Marvel games have largely seen an uptick in quality over the last few years, largely in part to Insomniac’s dual Spider-Man games and a handful of surprisingly strong mobile efforts. After Avengers failed to impress, fans were understandably hesitant for another Square Enix-backed Marvel offering, especially with a team as beloved (and, for many fans, beloved thanks to James Gunn’s wonderful films being many people’s only touchpoint) as the Guardians of the Galaxy. As it turns out, those fears were unfounded. In a word, this game rocks.
Guardians of the Galaxy follows the intergalactic ragtag team of Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot as they attempt to, you guessed it, save the universe from complete takeover. Throughout your journey across space, you’ll encounter a diverse and surprisingly deep roster of characters both famous and almost unknown that help our heroes along their way. I’m keeping it vague to avoid spoilers, but rest assured that the plot for GotG is much deeper and surprising than it initially appears.
Much of this is due to the fact that the game takes place entirely in its own continuity—there are no connections to the MCU, Avengers, or Spider-Man universes here. This freedom from any kind of “canon” allows the game to craft its own version of the Guardians, with a unique history of galactic war and backgrounds that are different from their film counterparts. As the game progressed, these characters became my definitive versions of the heroes; each has time to develop in interesting ways, and Eidos Montreal truly understands what makes these characters tick. They also nail the impressive feat of giving the team banter that doesn’t feel forced or overly-quippy, though it could use a few less flarking “flarks” in the script.
Many superhero stories nowadays are about found families or grief, but the way that GotG works those ideas into the plot hit home more than any film has recently. Star-Lord grapples with ideas of responsibility, especially when reconnecting with Ko-Rel (an old flame) and her daughter, Nikki, who happens to be 12-years-old—as long as Peter and Ko-Rel have known each other. Drax grapples with the loss of his family, Gamora with her grief over the ending of the war, and Rocket with his inability to let people get close. Even though players only ever walk in the jet boots of Star-Lord, every member of the Guardians gets their moment to shine and add another layer to the game’s emotional core.
While the story is absolutely the highlight of the experience, the gameplay holds its own as well. Combat sees Star-Lord blasting away at enemies while his teammates fight individually, with each Guardian having their abilities mapped to their own buttons. While it’s initially disappointing to only control Star-Lord, that choice becomes exciting as the Guardians gain abilities and add increasingly tactical options to combat. It really helps Star-Lord feel like a leader, and gave later encounters a more methodical air as opposed to the mindless blasting of early chapters. The game’s “huddle” mechanic was also a fun twist on the role that music plays in this team’s story, with Star-Lord listening to his teammate’s worries about the fight before giving them a pep-talk and cranking the tunes. It’s the rare combat system that got more exciting as the game went on instead of getting increasingly stale.
Outside of combat, players are able to explore the environments of multiple planets, ships, and cities, with the option to head straight for story objectives or look for collectibles. Players can find crafting components to level up their gear, holograms that give backstory on the world of the game, special items that result in unique conversations with teammates, and even collectible outfits for all characters. Each type of collectible felt worth seeking out, and it was a joy to do some light puzzle-solving in order to access these goodies.
The exploration and combat sections both highlight the game’s exceptional design department. This is as delightfully weird, cosmic, and funky as the Marvel universe has been used in some time, with players fighting gelatinous cubes, dragons, and multiple kinds of aliens across environments that are washed in bright colors. GotG thoroughly nails the Jack Kirby aesthetic when it comes to world and enemy design, and I loved how out-there it got. Most superhero games tend to play it safe when it comes to their designs, and that is certainly not the case here.
Those creative liberties also extend to the central performances from the Guardians and surrounding cast. Every cast member seems to take what works best about the characters from the comics and the films and blends them together, resulting in heroes that are immediately recognizable but still have the capacity to surprise players. The standouts to me were Jon McLaren as Star-Lord, Kimberly-Sue Murray as Gamora, and (perhaps most of all) Jason Cavalier as Drax. There are also some surprising character appearances that I won’t spoil who bring fun new interactions to the game. It helps that all these wonderful performances are exceptionally captured with some top-notch facial capture animations, which really help sell emotional and comedic beats alike.
From top to bottom, Guardians of the Galaxy is a triumph that proves how superhero stories can shine when they do their own thing and take some risks. While the gameplay side of things takes a bit too long to get to the good stuff, the story, performances, and world design all work to create the most exciting Marvel game since Insomniac’s Spider-Man. Packed with heart, surprising twists, emotional depth, and bombastic, tactical combat, this is an experience that’s not to be missed. Here’s hoping we get back in the Milano with these heroes really flarking soon.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.]