This is a spoiler-free review of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
On the surface, Guardians of the Galaxy appears to be a standard third-person action game that places you in the shoes of Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, as you race to save the galaxy from certain doom. However, it's much more than that due to the various mechanics introduced throughout this adventure. You'll gain new abilities, solve puzzles, resolve disputes, and, of course, shoot through legions of enemies.
While the combat and puzzles are great, Guardians of the Galaxy truly shines when it focuses on the dynamics between Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot. The game touches on a lot of poignant topics like the cost of war and discrimination, but at its core, it's all about overcoming loss. Through this, the title manages to become more than the sum of its parts. Read on for my impressions of this fantastic game from developer Eidos-Montréal and publisher Square Enix.
Many of you may be hesitant to pick up Guardians of the Galaxy because it's from the same publisher as Marvel's Avengers. Luckily, the focus on playing as one character, in a solely single-player game, is a refreshing change from what we got a year ago. There are no microtransactions or paid boosts. If you purchase the $69.99 Digital Deluxe Edition of Guardians of the Galaxy, you get a few high-quality outfits from the comics and films that don't impact gameplay whatsoever, like making you more resistant to damage. Better yet, the best outfits are earned through exploration and progression through the story.
It's worth keeping in mind that Guardians of the Galaxy takes place in a universe that's separate from the films. Each character has their own unique story that's revealed through this 25-hour-long experience.
Characters and story
The Guardians of the Galaxy are a team of misfits who have banded together in the wake of a massive galactic war. They take odd jobs in order to make enough units to survive in this post-war landscape. Think of them as "heroes" for hire. They're from different planets and come from dramatically different backgrounds. However, many of them have shared, conflicting pasts and it's a miracle that Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot manage to work together so well.
If you're familiar with the comics or movies, you'll know that Guardians of the Galaxy takes a more lighthearted approach to universe-threatening events than, let's say, the Avengers game. This hilarious tone permeates the entire game and is enhanced by cameos from popular characters in the company's catalog, like Mantis.
If you're familiar with the latest Avengers films, you'll immediately recognize the scale of destruction possible if the main antagonist isn't stopped. If I told you what the tale revolved around, it'd ruin the surprise. Luckily, you'll know exactly what I'm alluding to once you pass the first mission. What I can say is that it's personal and definitely one every player can relate to.
Guardians of the Galaxy allows you to make a number of decisions that can take you down different branches. For example, there are dialogue and story choices like saving an animal instead of hiding a bunch of illegal equipment. Others seem like basic options to side with one character over the other, and don't have much of an impact on how the game plays out.
Choosing different prompts grants you varying allies and enemies. For example, if you successfully recount an incident where Star-Lord was inebriated and sang with a random alien, he'll help you down the line. Similarly, if you side with a character named Nikki Gold, she'll give you a device that lets you open any door on a ship called Hala's Hope. This can make traversing some environments a lot easier when you reach that part of the story. This also enhances replayability because the journey varies depending on your choices.
Prepare to manage interpersonal crises between all of the Guardians of the Galaxy members because there will be a lot. If you take the time to talk to everyone while they're on the Milano — your ship that's controllable during certain levels — you'll be able to learn more about them and hopefully, ease their anger or frustration towards you or other members of the team.
Guardians of the Galaxy only allows you to control Peter and his actions. The success of every battle and dialogue choice rests on your shoulders. In my opinion, this focus is better than being able to control every character because this adds a more strategic element to gameplay. You have to learn how to command your team properly. Additionally, imagine trying to solve puzzles by having to choose what each character did all the time. Better yet, having to switch to Groot during combat just to heal or resurrect an ally. That would detract from the focused gameplay that revolves around leading a team.
Star-Lord is great at shooting anything that moves with his blasters, but that's not enough. In order to effectively take down enemies, you have to constantly direct your teammates. If you push down on the Left Bumper on an Xbox controller, time slows down and you can choose a particular ability to use against any combatant. Rapidly lowering the health of an enemy also allows you to initiate takedowns by pressing the B and Y buttons together.
