the fullest.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy thankfully goes against the norm in that it mostly keeps you on rails, but is also offers just enough incentive to venture off the main path. This isn’t a game that is bogged down with multiple types of currencies or crafting objects, instead it mercifully keeps the items you need to buy upgrades to a mere 2. Even then you’ll have more than enough to buy everything long before you reach the final chapters, and each of the Guardians only has a skill trunk instead of a fully branching tree. You’re made aware that you’re venturing off the beaten path when your teammates start getting on your case for not heading in the right direction. You’ll want to ignore them though, as not only will you get the means to purchase upgrades, but you’ll also unearth different costumes for each of the Guardians. Star-Lord’s helmet operates similar to the scan visor in Metroid Prime or the Arkham series, and one of the first upgrades that’s best to invest in is one that will help you pick out chests in levels so you don’t miss them. The team at Eidos-Montréal even put in the effort to credits the teams responsible for each look, and provide context for them within their version of this universe as well.
The advantage that the Guardians of the Galaxy have over Earth based heroes is that you can place them in a multitude of planets and other out there environments. Eidos-Montréal took full advantage of this, as even if you’re not playing in 4K on high end hardware, you’ll stop to take in the golden hued halls of the Church of Universal Truth’s mothership, the seedy alleys of Knowhere, and other planets rich in both color and alien life. Be prepared to fight for your life against the Nova Corps, gelatinous alien cubes and other creative monstrosities. On top of the original score, there’s plenty of classic songs to enjoy too, and they’re never overplayed such that it makes you get sick of them. For those who wish to dig into them, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy offers a plethora of accessibility options so no one has to feel left out.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy sings on the PlayStation 5, but it’s also available on the Nintendo Switch. Costing the same price, you can only play this via cloud streaming and luckily you can try before you buy thanks to a demo on the Nintendo eShop. Playing on a wireless connection, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy not only looked much worse when experimenting with this trial, it also featured unmistakable input lag. The new dock included with the Nintendo Switch OLED model lets you played with a wired connection which might help alleviate some of this, but if you don’t have the updated hardware, you most definitely want to try before you buy if the Switch is your only option.
Though at the end of the day it’s still a big-budget, AAA video game based on one of the most popular intellectual properties in the world, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy still manages to embody the loveable outcast spirit of the Guardians. It does this by going against nearly every modern trend in games today, from being daring enough to not charge extra for costumes to axing a bloated open world with tedious side-missions. This is all for the best, as with the excess fat trimmed off, what you’re left with is a laser focused narrative that never loses steam. When coupled that with thrilling, easy to understand battles, and a fleshed out cast of likeable leads, what you get can easily be considered one of the best comic book games ever made and a contender for game of the year. Whether you’re a casual or die hard lover of the property, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is not to be missed.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is available now on the PlayStation and Xbox family of consoles, Nintendo Switch via streaming and PC.