Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Review: A Flarkin Good Time
I can pinpoint the exact moment Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy clicked for me. The team fights to save Drax from an otherwordly entity and during a particularly hectic battle, I activate a "huddle." After a rousing speech from Star-Lord, "Holding Out For a Hero" kicks on and the team goes into overdrive.
Everything came together in that perfect moment, and it highlights Guardians as a rollicking space adventure underpinned with serious emotion, even if there are quite a few shortcomings along the way.
At the end of the day, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is easily one of my biggest surprises of the year.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Review: A Flarkin Good Time
Guardians of the Galaxy, of course, stars the titular ragtag team as the story opens on the band of misfits breaking into a quarantine zone on the hunt for a rare monster, years after a Galactic War took place. Much like Marvel's Avengers, this is a brand new take on the characters and universe, although one much more inspired by the comics than the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One mistake leads to another and before long, the bumbling heroes find themselves wrapped up in a fight for the fate of the universe.
Guardians of the Galaxy is an incredibly narrative-focused game, and story is by far the one element Eidos Montreal puts the most emphasis on.
You directly take control of Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, and as the story plays out, you'll have to make a variety of dialogue choices, some of which can alter the story and outcome of events. The branching paths don't seem to be anything dramatically different, but they can affect how the story plays out, and how some characters treat Star-Lord.
In my first few hours with Guardians of the Galaxy, I wasn't sure how the overall writing would pan out, as some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy, and there's a huge overreliance on in-universe curse words like "flark" and "scut." One of my biggest surprises, then, is that Guardians of the Galaxy manages to pack in some serious emotional weight along the way.
Like many Guardians of the Galaxy stories, this is a tale about a band of emotionally scarred people finding family. I grew so attached to these characters over the 20-or-so hours I spent with them, and each feels emotionally complex. They all get plenty of "big" moments that add dimension and provide a window into the trauma they've experienced.
While there's certainly a handful of big set-piece moments, Guardians of the Galaxy knows when to slow things down and let some quieter moments play out. One of my absolute favorite segments is when Star-Lord roams around the glowing neon streets of Knowhere.
The general structure of Guardians of the Galaxy has you working through linear chapters while seeing the story play out and making choices along the way. Between most chapters, you'll be on the team's ship, the Milano, where you can talk to the team and examine items. But don't worry, there is plenty of fighting; each chapter is also loaded with a wide array of combat encounters.
As Star-Lord you can fire your blasters and use melee attacks, but the real catch of the combat system is issuing orders to your fellow Guardians. By holding a trigger button, you bring up a Guardians menu, with each of the four heroes assigned to a face button. Pressing that face button then brings up the various abilities of that Guardian. Each character is on a cooldown, and Star-Lord has his own abilities to use as well.
There are more complexities layered in as the game progresses, too: enemies have a stun gauge, environmental items can be used for attacks, and some enemies have elemental barriers protecting them. Star-Lord gains access to elemental guns with four different options added along the way: ice, lightning, wind, and fire. Each of these elements has a different use in battle, as well as a use for solving puzzles.
For Guardians' first couple of hours, the combat is a bit rudimentary, but as you open up more and more options, things get far more exciting. Figuring out the best combos to use, like having Rocket use a gravity grenade to pull in enemies, then having Drax a devastating charge attack to bowl through them, can be a blast. Add to that Star-Lord can get around the battlefield easily using his jet boots, and battles can turn into a magical ebb and flow.
It's unfortunate, then, that boss battles aren't as fun overall. Though they ought to be some of Guardians' biggest moments, and some are quite fun, they're often far too gimmicky, beating their own mechanics into the ground.
Though they aren't as complex as I'd like considering this is a game built around being Star-Lord, Guardians also has two different upgrade systems, both of which are fairly simple.
Battles give you experience for a skill gauge, which you can use to purchase new skills for each Guardian. All five characters have four special attacks to use, and by the end, you'll unlock all of them, so it's just a matter of which ones you want to prioritize first.
A resource called Salvage is also littered around the world, which is used to buy perks for Star-Lord, granting him various benefits such as increased health, a higher firing rate when low on health, or more charge for his elemental guns. The upgrade systems, by and large, are a bit underbaked and feel like they're in the game simply to be there.
I imagine one of the common complaints about Guardians of the Galaxy will be how linear it is. While you make dialogue choices throughout the game, the story plays out in a linear fashion and environments have limited exploitability. You do have the option to search for Salvage, new costumes, and Guardian Collectibles, which grant a new conversation with one teammate aboard the Milano, but that's about it. There's no grand overworld here.
Another is that it's simply too long. There's not enough variation in Guardians of the Galaxy, especially later in the game, and there were multiple moments where I thought I was reaching the end only to find out that, nope: I wasn't. While I enjoy the combat here, the gameplay systems begin to grow a bit stale by the end of the 20-hour runtime, buoyed by the writing and characters that keep the game surging forward.
The impressive art design adds to that. Guardians of the Galaxy is a good-looking game, but it's the downright weird art design that really keeps things interesting. Environment and enemies are oftentimes strange and a bit creepy, but the good way.
The development team clearly went to the comics for inspiration, and it works. There's some seriously impressive facial animation on display as well, even if other animations can be a bit wonky.
Of course, I can't write a Guardians of the Galaxy review without talking about the music, and this game has that in spades. There's a general 80s theme that permeates the entire experience, and Square Enix has been upfront about all the licensed music peppered throughout.
While you can listen to a variety of songs aboard the Milano, licensed music is used sparingly and at key moments, which I think is a good thing. The rest of the music sort of falls into the generic movie soundtrack feel with a few exceptions, like the fantastic main theme.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy — The Bottom Line
- Well-written and emotionally complex cast of characters
- Dynamic combat system that gets better as you go
- Fantastic art design that makes the game feel unique
- The game drags on, and simply feels padded at some points
- Half-baked upgrade system that feels like an afterthought
I really didn't expect to enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy as much as I did. The game's marketing left me incredibly lukewarm, and I wasn't sure what to expect, even after the first couple of hours with the game. What I found, however, is one of the best stories of the entire year.
There's definitely a bit of tedium packed into the overall experience, but Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is an adventure well worth taking, warts and all.
[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy used for this review.]