You never quite know what you're going to get with superhero games nowadays. The likes of Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham series and the more recent Marvel's Spider-Man are proof famous comic-book faces can set the standard for the industry, but then we all remember how Marvel's Avengers went. Unsurprisingly then, there's some apprehension surrounding Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy — Square Enix's second attempt at trying to adapt the superhero formula. Thankfully, however, those concerns have been misplaced.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is an incredibly enjoyable and very funny title. Fuelled by the amusing, over the top vibes of the two big-screen movies, it tells an original story that enthusiasts will love and newcomers can easily follow. With endlessly entertaining combat and wonderful characters to boot, the game is much more Marvel's Spider-Man than Marvel's Avengers. While it's not without its flaws, developer Eidos Montreal has a winner on its hands; one that's deserving of a sequel or two.
Set 12 years after the Chitauri tore apart the universe in the Galactic War, Star-Lord and his charismatic crew members are taking on odd jobs to pay the bills. One takes them into the Quarantine Zone, which is governed by the Nova Corps and comes with a fine upon capture. Of course, that's exactly what happens to those aboard the Milano. The team scrounges up just enough Galactic Units to clear their debt when upon their return to Nova Corps HQ, they discover yet another threat to the galaxy.
It's an engaging enough plot that will keep you entertained from beginning to end, but what you're really here for is the characters — and boy do they deliver. The five bandits of Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot don't suffer quite the same fate as the Avengers; they all mostly resemble their on-screen appearances. Star-Lord is obviously the odd one out — maybe it costs too much to face scan the new voice of Mario — but he makes up for that with the usual charming, centre of attention act.
In fact, all of the performances behind the five Guardians are top-notch. Brandon Paul Eells returns as Drax after voicing him in Guardians of the Galaxy: The TellTale Series, and once again does a wonderful job of capturing the Kylosian's overly serious but also hilarious tone. Kimberley-Sue Murray portrays both the deadly assassin and softer sides of Gamora's personality wonderfully, while the ever-lovable Groot is his sweet self in the hands of Adam Harrington. The cutscenes don't nearly have the same budget as an actual Marvel film, but the characters you've come to know and love are very much present.
You'll only ever directly control Star-Lord, but dialogue options and decision making elevate you to the true leader of the Guardians. Conversations with teammates allow you to explore their backstories during downtime between chapters, while resolutions to important story moments can be dictated by your hands. This isn't a TellTale style approach where certain decisions can result in dramatically different endings. However, it's a welcoming extra layer that gives the narrative a bit more depth as it notes which of your decisions will be saved for later when the ramifications of your actions are felt.
The plot, characters, and decision making all feed into a surprisingly meaty 20+ hour campaign that explores the galaxy and then some. Combat makes up much of the experience, but there's time for environmental puzzles and exploration too. Broken up into 16 chapters, you can veer off the main path for collectibles and outfits inspired by comic books of the past, or take the time to tour some of the bigger areas. Think of Carson V from Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and you're along the right tracks. Don't get us wrong, the game is a largely linear undertaking, but there's certainly room for some fun on the side.
Combat is your meat and potatoes then, with Star-Lord equipped with his trusty blasters. You might think Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is a third-person shooter based on that, but treating the game as one would see your playtime grow exponentially. You see, while Peter Quill's guns can deal with basic enemies, they're borderline useless on their own against tougher foes. This is where the other Guardians come into play; you can activate their abilities based on individual cooldown meters. Each equipped with four powers that are unlocked through story progress and purchased through upgrade points, they all help out in different situations.
More imposing combatants have a stagger gauge that renders them immobile and prone to extra damage once filled, and Drax is perfect for accomplishing that. Gamora can then either take a good chunk of HP out of a single health bar or swiftly deal damage to a number of enemies all at once. Rocket gets the heavy weaponry and explosives out while Groot is all about crowd control and healing teammates.
At its peak, 20 different abilities can be selected, which may seem like a lot. And it is, but the game smartly pads them out enough so you never feel overwhelmed by the possibilities at your fingertips. Actually, the game turns that prospect on its head: there are so many skills to choose from that you want to be getting caught up in difficult scenarios so you can take advantage of what each individual Guardian has to offer.
In combination with Star-Lord's standard blasters, the wide array of abilities helps to greatly flesh out combat with various approaches to dealing with the galaxy's toughest bad guys. You can focus on the stagger meter, hang back and let Rocket play with his toys, or allow Gamora to go to town.
If you do get into a spot of bother, however, then the Huddle Up mechanic will be your saving grace. Once activated in the midst of combat, Star-Lord gets the Guardians together for a pep talk, that if successful, encourages the team and increases damage dealt for a limited time. These sequences can be a little too long, especially during the latter half of the game, but the classic 1980's track that proceeds them is always worth it. A fun feature nevertheless.
Our only real gripe during combat would be the repeated dialogue, which takes some of the charm away from the lines themselves. In a single encounter, the Guardians can repeat themselves twice or even thrice over. A bellowing war cry from Drax doesn't have quite the same effect when you heard the very same one just 30 seconds prior.
All in all, though, these are fantastic foundations for what is a great title in the present and whatever may come in the future. Star-Lord is just combat savvy enough to deal with fodder enemies on his own, but the wide variety of abilities the full Guardians roster possesses really comes into its own the more you play. Ceaselessly entertaining and enjoyable to engage with, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy gets its most important mechanics just right.
What's also on point is the soundtrack; a long list of 1980's hits accompany original tracks for a memorable auditory experience. The new songs go in the heavy metal direction, and they're used relatively often during standard combat encounters. The tracks you already know and possibly love are saved for the aforementioned Huddle Ups and when the story crescendos, or you can select from the full list at will back in the Milano. There's no greater feeling than working your way through a stream of bad guys, only for Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up to kick into gear.
But then there's nothing worse than the game breaking, which happened all too often during our playthrough. Characters would lose body parts during cutscenes, objects would glitch out of the environment, and items could no longer be interacted with. Characters would seemingly forget who they're with, meaning we couldn't access workbenches to purchase upgrades. And large parts of the scenery would be missing before suddenly glitching into place. Reloading a checkpoint usually fixes the problem, but it would happen so often that we started to roll with the bugs so we weren't losing progress all the time.
All these issues were encountered prior to the availability of a day one patch, which went live late during our review process. We fired up the buggiest section of the game and ran through it twice over to test whether the update changed much; we're happy to report no glitches were encountered except for one. A birthday cake had duplicated itself. While we can't guarantee your own playthrough won't be without its technical faults here and there, it appears the day one patch has improved this side of the title substantially.
A ray tracing mode will also be added to the game in a post-launch update to accompany the standard quality and performance modes. Quality mode targets 30 frames-per-second and seriously ups the visual quality, while performance mode doubles the framerate but deals a hit to the graphics. This is actually somewhat of an annoying situation because the title looks really, really good in quality mode, but you don't want to play something this action-packed at 30 frames-per-second. Performance mode smooths out gameplay, but then the visuals aren't nearly as good. Passable, for sure, but you'll always know in the back of your head the game can look a lot better. You can't have the best of both worlds here.
For as much uncertainty there has been surrounding Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, the final game has delivered. Fun and frantic combat provide the basis for a long, extremely enjoyable campaign featuring the characters you love and the tracks your kids usually screw their noses up at. A great title that deserves to be expanded upon in the future.