Gamora does amazing single-target damage with her blade and all of her other skills are tailored towards that. Drax, oddly enough, doesn't do as much damage as Gamora, but he strikes a good balance between taking down single targets and damaging a number of enemies if he's pouncing on the ground. Rocket is by far my favorite because he has some unbelievable gadgets at his disposal. He's the only one who can throw lethal grenades, and also possesses a barrage of endless missiles. His missiles — they're unlocked as you make more progress in the campaign — can take out half a dozen opponents at a time. Lastly, Groot is good at ensnaring enemies so the rest of the team can do increased damage. Eventually, he gains the ability to heal and resurrect. This comes in handy when you're facing the final bosses of Guardians of the Galaxy. Keep in mind that standard attacks don't have a cooldown, but all special abilities do. You'll have to wait a few seconds to use them again. This includes Star-Lord's deployable overshield and Groot's healing.
Sometimes, if you keep on encountering enemies at every turn, Guardians of the Galaxy can get a little frustrating. You just want to move on to the next area. However, it's not too repetitive. Luckily, the moment you start to feel some annoyance, the story leaps forward. The pacing is almost perfect in my opinion. What does get repetitive is the combat dialogue though. Your teammates say the same phrases again and again if you take a long time to clear an area.
Guardians of the Galaxy features forgiving combat at lower difficulties, but it gets very difficult as you crank it up. Luckily, the Huddle Up ability gives you a second chance by pausing the action. If your team's not doing so well, you can always trigger this, give them a pep talk by selecting one of two dialogue options that can either heal you or the entire team, and reset cooldowns. I'd use Huddle Up when you're truly desperate because there's no reason to waste it. However, when you use Huddle Up, it plays an amazing song so there may be an added incentive to trigger it when you're in the mood to hear the game's stellar '80s music selection during combat.
Guardians of the Galaxy often manages to surprise you because, just when you think you have the hang of combat, it'll throw a boss at you that's as tall as a skyscraper. Boss battles aren't the quick time event-laden fights you'd expect. You have to target certain body parts, dodge attacks, and use your teammates' abilities to succeed. For example, let's say you're fighting a famous monster from the Marvel universe that has tentacles. You'll have to tell Groot to ensnare its tentacles, that'll give you the opportunity to do a lot of damage, and eventually, Gamora will be able to slice them off.
As you progress through the game, you gain new blaster powers. These happen automatically and you don't have to do anything to unlock them. As mentioned earlier, you have to direct your teammates, but you also have to solve puzzles. For example, you may have to melt a frozen structure to create a passageway or freeze a pipe leaking poisonous fumes in a ship. Some enemies also have shields that can be disabled by hitting them with the appropriate elemental bullets.
Your teammates also have certain strengths that come in handy, but you have to tell Gamora, Rocket, Drax, and Groot what to do. Gamora can slice a number of structures and boost you to higher ground, Rocket can hack almost anything, Drax can lift heavy objects, and Groot can create bridges. You'll need to utilize your powers and that of your team's to traverse every level.
Apart from that, Guardians of the Galaxy features Perks that allow you to increase your health, the rate of fire, or even scan enemies during combat to uncover their weaknesses. I managed to unlock all but one Perk during my first playthrough, but I imagine it'll be possible when I start New Game Plus. You can easily find crafting materials scattered in every level and they can be used at Rocket's Workbenches to make you a more capable fighter.
Lastly, there are special abilities that can be unlocked through leveling up. After every enemy encounter, you gain experience and points. These points can be used to acquire new powers for yourself or your teammates. For example, Gamora gains devastating sword skills while Groot gets area-of-effect damage. Given the fact that you can't skip enemy encounters for the most part, you shouldn't have a problem unlocking everything during your first playthrough.
Environments and exploration
This game features some basic exploration — you can find additional outfits, artifacts, lore, and upgrade materials if you venture off the beaten path — but it's still very constrained. You're essentially going from one area to the next, either fighting enemies or solving puzzles, until the end of the level. The structure is a lot like Devil May Cry 5.
Guardians of the Galaxy guides you through each area and contains over a dozen chapters. The environments are varied and you'll get to see everything from barren wastelands to frozen mountains. The enemy variety also changes a lot based on where you're at. For example, you start by fighting basic blob-like creatures and eventually take down yeti-looking fiends.
While the environments in Guardians of the Galaxy aren't recycled, there are many combat scenarios that are, especially towards the end of the game when you're tracking down a mysterious figure from the Marvel universe. Here you basically have to keep on fighting through fog, again and again, in the same exact area, until you're given the option not to. This felt a little odd to me because it's unnecessary because the game is quite lengthy as is. There's no need to pad it further.
