It’s pretty crazy that just eight years ago we sat in a movie theater completely captivated by a walking tree and talking raccoon. Yes, I know I’m explaining a movie badly, but the crux of it all is how incredible it is that Marvel took the Guardians of the Galaxy and turned them into household names. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot (especially baby Groot), are all quite important to us because someone saw the potential in a band of misfits turned heroes. Something similar has happened in the video game world, with big teams like the Avengers and the most popular Marvel hero in the world, Spider-Man, getting the limelight. But with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the team at Eidos-Montreal has reintroduced this scrappy squad again, and just like I felt in 2014 I’m flabbergasted by the sensational results.
So, this tale in the Guardians universe starts with our quintet heading to the Quarantine Zone to grab a monster to sell to Lady Hellbender, a collector of vicious oddities. They’ve pooled all their money together to get a hold of clearance codes the Nova Corps use to enter said zone, and they’re ready to rock and roll once the window opens. This mission is a tutorial of sorts, and serves as a great entry point for each of the characters as you make your way through the pink goo covered debris of wars past. Obviously, the Guardians screw it all up and are caught by the Nova Corps on their way out, but unfortunately things get way worse with Star-Lord having disturbed something and releasing a “shadow” into the galaxy while gunning through space bugs in a contest with Rocket.
This is just the beginning of the adventure, and one that spans across a much longer story than I expected. I’m having a hard time nailing down exactly how long I played, but if I had to give an estimate you’re looking at about a 18-22 hour game. There are some who will probably speed their way closer to fifteen, but a lot of the flow of the levels keeps you moving forward, so most will end up around my playtime.
While some may look at those “guesstimates” and think it sounds like a short game, let me assure you that it isn’t in the slightest. One of the things that has impressed me is the meaty feeling of each level, not to mention how none of the game is open-world, yet somehow packs in more locations than some larger scale games. Another thing that has been done better than some others is this: I didn’t feel like I was just playing through padding at any point during Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Eidos-Montreal has done such a great job at keeping the pacing just right, and even looking back at some areas where I originally questioned the flow, I now have that bigger picture view showing just how well this was constructed.
I may kick myself over this statement, because Guardians is so well done all around, but the most spectacular thing Guardians has done is craft one of the best video game comic book stories in the space.That may sound blasphemous, given we’ve gotten some pretty incredible ones from the Batman Arkham series and Marvel’s Spider-Man, but I kid you not, I was absolutely captivated by the narrative my whole way through. There really isn’t a moment where the story lets up, coming at you with a haymaker then finesses you by sweeping the leg. This boils down to pacing, which as I mentioned earlier is fantastic, and the story manages to be impactful across every chapter.
There are multiple pillars in how the story works, and they contribute to why it’s so good. With pacing already out of the way, let’s jump into another. Just like Marvel’s Spider-Man before it, Guardians aims at something that builds an original story using the world of the comics for structure. For instance, a great war with the Chitauri was a few years ago, and at this point you’re just trying to scrape by with this somewhat new Guardians of the Galaxy team. What the comics have constructed for years are the backbones of the setting, and just like it does for the movie, those foundational elements lob an easy pitch to the narrative. The good news is that anyone who doesn’t want to read the comics isn’t going to feel left out, with this very much a standalone experience. I’m really happy to see this format making it’s way from what the MCU has done for a long time; take time honored material and use it as a base for where you’re going.
Painting broader strokes definitely helps Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy to feel familiar, yet unique, and that includes the characters themselves. Star-Lord isn’t Chris Pratt, Rocket isn’t voiced by Bradley Cooper and so on, but they don’t suffer because of it, because the entire voice cast does a stellar job in their roles. We all know people are going to come in and make movie comparisons (a la Marvel’s Avengers), but here the game completely stands on its own. One of the reasons the characters are so immaculately done is because Eidos-Montreal took the time to flesh out each one of them in different ways, and that comes by design and through conversations with the crew. Some of it is just in how they look, with that whole “familiar” idea used to denote the character without stepping too far into a direct comparison. Sure, I could hear Bradley Cooper’s interpretation of Rocket several times as I played through the game (you’ll even find the MCU costumes to change into, along with other comic book stylings), but in the end this feels like the Guardians video game version of him rather than a copy.
