REVIEW | Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Llama’s, Music and enough laughs to make the world’s best comedians envious.

Square Enix published Marvel’s Avengers in 2020, they have now published Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy in 2021. It would be fair to say that Square Enix learnt their lesson from the rough reception their 2020 release got, except that wouldn’t be the correct conclusion to come to.  No, Avengers was developed by Crystal Dynamics whilst Guardians of the Galaxy was developed by Eidos-Montreal (y’know, the guys that made all those Deus Ex games and Shadow of the Tomb Raider). Hopefully the current confusion from some in the gaming community will be cleared by seeing such a stark difference between two Marvel games published by the same publisher. Publishers and Developers are not the same thing, thank you for coming to my TEDTalk.

Now that we’ve separated Cain from Abel, lets crack on. Guardians of the Galaxy (hereby dubbed GotG) is set in the Andromeda system years after an interstellar war had taken place. As with all post-war scenarios, there are many individuals looking to take advantage of the chaos/rebuilding to position themselves and maximise income in the short and long term. Star-Lord and his crew are one of many mercenary groups taking jobs to pay their bills and increase their reputation in the system. Their first mission is to capture a legendary beast for a legendary beast collector – things don’t go as planned, they end up in jail and consequently have to scam said legendary beast collector to pay their fine. From there, all hell breaks loose.

The humour in this game is enough to having you laughing out loud even if you’re not really paying attention, even the banter between the guardians evolves as the story moves along. At first, it’s just plain mean, even getting physical when Drax offers to throw Rocket to the other side of a mountain knowing there is a risk of him hurting himself or getting attacked on the other side. About half-way through and the guardians are a lot gentler with their ribbing of each other, and by the end they are mostly ripping on other characters.

GotG plays like a love letter to comic books with the amount of references to characters, objects and locations. One such location is Mantlo’s Bar, though not in the comic books it is named after Mr Bill Mantlo who created Rocket Racoon in 1976, enough sentiment to make you shed a tear. Another reference to the comic books comes from the main antagonist – no spoilers, don’t worry – the writers changed a few things to fit this specific incarnation of the antagonist but the core of who they are, and their objective is present – pristine, preserved, and untouched. The story felt like a throwback to the agenda-less Marvel movies pre-2019 and that ending was worth it, very refreshing.

“The beats in GotG are timeless classics that will live long in the hearts and minds of anyone that plays the game, even if just for a few hours.”

As a third-person action adventure game filled with bright colours and a crew with whom you not only fight with but also command to use their special abilities, you could be forgiven for confusing GotG with Scarlet Nexus in terms of looks and combat setups but there are some differences. For starters, the companions are fixed, and their specials can be combined with your own. For example, you can command Groot to hold down a particularly sturdy and mobile opponent so that you may hit said opponent with your special that robs you of your mobility while it’s active. Or using your freezing gun ability to freeze several opponents together and then asking Rocket to carpet bomb them for maximum damage. The variety in the combinations you can pull out are not endless, but they are plentiful, this helps a lot when it comes to replayability and with your options when trying to overcome higher difficulties.

Because Star-Lord is the main character in this game targeting becomes even more important due to his dual-wielded guns.  I’m pleased to report that they got the targeting system right in this one, holding LT/L2 will lock you on to a single target in the general direction you’re facing, but only pressing RT/R2 without locking on will make you fire in the general direction you’re facing. These two options allow for flexibility in battle akin to a FPS.  If you’re being overwhelmed by numbers and require some crowd control until your special ability regenerates all you have to do is spray and pray; no need to release your aim on whoever you were aiming at, and if you’re looking to focus on one opponent that heals its allies, you can lock on and focus on shooting them alone while dodging their minions.

The upgrade system is satisfactory. The only two options are the special abilities for each guardian which max out at four, three that you can trigger during battle and one that triggers automatically.  Work benches provide Perks to Star-Lord Specifically like: Consumable Magnet that attracts enemy drops from up to 15 away, Rapid Reload that negates the cool-down period in Star-Lord’s guns.

While some might think this upgrade system is too basic I personally think it’s quite good. Sometimes you can put in too many abilities and combos into an action game like this and run the risk of them never being used. Truth is, I haven’t used Gamora’s abilities nearly enough in combos and I’ve already finished the game on the normal difficulty.

The healing system in GotG works for the franchise and the universe it is set in. When you kill an enemy their life force is absorbed by Star-Lord, the bigger and badder the enemy the more little green orbs that will pop out to restore your health.

There aren’t many boss fights in the campaign however the ones that do show up always have a unique twist to them. It’s not all big health bars, annoying minions and grinding that await you, variety and unexpected outcomes abound. Given this is a linear action game and not open-world, no safe zone in game is truly safe, not even the Mulano (the guardians’ spaceship).  I’d be delving into spoiler territory if I went into specifics, but what I will say is make sure you have your controller in both hands and both eyes on the screen at all times (even during cut-scenes) – you’re welcome.

There are many cut-scenes in this game, yet they don’t feel intrusive, probably because the transition in and out of them is almost seamless. Their length hits that sweet spot, giving my sore thumbs a proper rest before the next challenging battle without allowing me to go make a sandwich and some rooibos tea. Having the ability to pause a cut-scene is a welcome feature as not enough games respect the fact that life can happen while you’re in the middle of these.

Facial animations and voice sync look good but it’s all pretty last gen in terms of graphics, not that this is a bad thing, this is just to say that if you’re looking for something visually stunning on Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, this ain’t it. The world building in the Mulano and Knowhere (seriously, there really is a place called Knowhere) is done very well and even the cut-scene to gameplay transitions are done competently. All in all, a solid visual presentation.

The beats in GotG are timeless classics that will live long in the hearts and minds of anyone that plays the game, even if just for a few hours. From White Wedding by Billy Idol, Cars by Gary Numan and Hanging Tough by New Kids on the Block, the number of bangers in this one is literally too many to name.  Since ‘Best Score and Music’ is a category at The Game Awards, GotG must be in the running. As for the rest of the audio, the balance between sound effects in battle and the voices of the characters in game is carried over well, avoiding the common pitfall of favouring one over the other.

GotG is a good game, in the same way my dog is a good boy. It won’t make you cry like Telltale’s The Walking Dead nor will it illicit long pensive stares at the screen like Metal Gear Solid 3 and that’s fine because it’s a perfectly good game. The fighting mechanics are on point, sound is mostly crisp, the story is engaging and there are no micro-transactions. This is a game that will keep you engaged while you wait for Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Battlefield 2042 or Call of Duty Vanguard to launch in coming weeks.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Reviewed on Xbox Series X, also available now on GeForce Now, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch and Xbox One.