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Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 25, 2021 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Play as Star-Lord with the unpredictable Guardians at your side. Blast your way from one explosive situation to another in a struggle for the fate of the universe.

Buy Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

When I was young, if you'd asked me which superheroes would get big-budget video games, the answers would be obvious: Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men. I never would've anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy. Arguably the Marvel franchise that most went from zero to hero thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it's now pretty much as well-known as any of the other major superheroes, and that comes with video game perks. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is a nice surprise in that it isn't just a big-budget Guardians game. It's a genuinely heartfelt adventure through the franchise, filled with a lot of attention to the absurdly popular movies as well as the long history of the comics.

Guardians follows the titular Guardians of the Galaxy. Led by earthling Peter Quill (AKA Star-Lord), they're basically the rowdiest band of misfits you can imagine. If you've seen the movies, you know the basic team lineup: Thanos' rebellious daughter, Gamora; genius not-a-rodent Rocket; overly literal Drax; and giant tree man, Groot. The story begins with the team sneaking into a restricted quarantine zone area in hopes of capturing a rare creature. Everything goes wrong, and before long, they find themselves dealing with the Nova Corps, a bloodthirsty beast queen, and a mysterious cult whose influence threatens the entire galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy isn't really based on the MCU version. Like a lot of recent superhero games, it's sort of its own universe that is an amalgam of the comics and movies. This stands out more with Guardians because they are a more obscure franchise than Spider-Man or Batman. Quill isn't the son of Ego the Living Planet, Drax is heralded as the man who killed Thanos, pretty much the entire cast are veterans of a great intergalactic war, and more. The game does a good job of dropping the info you need to know into conversation, but if you go in expecting something set in the MCU, you'll probably be confused. It doesn't completely veer away from the movie versions, and a lot of the characters have personalities that are at least informed by the movie version, if not often nearly identical.

This is pretty much entirely to the game's benefit. By setting it in the Marvel universe but not necessarily the MCU, the game can tell a story that feel different from the movie versions. Since it doesn't need to adhere to canon, it can add unexpected twists and turns, often to the story's advantage. It also means that the story can draw from significantly more obscure characters. There are a lot of characters who you've probably never heard of unless you're a Guardians fan, and it's a lot of fun to see what weirdness awaits. Discovering that Knowhere is policed by a psychic Russian cosmonaut dog? Sure, why not? That's the kind of world Guardians is.

MGotG does a fantastic job of conveying the characters. I'd argue that it does a better job than the movies, but it has the advantage of a significantly longer runtime. You begin with a crew of motley misfits, but by the end, you genuinely feel that they are friends. They banter, joke, laugh, and express genuine affection for one another. At the same time, it isn't afraid to get serious when the plot demands it. There are several scenes with Drax that are especially heartbreaking, and the title shapes the character into more than a walking joke.

The result is a fun game. There were a few moments I got tired of, such as some of Rocket's excess grumpiness, but even that had a largely satisfying payoff. The game goes on a touch too long for its own good, and one or two of the late-game set pieces could've been trimmed without losing much. There was enough charming storytelling that I was willing to look beyond those bits of cruft.

MGotG features some interactivity to the storytelling, don't it doesn't change the game. How you treat and respond to people influences later events. Depending on your behavior, some characters may be more or less antagonistic, which often has a gameplay reward. One may grant a key to access special areas, while another may show up during a battle to help you out. You're usually given a Telltale Games-style popup to let you know that the choice has impacts, but at the same time, the plot goes in a certain direction, and you only get to determine the tone.

Despite the Guardians being best known as a team, you play the game entirely as Star-Lord. The "great" Quill plays in a familiar fashion, so he can run, slide, jump, double-jump with rocket boots, and shoot. By default, Peter is equipped with his laser blaster. As the game progresses, he unlocks elemental ammo for it, a nod to the character's comic book gimmick that wasn't carried over to the movie. While each type of ammo can be used in combat, it's also used for solving puzzles. Plasma can melt ice, ice can freeze water, wind can pull things from a distance, and lightning can activate electronics.

The rest of the Guardians are AI partners who journey and fight alongside Peter. Thankfully, they're extremely good at their jobs, usually being more useful than anything else. Each has skills that they can use to solve puzzles. Groot can grow vines, Gamora can cut nearly anything, Drax is remarkably strong, and Rocket can hack machines and crawl into small spaces. Early on, they need Peter's commands to focus them on the necessary teamwork to solve puzzles, but by the endgame, they're often acting on their own, which is some nice character and gameplay integration.

At first blush, combat plays like a standard third-person shooter; Quill can fire guns, dodge, jump, and melee punch. His guns have infinite ammo for the standard blaster and rechargeable shared elemental ammo for the rest. If you've ever played a Tomb Raider game, you have a good idea of the basics, but Star-Lord never needs to take cover and is significantly more mobile than Lara ever was.

Where the fun and complexity come in is that combat focuses on ordering the Guardians around. Each character has up to four different skills they can learn, and Peter can order them to act at any time. Once a skill has been used, the character goes briefly on cooldown, with the exception of an ultimate skill, which can be used any time but takes significantly longer to recharge. Even the longest recharge rates are snappy, and you'll use the abilities regularly rather than saving them for special occasions.