Speaking of hearing the characters, the back and forth banter and conversations you have with the crew is both endearing and hilarious. I mentioned this already in our preview, but I wasn’t sure if this would manage to hold up over an entire twenty hour game. It absolutely does though, and even with a couple of repeating voice lines popping up in sections everything feels largely organic, and it leads to me enjoying listening to the Guardians yelling about a Nova Corps big guy at twelve o’clock, and Drax responding “The current time is irrelevant”. It’s not just the battle banter either, it’s the writing in general. I remember cracking up at a specific moment where it seems Rocket accidentally shot someone in the butt, and it doesn’t end there, as he starts joking about it during the ensuing fight. There’s also a scene at the very end I don’t want to reveal where Star-Lord is talking to himself, and I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time. Good story building involves doing plenty of things right, and it feels like they nailed all of them.
Where Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy goes even deeper is the conversations you have throughout the course of the narrative, both in cutscenes, prompted by a button press, or with the dialogue decisions you’ll make along the way. Everything feels like it has purpose; joking with the squad, telling them a job will make them rich or that it will get them the recognition to go after larger scores, the list goes on and on. Not to be outdone, the personal level you make it to with each Guardian is incredibly written. There’s a lot that happens in the story, and I’d be spoiling it to go too in depth with my next comment, but the things you will delve into in each of their pasts because of an event that happens really pulls on the heartstrings. These are just a bunch of beings who have faults, they’ve felt alone, but they’ve managed to keep going. It’s very relatable for me, and I get the feeling it’s going to resonate with many gamers as well.
Further still, when you make some dialogue choices they will actually affect the narrative, not just in different chatter between characters, but even will influence later moments in the level. This comes across similar to the Telltale games, with people remembering things you’ve said as they go forward. One such example, I chose our secret phrase for a mission to be “sweep the leg” if something went wrong. When the Guardians were captured later on, Gamora yelled to Groot “Sweep the leg!”, even though it was a bit too late. This is a simple example, but there was even one early on where someone trusted me with a keycard because of the connection I’d built through dialogue, and in a later level it actually came into play, opening up several doors to give me the benefit of some extra components for crafting. They say you should play the game again to make different choices, and I totally agree, so I’m thankful that New Game+ is an option for that.
Something else that adds to it and changes up the formula a bit is collectibles you find along the way. These aren’t just items to add to a shelf, but things Star-Lord gives to the crew as he finds them. As you walk around the Milano, which acts as the hub area between missions, you’re going to find those collectibles in each of the Guardian’s rooms. Picking them up triggers dialogue, which gives you an option to learn a little more about each team member. It’s a neat and inventive way to handle collectibles, and it makes me want to search for more so I can learn little things about the great war from Gamora’s side, or how Drax came about his tattoos.
I’ve talked for way too long about the story, although it’s what the game does best, but combat is another important part of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. There are going to be many that complain about the game being focused on only Star-Lord, but after playing through the entire thing I think it would be less impactful if it was co-op or where you switched between them. As silly as this sounds, it’s because the characters feel so alive around Star-Lord, even though he carries that same feeling, I think it would affect the game negatively to have other player controlled characters.
This leads into making the combat work to it’s best, and while it’s not necessarily anything we haven’t seen before, the choices made here help your fights to feel less repetitive, even if they are at times. The setup for most levels is simple, walk through this hallway, go to this room, shoot people. There are even those obvious “chest high wall” type things littering the battlefield that make it clear a fight is about to break out. Let me be frank, if Guardians stuck to only shooting people and got rid of the back and forth between the team, this game wouldn’t work in the slightest, but because of some additional design work it works quite well.
Let me explain this further. Star-Lord has his blasters, and that and punching people is all you’re going to be doing personally. The shooting has a bit of a caveat to it, I like it, but the aiming down sights being an auto-lock on can be a bit stiff. This is especially prevalent when I try to focus on an enemy in front of me, and because another is behind that one or too close to the right or left it locks onto them, although it’s only occasionally. You can hip fire to bypass it, but it’s not that effective when you use it. Where the combat gets fun lies in two different things, directing the other Guardians and the elemental abilities you get as you play.
Directing your team can be something that tilts a fight in your favor, and not utilizing it will be your downfall, especially at harder difficulties. Each Guardian (including Star-Lord) has several cooldown based abilities, ranging in damage caused, area of effect, and stagger potential. These are unlocked by ability points, which you earn from XP gained in battle. There are only four for each character, and one is a special earned after a story moment. Interjecting for a moment, you also have some perks for Star-Lord available at a crafting bench where Rocket uses your collected components, but it largely seems like an afterthought, although extra health and spotting components via audio and visual triggers are helpful.
Where these “Guardian special moves” really come into play is identifying the situation and using them to your advantage. If I have a bunch of low level enemies on the field, using Groots ability to hold them down with vines makes sense, and I can combo that up with Rocket’s grenade to add some hurt in with it. If a big bad is coming at me, I know he can be staggered, so having Drax fling himself at him is a great response, and once he’s staggered Gamora can come in for a single enemy strike that causes massive damage.
