Platform(s): PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Genre: Action-Adventure, Choice-Driven Narrative
If you told me years ago that Guardians Of The Galaxy would be getting not only two movies, but also a high-budget video game by the recent developers of Deus Ex (Eidos Montreal) and publisher Square Enix, I’d say that you were out of your mind. Before their introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2014, these comic book space heroes were obscure as all heck.
To make things even more surprising, Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy was only announced this year in June 2021. Normally, that wouldn’t be a good sign since games announced a few months before their release may seem like products shoved out the door quick. Unless you’re Nintendo.
In this case, however, Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy is definitely a pleasant surprise. It’s fun and heartfelt, with great characters interacting with each other and a good story to get immersed in. Basically, everything that 2020’s Marvel’s Avengers should have been, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
What is Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy exactly? How does it play? Sure, it’s described as an action-adventure single-player game, but so was Marvel’s Avengers which ultimately ended up being a live-service MMO-like experience that we’d rather not play again.
The good news? Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy is nothing like that. It’s a true single-player experience, with no intrusive online elements to the gameplay.
If I could describe what the game is like, it plays like Mass Effect in a lot of ways. The game’s gameplay structure is similar to the iconic BioWare game, but without that game’s action RPG elements. The game’s narrative progresses in chapters, but the whole thing is like watching a movie or TV series, as each chapter bleeds into the next. In each chapter, you’ll visit a location, most of which are linear in nature. Unlike Mass Effect, you can’t actually choose which location or planet to go to, as you have to go to wherever the story wants you to go.
In between story missions at any of these varieties of places you go to in order to advance the game’s story, you’ll also spend your free time in the Milano (the Guardians Of The Galaxy’s ship). This experience is largely similar to how you’d explore the Normandy in Mass Effect, exploring the ship and interacting with anyone or anything in the ship. This is where a lot of the character development and banter takes place.
Speaking of banter, I have both good news and bad news. If you’re one of those gamers who don’t like games where the characters constantly speak both during combat and out, then you should probably avoid this game. I’m not kidding, the banter almost never stops in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy.
During combat, Star-Lord and the rest of the team will keep talking to each other. Outside of combat (during exploration or in the Milano), they will also be speaking almost non-stop in the background. Thankfully, I love it, because it’s incredible how much dialogue the developers have managed to cram into this game. You’ll have nary a boring moment, because someone somewhere will usually always be speaking, and it makes the game livelier for it. Some will find it annoying, for sure, but not me.
It’s all good too because the writing and story is definitely the highlight of Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. The interactions between Star-Lord and the rest of the team, as well as the myriad characters they’ll encounter in their adventure, is what makes this game great. It’s a narrative-driven game, where you make choices during the dialogue that can change what happens in the game.
Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy even takes a cue from the Telltale games, where certain actions and choices you make will result in a line being projected on-screen; something like this person appreciates what you did, or you managed to convince this person to do this. Remember all the “He/She/They will remember that?” in the Telltale games? Yeah, that’s what I’m referring to.
In fact, while it’s rare, there are one or two chapters in the game where they consist entirely of dialogue and exploration with zero combat. In those instances, it definitely feels like playing a mix of Mass Effect and a Telltale game. I’ll be discussing more on the game’s combat later on in this review, but it’s important for me to emphasize how dialogue-heavy this game is.
Sure, there’s quite a lot of combat in some parts too, but it’s not the best part of the game. More on this later.
If you’ve played any of Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex games, Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy does feature similar elements in terms of the dialogue options. However, if you’re hoping this game to be an immersive sim as well, it’s certainly not. For one, it’s completely set in third-person instead of first-person, and there’s a lot more focus on fast-paced combat. There are no stealth options whatsoever in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, so it’s always balls-to-the-walls action all the way (besides the dialogue-heavy parts, of course).
Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy has 16 chapters, which took me about 21 hours or so to complete. If you take the time to explore and interact with everything, there’s even more potential playtime. That’s not even mentioning the fact that you can replay any of the chapters you want and there’s even a new game plus option at launch. That said, the game doesn’t feel like it has much to entice me to immediately play another playthrough.
As much as I’ve compared Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy to Mass Effect, the main drawback of the narrative in this game is that it feels a lot more linear. Your actions and dialogue can affect the story, but I don’t really see much changing. In Mass Effect, your teammates can permanently die if you make the wrong choices. Here, every Guardian will survive to the end regardless of what you do. My point is that I didn’t actively try to make bad decisions in my playthrough, but even if I did, I doubt much will change in terms of the plot and narrative.
Comic book fans will appreciate the many, MANY easter eggs and references strewn throughout Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. It’s amazing that the developers chose to derive more from the comics than they do the MCU. This game’s version of the Guardians Of The Galaxy is still partly inspired by the MCU in some ways, but there’s a lot more here that is adapted from the comics. It’s satisfying to see stuff that’s never been seen in the MCU, and if you’re a fan of the Dan Abnett – Andy Lanning run from the late 2000s, you certainly won’t be disappointed. The 40 or so unlockable costumes and skins in the game are a testament to this as well (and none of them is locked behind a paywall or paid DLC like Marvel’s Avengers).
Let’s get to the combat mechanics. The combat feels like a simplified real-time system, similar to that seen in games like Square Enix’s own Final Fantasy 7 Remake or Bandai Namco’s Tales Of Arise. Unlike those games, you can only play as Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord and him alone from beginning to end. If that sounds disappointing, it is, but it probably can’t be helped due to how the mechanics in the game work.
During combat, you control Star-Lord and can issue commands to the rest of the Guardians. Star-Lord can lock onto targets and blast them with his dual pistols. Ammo is unlimited, as the games use an overheat system that requires a well-timed trigger pull to reload efficiently like so many other games do now (Gears Of War, Returnal, etc.).
Enemies don’t really feel much different. You’ll fight humanoid aliens, monster aliens, big robots and Nova Corps officers. Sure, some have specific weaknesses to certain elemental attacks or skills, while others have shields or something, but combat always boils down to the same thing in each encounter. Ranged combat can be paired with melee attacks and skills by your teammates to quickly build up enemy stagger bars. When these stagger bars are full, you can perform team takedown attacks which results in an animation sequence where each Guardian take turns hitting the same enemy.
Unfortunately, while the combat is fluid and fast-paced, it can feel a bit janky. Locking on to an enemy requires you to hold a shoulder button while pressing another shoulder button to shoot and pressing another shoulder button along with any of the face buttons to give commands to your teammates to perform their special skills or abilities.
You fire the elemental ammo (which you change by pressing the d-pad buttons) by pressing yet another shoulder button. You also have your own special skills and abilities which can be performed by awkwardly using the left joystick. You’ll have to juggle a lot of buttons during combat, and it can feel clunky to pull off in the chaos of battle, especially since the game likes to send waves of enemies after you in the late stages of the game.
There’s also another special momentum meter that builds up as you do combos. It allows you to do something called the “huddle up”. This unique mechanic will result in your teammates having a huddle up in the middle of combat and it’s your responsibility to keep their spirits up, Do it right and your health gets restored and everyone gets buffs to attacks. However, it comes down to picking the right dialogue choice out of two, which gets old really fast (though you can turn this off in the settings and make it so every huddle up is successful without having to choose the right dialogue option). Also, what makes the huddle up fun is that after activating it, the combat will be livelier as a random 80s hit will start playing in the background to make everything cooler.
Like I previously mentioned, there are no RPG elements in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. The only progression system in the game is that you can unlock new skills and abilities for each Guardian by spending the points you obtain from accumulating experience points.
