Just over a year ago, SquareEnix released Crystal Dynamics’ Marvel’s The Avengers. The long-awaited game arrived to find a gaming audience who seemed to want it to be something that it wasn’t. From people who wanted to be based on the MCU and not the comics, to some who don’t like multi-player games, the title faced an uphill battle. It also didn’t help that it launched in the middle of the pandemic, which likely affected the timing of content and updates after launch. I still like Avengers (the Wakanda update is great), but for those who wanted it to be a strictly single-player adventure without any of the “games as a service” trappings, Eidos Montreal’s Guardians of the Galaxy might be exactly what they were looking for. I’ve played through the complete story, and this is the best cinematic Marvel adventure of the year.
First off, this is again not based on the movies. The characters in Guardians of the Galaxy each had histories in the comics that pre-dated the James Gunn films, and while some aspects of the art design might be inspired by the MCU (and the 2014 MCU costumes are unlockable), this game is an original story that uses the comics as its basis and not the MCU. Meaning the character’s back stories are slightly different. Here, Drax has already killed Thanos. An even bigger difference is this version of Star-Lord is the confident son of J’son of Spartax (not Ego the Living Planet). As such, the comic/game Star-Lord is a bit more of a confident Han Solo leader, as opposed to the son of Jack Burton like Chris Pratt’s version.
More importantly this is a strictly single-player linear adventure completely focused on the story. There’s no co-op, no multi-player, and no micro transactions. All of the cosmetic costumes can be unlocked in game just by playing and exploring the levels. As you might expect with a story-driven solo adventure, the first time through might not take that long, but you then can go through again with New Game+ and mop up all of the costumes and achievements that you missed on the first time through.
This is a cosmic adventure ripped from the comics. I won’t spoil anything, as there are surprises that made me yell “No f’n way!”, but the game takes the Guardians on an adventure that’s both personal and galactic in scale. It all starts when they’re in a quarantine zone looking for a monster to sell to Lady Hellbender for a nice bounty when they’re caught by the NOVA Corps and then have to find a way to pay back a hefty fine to them. That springboards them into an epic adventure filled with some familiar Guardians faces such as Cosmo (he’s such a good boy) and other surprises. It’s not a cameo fest, as the story remains focused on the team, but there are some amazing surprises in the game including one character who you’d never expect to see in a story like this.
I can’t stress how much I loved this story, and I really want a sequel with this team, cast, and writers all back. The game tries to replicate the banter the James Gunn films are known for, and it works. There are multiple times throughout the game where I genuinely laughed my ass off. There are small jokes early in the game that you might dismiss as just a joke, but then they pay off in a “No f’n way” style later in the story. I was completely invested in this Guardians adventure in a way that a video game story hasn’t affected me since Sony’s God of War in 2018.
The core gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played a story-based cinematic game in the last few years. You’ll have a lot of long cinematic cut scenes that occasionally will give you dialog choices. These do affect the game and the story. An example is early in the game Star Lord has the opportunity through a dialog choice to trust the young daughter of the NOVA Corps leader he’s dealing with. If he trusts her, a door will be unlocked for the team later in the game. If he doesn’t, then you’ll have to figure out another way to open that door. That’s just a small example of how the dialog choices can affect things, there are much bigger ramifications later in the story to specific dialog choices.
As for the combat, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t feeling it in the beginning. You control Star-Lord, and the other four Guardians are mapped to the four face buttons. By holding one of the bumpers and then hitting their button you can activate one of their abilities. To complicate things, Star-Lord has his own abilities that are accessed by holding down the left stick button. Early in the game I felt it was a little overwhelming, but by the end of the game I was actually really enjoying combat. Each character has three abilities that you can unlock with ability points you earn following combat. A fourth ability is then unlocked via the story and each one is from a profound moment of character development for each Guardian (I really loved Rocket’s). Once you get the hang of using the Guardians and their abilities, combat becomes a lot of fun.
The Guardians aren’t just limited to the combat. Each one’s strengths are used while exploring the levels. