Whisper it... Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy game might be better than the movies. It's incredibly rare for a game to make me laugh as much as it does cry, but what Eidos Montreal has created here is something rather magical, both in terms of its story and its execution. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is a game where you embody everything it is to be a leader, including all the doubts and insecurities that come with it.
You play as Star-Lord, the leader of a Guardians of the Galaxy team who have only been working together for a year or so. What that means is that they're still learning to operate as a team and as an adopted family. It puts you in a great position as a player, allowing you to learn more about each of these characters as Star-Lord himself does.
Release date: October 26, 2021
Platform(s): PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and PC (with DLSS and ray-tracing)
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
If you're familiar with the comics or the MCU movies, these Guardians feel like an episode of What If. They're familiar characters, with recognizable traits and personalities, but with different backstories featuring characters and events that'll make you build a separate timeline for these alt-history versions. Discovering how they differ from what you'd expect is just part of the charm.
What I particularly love about Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is that you learn about their strengths and weaknesses as characters both in narrative and combat sections. Narratively, the longer you spend with the game, poking in every corner and following every dialogue prompt, the more the game gives back. Finding collectibles unlocks further dialogue options back on the Milano, while taking time to have a quick chat with a character mid-mission or simply just listening in conversations all help build a better picture of who these Guardians are, and it's so rewarding to find. You're not going to lose out by blasting through the game's quest, but if you love these characters as much as I do after the opening few missions, you're going to want to peel back every layer of this onion.
There's an extra incentive in finding all the dialogue here, because the writing is excellent. It's brilliantly funny, making my laughter blurt out in many moments from excellently timed, didn't realize that joke was coming joy. But it's also touching, sweet, and occasionally downright emotional, with two particular moments almost drawing real tears. You end up really caring for these characters, with Drax, in particular, being a standout favorite for just how well-rounded his character is. Yes, he's still deadpan / accidentally funny, but he's also hurting from the guilt of surviving an intergalactic war. They all are, in their own way, and it really makes this story one that you'll highly invest in.
As their leader, you'll have to be additionally invested because they're all going to look to you to make decisions. While there is one overall ending to discover, there are decisions that'll have to make along the way that can have an impact on how things play out. I won't spoil any of them here, but even seemingly innocuous dialogue options can lead to something happening that may help or hinder you later on. This is the team that brought us the most recent Deus Ex games after all, so they have priors when it comes to branching dialogue systems like this. However, I will say that it's not always clear when something you've done will have an effect later, or whether you really had a choice at all in certain moments, even though the game may suggest you did.
Leadership will always have an effect in combat. Each of the Guardians has a unique set of skills that you can call upon in battle, commanding them almost RTS-style to use a specific ability on a certain enemy. There's a great strategy element in figuring out how to take down the more powerful enemies, or when to unleash certain moves when you're feeling overrun. For example, using Drax to diminish a stagger bar, before sending in Gamora to deal high-level damage. Or using Groot to wrap his roots around a group of enemies before using Rocket's bombs on them en masse. It's essential too, as not using the team's abilities can see you flatlining all too regularly, especially if you don't combo this up with Star-Lord's own abilities, including his elemental blasters.
This all plays out in combat that always feels like you're fully in control. Strategizing and reacting is great fun, and there are boss battles where you'll need to think carefully about what to do when. There are some moments where I would have appreciated a touch more variety in the enemy types and the ways to use the skills, but it's mostly a great experience.
You can use these specific skills to solve puzzles in the world outside of battle too. Drax, for example, can lift and move hefty objects, while Gamora can leap up to high places to give you a boost. Rocket can hack terminals and Groot can lift platforms. But, there's definitely an element of the puzzles being pretty repetitive. There's an electricity puzzle where you interact with terminals to redirect the flow that's introduced pretty early on and then very overused. I'm unconvinced that multiple planets use the same electricity systems, and eventually you can become weary of following yellow lines around.
Otherwise, puzzles are mostly traversal-based, and almost platformer-esque in places. Again, some of the elements - like using Star-Lord's scanner on the terrain to find something Gamora can slash through with her sword - become a little tired by the time you're in the closing chapters, but there are some great little set-pieces to discover, which are further complemented by the way the Guardians react to them. The game could just have benefitted from a few more elements or mechanics to keep things fresh.
But the repetitious elements are greatly overshadowed by the fact the story is just so damn enjoyable. The landscapes you explore are wonderfully put together and utterly screenshot worthy, and there's always the encouragement to take a moment to explore - especially in the jovial quips from the Guardians that you're wandering off… again.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy excels in its storytelling, delivering a narrative that will linger with you long after the credits roll - so much so I am eager to go back in and make different decisions. There's great fun to be had in its combat and puzzle solving, but it's held back a little by a lack of range in its puzzles and mechanics, particularly later on.
Reviewed on PS5 with a code provided by the publisher.