Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t just wear its Mass Effect influences on its sleeve: it prances them about like Chris Pratt in the opening exchanges of the franchise’s first movie. The similarities to BioWare’s space-faring soap opera are so plentiful that they’re almost impossible to ignore, but following the success of the Mass Effect Legendary Edition, it should have publisher Square Enix greasing its palms.
With the release – originally announced at E3 2021 – less than a month away, we were invited to play over an hour of the title, picking up the story at the start of chapter five. Our demo begins in the Milano, where the eponymous Guardians are trying to contact Ko-Rel at a Nova Corps outpost named The Rock. It turns out the intergalactic quintet have a debt to settle, and differing opinions on what to do about it.
Before embarking on your destination, you’re free to explore the Milano and interact with all manner of different nick-nacks located around the ship, many of which prompt conversations that deepen the relationship between your comrades. There are dialogue decisions that you can select from in order to further the discussion in the way that you desire, but we didn’t get the impression that we were shaping the storyline during these moments.
At any point, you can interact with the ship’s cockpit to depart, where the main mission begins. Upon arrival, it turns out that the Nova Corps outpost has been abandoned, forcing the Guardians to effectively break and enter in search of Ko-Rel. This introduces some of the exploration gameplay elements, as protagonist Peter Quill is able to use an alternative to detective vision in order to reroute a power system, enabling the crew to infiltrate the base.
The Guardians will bicker and snipe with each other as you poke around, but the dialogue never feels quite as sharp or interesting as in the films. In fact, living up to the outstanding blockbusters may be the biggest problem that this title faces: without the baggage of two of the MCU’s biggest ever movies, we feel like fans may be more forgiving of the occasionally flat delivery and stilted dialogue here, but it sticks out like a sore thumb at times.
It’s not really a fair comparison, of course, because we suspect this campaign will take at least 20 hours to beat, where director James Gunn makes the most of every second of the two hours he has to work with – but these are the drawbacks of licensed properties, we’re afraid.
Fortunately, the combat is fantastic, and attracts parallels to Mass Effect once again. You control Quill from a third-person perspective, armed with a photon blaster and the ability to knee-slide. However, at the push of a button you can command your teammates, whether it’s getting Drax to perform a wrestling move or Groot to wrap up opponents in tree-like tendrils. By either dishing damage or depleting your adversary’s defences, each squad member brings something a little different to your arsenal.
You’re encouraged to use your allies, too, as this will improve your overall score. Similarly, Starlord’s weapon will only be effective in close quarters situations, forcing you to close space and play recklessly. It all comes together to create a combat system that’s frantic, and the excitement is enhanced by the addition of portrait artwork and brash words that appear on screen while you execute. You’ll even be able to trigger a special move which removes the cooldowns on your commands, all while songs by artists like Wham and Blondie play in the background.
The enemies do seem a bit spongey for our tastes, but we suppose this is just another example of the game forcing you to use all of the abilities you have available. In our demo, for example, Quill is armed with a secondary fire that effectively allows him to freeze foes, which when executed correctly enables you to double your ordinary damage output. Also of note is that, when poking through the menus, we spotted that the difficulty is completely customisable, allowing you to either choose from presets or toggle the attributes that you care about to tailor the experience to your personal tastes.
But obviously, we were only able to scratch the surface of the game during our hands on. There are a ridiculous number of unlockable costumes available to all of the Guardians, with Gamora’s movie threads one of the cosmetics unlocked in our demo. It also seems like there’s a pretty substantial skill tree to explore, with different commands for all of the characters, and various perks that can be crafted from scrap that you’ll find around the world.
It seems good, then – promising, even. But the strength of the films may still come to bite it in the butt. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the default character designs or even the snippets of script that we got to sample – but it just doesn’t feel quite up to par with the movies so far. Of course, the MCU set an outrageously high bar for Eidos Montreal to clear, and if it can keep the combat as entertaining as our demo across the entirety of its campaign, then we’re confident that it’s going to live up to spectacle of its silver screen counterparts – even if its gags likely won’t hit as hard.
Are you looking forward to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, or are you waiting for reviews? Will you be picking this superhero spin-off up at launch, or waiting until later in the year? I am Groot in the comments section below.