by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Balancing Influences and Originality
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been dominating the box office ever since the first Iron Man movie came out almost a decade and a half ago in 2008. Yet, despite these characters and stories dominating pop culture, this success hasn't crossed over into video games as much as one might expect. The most serious attempt came in 2020 when Crystal Dynamics released Marvel's Avengers, but the game failed to garner the critical or commercial success that its developers expected. That being the case, I was hesitant when Eidos-Montréal announced Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy is the kind of game that Marvel fans have always deserved.
My initial doubt about Guardians of the Galaxy actually stemmed from how popular the films are. Unlike almost every other popular Marvel hero, the Guardians as most non-comic readers know them were largely invented for the James Gunn films. Sure, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, et al. have been comic Guardians for quite some time, but their personalities don’t have much in common with their representations by Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, and the rest of the amazing film cast. It made me nervous, then, that Guardians of the Galaxy would make the same mistake as Marvel’s Avengers did and land itself somewhere in the uncanny valley between MCU characters and original interpretations. Fortunately, Eidos-Montréal has done a fantastic job putting their own spin on the titular team while also adopting the new quirks that have endeared them to the general public.
A Lovable Band of Misfits
The game sees the team operating only shortly after first coming together, and their unfamiliarity with each other provides the perfect excuse to bring the player up to speed. As the narrative progresses, it’s these relationships that prove to be the real “point” of the story, and they develop wonderfully. The entire game succeeds because of the fantastic writing, and it doesn’t just happen during cut scenes. Even the way that characters banter during combat changes, and character growth can be seen in these short snippets of dialogue. There are also several narrative choices, but they don’t impact the plot as they may in other games. Instead, most of them simply affect inter-character relationships, and even small choices are frequently referenced long past their branching point.
I’ve often heard games receive criticism for being overly linear, but another reason that Guardians of the Galaxy works so well is that it knows what it wants to be and doesn't try to overcomplicate itself with filler or fluff. By keeping focused on a defined narrative and mission sequence, the game tells a tight story with beats of pathos that his perfectly. Each mission that the crew embarks on is fun and colourful, and the locales are as different and alien as one would expect from a space-hopping band of mercenaries.
One thing that may surprise players in this age of pervasive co-op and multiplayer, especially in a game about teamwork and relationships, is that Guardians of the Galaxy only lets players control Peter Quill. Combat isn’t terribly deep, which may leave some players wanting a bit more, but I thoroughly enjoyed the way that the sense of "team" is brought into a single-player experience. Star-Lord can call on the other Guardians to perform various actions and attacks in combat, and successfully understanding each Guardian’s capabilities is key to understanding the flashy, flowing combat loop.
Like other best-in-class superhero games like Marvel's Spider-Man and Batman: Arkham City, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy ultimately thrives because it understands why fans love the characters in the first place. The game looks fantastic, and the controls are tight, but it's the genuinely witty banter, narrative ethos, and way that all of the Guardians work together in combat that cement this as a contender for my favorite game of the year.
Memorable dialogue, affecting character relationships, team-based combat
Combat may be too straightforward for some