The various skills play together in different ways. For example, Groot can grow vines to slow down large groups of weaker enemies or temporarily hold down a boss. Rocket can toss explosives with various effects. Gamora is focused on dealing damage. Drax has a ton of skills that allow him to excel in dealing Stagger damage or to quickly dispatch weaker foes. They're not limited to those specific roles, though. Rocket has an explosive that can increase stun damage, Groot can create huge AoE ground-spikes, and so on. Even Quill has his own abilities, including a rapid-fire shot and temporarily flying around the battlefield. He can also unleash melee attacks that are more powerful than gunfire against certain foes and cause enemies to drop health if defeated.

This is important because various enemy types have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are specifically vulnerable to Star-Lord's elemental bullets, but that may just stun or weaken them. You might want to use Groot to lock them down, so Gamora can unleash deadly hell upon them. Other enemies have a Stagger bar, which fills up when you use certain attacks, and when it fills, they are temporarily stunned and take more damage for a while. Certain attacks can apply damage multipliers, which means that proper use of various skills can massively increase the damage you do.

As if that weren't enough reason to use skills, you also have a Momentum gauge that fills as you vary your attacks and avoid damage. It decreases if you go too long without attacking or use the same attacks over and over. The more the Momentum gauge fills, the more bonus experience you get at the end of battle. As it rises, you get a greater chance of performing special attacks on enemies, some of which have all the Guardians teaming up to deal tons of damage. There's also a "Huddle" bar to fill up. When full, tap the shoulder buttons to engage in a team huddle, whereupon Quill listens to what the Guardians are saying and choose the correct response to pep them up. Do it successfully, and the entire team gets a buff; otherwise, only he gets the buff. Regardless, the true prize is that Quill turns on his tape deck to play a cheesy '80s song to set the butt-kicking mood.

The result is that combat is a pleasantly frantic melee where you constantly swap targets, weapons, and skills. Properly use all of your skills, and you can cut through enemies like butter, especially in the later game. The game isn't overly punishing, but it encourages you to constantly shift and play with all the tools you have. There's no reason to settle into one ability because the game clearly denotes the strengths and weaknesses of various foes, and any attack is one or two button presses away.

If I had one complaint, it is that it sometimes gets too easy. Thankfully, MGotG has options for that. Not only does it have difficulty modes, but it also has fully customizable difficulty modes where you can decide how strong or weak you want things to be, up to and including customizing how much the game slows down while you're ordering a Guardian to use a move. I'm not sure the combat is deep enough to go hardcore on it, but you can adapt things so you don't feel bored.

The easiest comparison of the game's structure is something like Uncharted or one of the more linear Tomb Raider titles. You go from level to level, engaging in a series of exciting set pieces and occasional fights in an adventure that is as much theme park as video game. There's no open world or anything of the sort. The Guardians are going on an adventure, and they don't have time to backtrack unless the plot demands it. This genuinely works, as it allows the plot to be structured in a way that fits the crazy bad luck the Guardians are known for. This does mean that the game is largely linear and guided, so it's far more of a story-focused adventure than anything else.

There is plenty of exploration in the game. There is a primary path that you need to follow, but you can also go off the beaten path to find hidden items and trinkets, including Parts, which you can use to craft special perks for Star-Lord, or costumes for each of the members of the Guardians. The costumes include the expected MCU-style outfits for the cast and a variety of comic-inspired ones ranging from an evil demonic Groot to Rocket in a stylish suit. These don't have any purpose beyond cosmetics, but it's nice to be able to customize how your characters look. In particular, I enjoyed tossing Drax into a comic-accurate costume, which makes his weirdly serious and literal persona even more hilarious. There are some conversations and items you'll only get on certain playthroughs, as they require choosing the correct options.

Guardians of the Galaxy also looks great. The character designs are still like MCU stunt doubles, but they're varied enough to not fall entirely into that trap, and they do a fantastic job with the facial expressions. The environments are varied and distinctive, ranging from decaying shipyards to the city built in a giant decapitated space god head, and each manages to be distinctive and memorable. The game also ran smoothly, and while there were some animation glitches, I'm told they'll be fixed in the Day 1 patch.

The real star of the show is the audio. The voice acting is top-notch, and pretty much every character nails their role. My favorite was Gamora, who helps sell the character in a way different from the MCU version, complete with barely contained glee in a fight and an utterly charming love of terrible puns. The soundtrack is also phenomenal. The default music is fine, but the licensed music really shines. Suddenly dashing into battle to the strains of "We Built This City" managed to capture the Guardians feel almost perfectly. It can also lead to some hilarious moments, such as when the butt-kicking music I randomly queued up for the final boss turned out to be Rick Astley's infamous "Never Gonna Give You Up," which was somehow both fitting and hilarious. There were some problems with the audio mixing in places, but that's another thing the Day 1 patch is supposed to adjust.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is an extremely fun little romp that is genuinely funny and heartfelt. It's fun to play, and combat maintains the feel of a team working together despite being technically only a single-player game. The only real downside is that it is a linear game, so the replay value depends on how much you enjoy seeing alternate outcomes to various cut scenes. If you're a fan of the franchise and don't mind that this doesn't matching the MCU version, then there's a whole lot to like in MGotG.

Score: 9.0/10

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