It wasn’t long ago there was a sizable section of the population that had never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy, myself included. James Gunn brought one of Marvel’s less mainstream IP’s to the MCU with a stellar cast, phenomenal soundtrack, and incredible humor. Gunn, against all odds, created a ragtag group of unlikely hero outlaws and it was a smash hit. Published by Square Enix and developed by Eidos Montreal, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy did an exemplary job capturing the heart, humor, and atmosphere that Gunn and the MCU have shaped around these otherwise obscure characters. While its MCU counterpart is obvious inspiration, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy blazes its own path by reimagining the characters, lore, and universe in a way that allows it to have its own identity. The game’s impressive story, music, and visuals make it a sweet ballad even if the gameplay is sometimes bland.
The story of Guardians of the Galaxy is so moving, strange, and different that it is well worth the playthrough. The voice acting is superb, as are the characters’ models, and the character development stands in stark contrast to Square Enix’s most recent misstep with Marvel’s Avengers. While those characters seemed like “Great Value” versions of their MCU counterparts, Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t. The character development in the game stands toe-to-toe with the MCU’s cast and well written narrative. What is as equally impressive are the supporting characters encountered throughout the teams travels.
After a prequel scene with teenage Peter Quill in his mother’s basement, the player is introduced to the misfit team of outlaws. Their journey begins with treasure hunting and trying to pay the fine they owe to the Nova Corps but are later caught up in a galaxy saving adventure that revolves around a radical cult. The story is at its best when it focuses on the characters internal conflicts and struggles. As the story unfolds it is learned that Peter was taken from his mother at a young age by the Chitauri. He was used as a prisoner of war against his unnamed father, and king of Spartax. By the time the game starts most of the cast has already experienced the death of loved ones, torture, or abuse that they deal with in different ways. Each character is given ample time to explore their griefs in a way that is compelling and deep.
One of the great themes of the game is how to deal with grief, trauma, and family. Each character deals with their past, in events that happened before the events of the game, and tries to figure out how to move on. Peter lost his mother and was a prisoner of war. Gamora was tortured during Thanos’ reering. Drax lost his wife and daughter and Rocket was traumatized by scientists that experimented on him. Presumably Groot went through some stuff but of course his dialogue has limits. Each character’s pain manifests as sorrow, fear, or anger making them incredibly relatable and empathetic. All the while, through dialogue options and story progression, Peter counsels and loves these characters. This group consisting of a space pirate, warrior, assassin, experiment, and a “floracolassus” grow together as a family in their collective healing.
That’s not to say that the game is tonely heavy throughout. There is near constant interaction with the party with a lot of humorous teasing, insults, and observations. While some have criticized the near constant flow of dialogue, I found it interesting, immersive, and realistic to the characters’ personalities. Peter and Rocket’s rivalry and personalities, in particular, make for fun comedic banter while doing otherwise mundane tasks like exploring nooks and crannies of the various linear chapters.
Guardians of the Galaxy’s gameplay is probably its most bland element. Combat with anything other than a boss battle can often feel repetitive, and at times frustrating, as it seems to slow down the otherwise fantastic pacing of the story. The player is in control of Star Lord and is able to give commands to the other four characters who otherwise do basic attacks. This feels like something in between Final Fantasy VII Remake and Final Fantasy XV’s party systems. Each character is only allotted four abilities that are unlocked through skill points or story progression, which was a bit of disappointment.
The sheer volume of enemies at times seems to force the player to rely heavily on using the team’s ability commands which makes the combat slow down a good bit. I would have rather had a system like Kingdom Hearts that allows the player to custom the team members and turn them loose on the enemies and have abilities available as a trump card. Despite these issues, the boss battles are where the combat shines. Fighting monsters, space dragons, and other antagonists are epic in scope and stand out. Each boss, almost like a Legend of Zelda dungeon boss, has unique patterns and weakness exploits that make the battle super fun.
The chapters that the player explores feel empty. I found enough resources to purchase all of Peter’s equipment upgrades well before the final chapters which deinsentivisted exploration. There are hidden cosmetics to change the appearance of the Guardians but this does not affect gameplay. As someone who enjoys the occasional linear story game, like Uncharted and Final Fantasy X, I was slightly disappointed by the exploration and lack of diversity in the puzzles. Puzzles or obstacles sometimes were hardly puzzles and didn’t deliver any sense of accomplishment. Combat and puzzles in the game sometimes feel like padding for the game’s somewhat overstayed length.
The sheer presentation of Guardians of the Galaxy is astonishingly vivid. From the beginning of the game I was enthralled by the commitment to authenticity in teenage Peter Quill’s 80’s era basement. A Chewbaca toy, Rolling Stone’s magazines, and posters parodying some of the blockbuster hits of the time were so exciting to examine. From the moment I am able to control Quill, I wanted to explore and find the details and easter eggs. Once Quill is able to explore the galaxy proper, the player is exposed to set pieces and backdrops that feel like something out of a fairy tale about the cosmos. The color pallets used in the various chapters are unique, vibrant, and mesmerizing.
I found myself MARVELing at all the asteroids, ships, galaxies, and geographic formations that the worlds offered. While as beautiful as the game can be, the chapter’s linear progression did make these set pieces feel limited. There were at least three times throughout the game that glitches caused me to either die, prevented progression, or caused me to have to restart the game. While certainly annoying, the blemishes hardly detracted from my overall experience.
I would guess as much as half of the budget of Guardians of the Galaxy went into licensing fees. The soundtrack is as amazing as if James Gunn himself picked the Milaneo’s playlist himself. From the dashboard on the Milaneo (Quill’s ship), the player is able to cycle through songs from Kiss, Iron Maiden, and Billy Idol. Music plays an integral part of the game’s story and even gameplay. Peter’s space pirate-like moniticur, Star Lord, comes from the in-game band of the same name. The band’s logo is proudly displayed on the back of Quill’s jacket which creates a more believable origin story for the title than the MCU version.
The band Star Lord feels authentic to the era it imitates and the band’s album is even available on Apple Music. The licensed songs are so fun and add so much atmosphere to the game I thought it was worth including the playlist below. There is a trump card in combat called “Huddle Up” which brings the team together so that Quill can give what is hopefully a stirring pep talk. If successful, the team returns to battle with buffs and 80’s metal playing in the background. Quill’s cassette player is almost like it’s own character similar to how the Batmobile is to the Dark Knight.
A Note to Parents
Guardians of the Galaxy is rated “T” by ESRB for the following: “Language, mild blood, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol, violence.” There are times where the humor strays into innuendo but nothing overly explicit. The game does have elements revolving around a cult-like “church” and characters who identify as “gods.” These elements stray into spoiler territory but are worth noting. The game does not rely on “adult” themes or language and the “T” rating is very appropriate.
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