My only major complaint with Guardians of the Galaxy has to be its extremely linear nature when it comes to exploration and traversal. I've played countless games over the years, but this has to be one of the most rigid experiences ever. Luckily, there's one area in Guardians of the Galaxy that allows you to explore at length, and it's populated with a ton of mini-games. I won't spoil it for you, but you can go to a bar, get a drink, play the lottery, gossip, and do so much more. This was a welcome reprieve because I was really hoping Guardians of the Galaxy would allow for more freedom like the Mass Effect series.
Dialogue and music
Guardians of the Galaxy features some of the best voice acting I've ever heard in a video game. Every character is phenomenal and gives a perfect performance in my opinion. I'm usually one to nitpick when it comes to voice acting, but I honestly couldn't find any fault in this game. Drax is by far the funniest with his deadpan humor.
If you view the Xbox Series X gameplay posted above, you'll notice that everyone from Gamora to Mantis sounds natural and the conversations feel effortless. It's clear that a lot of care went into making sure the dialogue delivery was second to none because, given the film-like nature of this game, it's imperative to get that right.
Guardians of the Galaxy also features a killer soundtrack filled with hits from the 1980s. You won't be hearing a lot of the music that's in the game on YouTube because it's copyrighted. There are tons of amazing tracks that blend perfectly with gameplay. When you're on your ship, you can also select which tune to play. I've listed some of my favorite tracks below.
- Never Gonna Give You Up performed by Rick Astley
- The Final Countdown performed by Europe
- Wake Me Up Before you Go Go performed by WHAM!
- Holding Out for a Hero performed by Bonnie Tyler
- We Built this City performed by Starship
- Hit Me With Your Best Shot performed by Pat Benetar
- Don't Worry, Be Happy performed by Bobby McFerrin
- Since You Been Gone performed by Rainbow
There are over thirty fist-pumping classics in there that have universal appeal. You won't be disappointed. The rest of the soundtrack is also great and includes a bold musical score from composer Richard Jacques as well as ten original songs from Eidos-Montréal Senior Audio Director Steve Szczepkowski. Guardians of the Galaxy features a fictional band called Star-Lord — that's where Peter gets his nickname — and Szczepkowski wrote their music. While the tracks may not be as bombastic as Hit Me With Your Best Shot or Wake Me Up Before you Go Go, they fit well with the 1980s' theme.
Performance and visuals
Guardians of the Galaxy looks utterly incredible on Xbox Series X. Textures are unbelievable, but the standout feature has to be the characters' eyes. They're uncannily expressive and may just be the best eyeballs ever created in a video game. Guardians of the Galaxy is easily one of the best-looking games available right now on any platform, and there's a ray-tracing mode in the works for current-generation consoles.
The build I played lacked a major patch, but even without it, it's a polished title. I just encountered some camera glitches a few times when I was trapped in a corner fighting hordes of enemies. Other than that, there aren't any pressing issues on Microsoft's console. I didn't encounter any noticeable frame rate drops during my playthrough either.
From my analysis, Quality mode boosts the resolution to 4K, but locks the frame rate at 30 frames per second (FPS). The performance option lowers the resolution to 1440p, but the game gains the advantage of 60 FPS rendering. 60 FPS greatly improves the feel of combat because input lag is reduced.
I played the title on Quality mode because to me, Guardians of the Galaxy is more like an interactive film in an action game's wrapper. I wanted to experience it as the highest resolution possible on a 4K display. I'm glad I went with that because it was a glorious experience.
Guardians of the Galaxy isn't perfect, but Eidos-Montréal has done an excellent job with staying true to the source material and capturing the essence of every character. The game is about family, relationships, and overcoming loss, together. It has some incredibly dark moments that are masked well through the title's hilarious tone.
The combat, music, and voice acting are phenomenal, I just wish I had more freedom to explore the wondrous planets you land on. Had Guardians of the Galaxy adopted a semi-open world approach like the recent Tomb Raider games, it would've been a breakthrough experience. I'm hoping there's a sequel that gives us just that while maintaining the tone of the original.
You can purchase Guardians of the Galaxy from the Microsoft Store or the platform of your choice for $59.99. The game releases on October 26, 2021 for Nintendo Switch (Cloud), PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
Square Enix provided a review code for Guardians of the Galaxy. The game was tested on an Xbox Series X console.