Oh, there’s a Devil May Cry-like mechanic in a place where doing more combos and variety in combat will result in more experience points. Instead of Stylish, or S-S-S-Stylish, the goal is to get Amazing or Marvelous. Each Guardian only has four unlockable abilities, but you can further upgrade Star-Lord by using resources you find while exploring (the game’s currency) to increase your health or unlock skills like a chargeable and more powerful shot.
It may sound like a lot when I’m explaining it, but trust me, it becomes repetitive mindless button-mashing in the late stages of the game. When there are so many enemies during the combat (the game likes to throw wave after wave of them at a time), I resorted to spamming my teammates’ strongest abilities while I kept shooting with the element gun. I only really got close to enemies for takedowns or to finish them off with melee. The combat was fun for the first half of the game, but the latter half is tedious and annoying. It feels like the game wants to pad out my playtime by sending what feels like endless waves of enemies, which turns into a chore. Spam teammate’s ability, keep shooting to build stagger meter, rinse and repeat.
Keep all that in mind if you’re thinking of getting this game for its combat. It might be fun for the first few hours, but it’s not completely mind-blowing and settles on being just fine. Fortunately, despite the waves of enemies and chaotic action happening on-screen at any given time, I was surprised that there was little to no slowdown or lag while playing on the PS5. However, I can’t imagine having the same smooth experience on the PS4 or Xbox One; the Nintendo Switch will be an exception because it will be cloud-based.
Star-Lord’s element gun isn’t just used during combat either, as you’ll use either ice, electricity, wind and fire to traverse and solve environmental obstacles like turning spurts of water into ice or powering up machinery with electricity. You also use the rest of the Guardians for the same purpose, to solve puzzles and get past environmental obstacles. For example, Groot can use his vines to raise a platform higher to reach places that are too high, while Gamora and Drax can open up new doors by cutting or smashing them down. These are usually in-your-face and not so subtle so you don’t have to worry about getting lost or confused.
While the game’s story missions and levels are mostly linear, you can sometimes stray off the beaten path and find hidden rooms or places. These will often have more of the resources required to upgrade Star-Lord. Better yet, you can discover chests that unlock a new outfit or skin, and special collectibles that unlock unique dialogue and scenes that expand the backstory of each character (these are missable but well worth finding for those who want more narrative depth).
For example, finding a Chitauri cuff can unlock a conversation in which Star-Lord discusses his background as a Spartoi prince. None of that Ego’s son stuff from the MCU; this is comics-accurate, folks.
During exploration, you should expect some platforming as well. Star-Lord’s jumping feels just fine; it’s decent and precise enough for a 3D platformer. For instance, if you can barely reach a ledge, he will still automatically grab onto it but you’ll have to complete a tapping QTE sequence in order to get up onto the ledge. Even if you fall, you’ll just lose a bit of health, so it’s not a problem at all.
Last but not least, I still think it’s a missed opportunity that the game doesn’t allow you to play as the other Guardians. It’s a lot like playing as Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect games, but since Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy doesn’t feature RPG elements or give you the option of playing with different builds or playstyles, it gets repetitive and old really fast. Star-Lord essentially plays exactly the same from the beginning to the end of the game.
A Galaxy To Save
If you like space adventures as well as the bicker and banter of Star-Lord and the gang, Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy is definitely for you. Then again, what’s best about this game is its narrative and interactions between characters, not its combat. Sure, the combat can be fun but ultimately it gets too repetitive and samey.
If you’re tired of the MCU version of the characters, definitely check out what Eidos Montreal has done. Comic book fans will love this faithful adaptation to bits!
- Great narrative and story.
- Comic book fans will appreciate the easter eggs and references.
- Dialogue heavy with plenty of banter at all times (even during combat).
- The fun dynamic between the characters.
- Replayable chapters and New Game plus allow for more playtime.
- Combat gets repetitive and mindless.
- You can only play as Star-Lord.
Final Score: 80/100
Review copy provided by Square Enix. Played on PS5. Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy launches on 26 October 2021 for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC and Nintendo Switch via Cloud.