When a publisher like Square Enix gets hold of the Marvel license, you naturally expect big things – and even more so when the word, “Avengers”, is uttered.
But it’s fair to say that last year’s video game take on everyone’s favourite ragtag society of superheroes was a mixed bag, with a host of performance issues hurting the live-service title at launch and grindy post-game content failing to give players much incentive to stick around once the entertaining campaign was done with.
It’s perhaps not surprising that a Guardians of the Galaxy game is next, but we certainly wouldn’t have put any money on it being the story-driven, entirely single-player third-person action game first unveiled at E3.
In Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, you play exclusively as Peter Quill, better known as Star-Lord, the self-appointed leader of the intergalactic outlaws known as the Guardians of the Galaxy, in an original, comics-inspired adventure that we’ve spent the few weeks with. And spoiler alert: we had a blast.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy quickly makes clear that its titular stars have only recently assembled, so there are serious trust issues that as the leader Quill has to iron out if his squabbling crew are to become credible guns/fists/branches-for-hire, which is the ultimate aim.
But before that can happen, it’s perhaps not surprising that a bunch of reforming criminals quickly get themselves into trouble with the Nova Corps, essentially the intergalactic police, after entering a strictly off-limits quarantine zone on an ill-judged monster hunt.
The game’s early chapters see you working out how exactly you’re going to settle your huge fine, but – and we’re going to stay well away from spoiler territory here – it’s not long before the Guardians’ unpaid debt moves quite a way down Nova’s list of pressing concerns.
The writing and overall quality of the story is perhaps the most pleasantly surprising aspect of this game, and easily its biggest strength. For a lot of people the MCU’s take on these characters has resulted in some of its enjoyable films, and their banterous to-and-fro is absolutely what stands out here too.
Fans of the films might initially find it jarring that we’re not listening to Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper and co., but we very quickly settled into the game’s cast. Drax’s wonderfully blunt delivery is as amusing here as it is on the big screen and in the comics, while Rocket Raccon’s sneering dismissal of most of Quill’s ideas is bang on the money. The game often employs a dialogue tree that allows you to somewhat mould your own Star-Lord. It’s far from an RPG, but you will have to make decisions in the heat of the moment and sometimes the game will warn you that your actions have been noted by your fellow Guardians. It took us a long time and several refused requests to get Rocket back on side after giving Drax permission to lob him over a ravine early on.
When Drax in particular is involved Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, but there are more emotionally heavy scenes that are executed really too, and we looked forward to every cutscene.
For most of the fairly lengthy game’s 16 chapters you’ll be hopping between different planets, ships and space stations, exploring as the Guardians bicker, combine their unique skillsets to solve light environmental puzzles, and beat up a whole lot of space monsters. Between missions you can hang out in Star-Lord’s iconic Milano, and yes, there’s an interactive jukebox. There are occasional flashbacks too, and the odd chapter that slows the pace right down so you’re doing little more than walking and talking. And rest assured that Marvel aficionados are serviced by plenty of Easter Eggs and nods to the wider universe.
There’s plenty of variety, then, so you rarely feel like you’re having to grind your way through a section of the game without some diversion to break up the repetition. That said, we did audibly groan every time we were asked to walk around a room rerouting electrical currents to open a door – a bizarrely overused puzzle type in games like this that is simply never fun.
In Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy you only play as Star-Lord (no co-op either), but in combat you have control over everyone’s moveset. The AI-controlled Guardians will happily scrap away alongside you, but by holding L1 (we played on PS5) you can tell any member of the team to use one of their unique abilities, which are unlocked as you gain ability points.
Using these moves is crucial to overcoming the waves of enemies you’ll face, as they do far more damage than standard attacks. Star-Lord’s Eye of the Hurricane – you bring up Quill’s own ability wheel by tapping L3, which always felt a bit fiddly to us – sees him spiralling into the air and chucking a flurry of grenades beneath him. It looks great and is very effective. Gamora’s Shadow Strike sees her dash between enemies striking each one as she goes, while Groot can grapple enemies in place using branches, allowing you to unload on them without retaliation. Drax is great at simply charging into things.
Quill also has his trademark Element Gun, whose secondary fire is able to conjure the four elements, which you unlock as you progress. Throw in perks – Built by Rocket at workbenches and financed by components you find hidden during missions – such as a more powerful charged shot, special team attacks triggered by on-screen button prompts, and revival opportunities for downed teammates, and there’s a lot for one person to think about.
Combat can feel scrappy and lacking the kinetic oomph of, say, a Marvel’s Spider-Man. But it works in context. The Guardians haven’t been guarding the galaxy for very long and they’re still trying to work out how to fight effectively as a team. Often, and especially in the first half of the game, it can feel like you’re awkwardly bundling your way to victory, rather than doing it in a particular style, but that’s probably how a bunch of cash-grabbing mercenaries not even sure they like one another would be emerging from a brawl.
Give us a huddle
And we’ve not even mentioned the “huddles” yet, the in-game moments that really make this feel like an authentic Guardians of the Galaxy video game. At certain points during combat you’ll have the opportunity to trigger a huddle, where the action temporarily freezes and you give your fellow Guardians a pep talk.
What’s said during these sequences depends on how the fight is going. The first time it happened we were getting our backsides handed to us, and the gang needed a bit of encouragement from cap’n’ Star-Lord. Next time time we were on fire, and the vibe was so good that Gamora could hardly wait to get back out there.
You can mess up the Huddle if you say the wrong thing, meaning only Quill gets a stats boost when you return to the fight, rather than the whole team when everyone is charged up. But it’s usually pretty obvious what you should be saying to keep spirits high, and either way the remainder of the brawl will be soundtracked by a song from Quill’s typically ‘80s-fuelled mixtape. If the combat was entertaining before, it increases tenfold when you’ve got Gary Numan or Bonnie Tyler spurring you on, even if the music can occasionally get a bit lost amid all the gunfire, exploding bombs and wisecracks.
It’s a fun mechanic but we wish these moments felt a bit more choreographed. Often you’ll unknowingly trigger one right at the end of a particular fight, which means the whole thing feels a bit flat.
Something to Marvel at
Marvel’s Guardians Galaxy is a very pretty game, with a rich colour palette, some stunning space vistas and, in the case of Rocket, some of the nicest video game fur we ever did see.
We did encounter some bugs during the review process, the best of which saw Quill suddenly very literally lose his head until we rebooted the game. Which of course we only did once we’d paraded Star-Lord’s new look in front of his confused-looking pals. Others were pretty standard fare that we imagine will be ironed out for launch.
Like most next-gen console games, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has both a graphics and performance mode, with the latter sacrificing a bit of graphical fidelity in favour of smoother frame rates. If there’s a 60fps mode on offer we always end up gravitating towards it, especially in action games like this one, and we couldn’t see much difference between the two in terms of visuals. Ray tracing support will be added but wasn’t available ahead of embargo.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy verdict
While Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy never quite earns the unmissable status of Insomniac’s Spider-Man titles or Rocksteady’s legendary trilogy of Arkham games, it gets closer than we expected to. Developer Eidos-Montréal understands how a Guardians of the Galaxy game should play, look and sound, and it has a pretty good story to tell, too.
The on-screen action is messy and missing a bit of finesse, but we still had a lot of fun with it, and we mean as it as a compliment when we say that we enjoyed watching the game as much as we did playing it.
If you’re a fan of either Marvel comics or the films then this one is well worth picking up, but even those who aren’t are getting a rock solid action game with pretty graphics, a snarky raccoon, a talking tree and a soundtrack of plentiful pop bangers to keep you entertained throughout.
A highly enjoyable, if unremarkable game to play, but buckets of charm and a great story elevate it
A really enjoyable Marvel story
Fun, frenetic combat
Looks great on PS5 and Xbox Series X
Some boring puzzles
The action can become a bit too chaotic at times