This works in tandem with Star-Lord blasters elemental fire as well. Pressing the top right bumper fires out one of four different types, and your tougher enemies will have a corresponding icon close to their health bar telling you which one it’ll take to knock them down a peg. It’s a good way to mix things up, and after you get the second one there’s generally a mix of baddies on the field that will be affected by both. Using these along with the aforementioned Guardians abilities come in handy, where I’ll shoot a big robot priest with a rough stagger bar about halfway, have Drax finish off the stagger meter, then use one of my abilities to rapid fire blasters at him to knock off one of their two health bars. This can get a little bit old and repetitive at times, but the way things are mixed up keeps it from being a drag each time you end up in a fight. Unfortunately the enemy variety can feel that way to a larger extent, even though variants from different levels show up.
While the enemy variety might be lacking a bit, the environments you’re going to play in have no such issues, and my word they’re magnificent. I was going to use Google’s suggested synonym of “bootylicious”, given we are speaking of the Guardians, but I’ll save you that verbiage (go ahead and quote it Square XD). Each of the planets feels like it has a distinct style, and the colors and designs go from popping in ridiculous fashion (like the pink goo covered Quarantine Zone), to sensibly subtle (like the metal hallways of the Nova Corps spaceship). When we did our preview it was all handled by streaming the game, and it definitely didn’t do the out of this world visuals of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy justice. It’s arguably the most gorgeous game I’ve seen on PlayStation 5, and that’s even after playing Demon’s Souls and Ratchet & Clank. And yeah, it’s got a photo mode.
I’m honestly kind of stunned, I didn’t expect this level of pretty. Working its way into that is the lip sync as well, and that’s part of why the cutscenes all feel so personal. While I won’t go off into the deep end with it (because you can expect that from Editor-In-Chief Ron Burke, who has our PC Deep Dive incoming soon), playing on console I actually never realized there was a fidelity and performance mode. About half way through the game I switched, and while the 60fps is incredibly smooth, I felt the same way I did playing Rift Apart. This game is so dazzling that playing at 4k/30fps doesn’t bog down the experience. Unfortunately the ray tracing mode isn’t available yet but is promised to be a launch feature, and I can’t wait to see how much more incredible the game looks with that option.
Even though it mostly operates at a high level, I did run into some technical problems. Some of the lighting with water when we escaped in the sewers in the Lady Hellbender level was off, occasionally a button prompt would stick to my screen until I restarted from the last checkpoint, and I even had a chapter logo that stuck around until restarting. That and an audio glitch where poor Gamora was stuck saying a word until the next voice line, which was over quickly. To clarify, the day one patch will probably fix most of this, but for those without internet you may have some minor annoyances to deal with.
Going hand in hand with the incredible graphics is the soundtrack, which is epic. I had hoped when we heard rumors of the game that Eidos-Montreal and Square Enix wouldn’t skimp on paying for big licensed tracks, and they definitely did not. With the likes of Billy Idol, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, and Bonnie Tyler in tow, the music for this game absolutely slaps. They even created an 80’s band for our main boi Peter Quill to have as his inspiration, Star-Lord, and every tune I’ve heard sounds like it’s dragged right out of the hair metal era. These are sprinkled in during a few levels, as well as a part of your “Huddle Up” when all the Guardians receive a damage boost in a fight. It’s also not overdone, which I think is just as important as including it.
I also want to call out Eidos-Montreal’s commitment to accessibility, which is on display in the settings menus. It’s admirable the way games are working towards making games easier to play for everyone, even when they deal with limitations. While Guardians doesn’t offer much of anything in regards to visual accessibility options, it does plenty in an accessibility menu and the difficulty options. Things like automatically winning quick time events, enabling switching through targets while locked on, the amount of damage you take and even the Guardians cooldowns are subject to your button clicks and slider pushes. Any movement towards helping others to enjoy what we all should be able to enjoy is commendable, and I appreciate it.
Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is the biggest surprise of the year, and joins Marvel’s Spider-Man as one of the best Marvel video games in the last decade. The Guardians themselves steal the show, depicted perfectly, with a movie/comic-worthy story that will leave you laughing and crying. The combat is a lot of fun with plenty of strategies to use, even if it can get a little repetitive, and the setting and locations blow you away in scale and how incredibly detailed and beautiful they are. This Guardians team absolutely stands on its own, and just like the movie I’m hooked on a feeling.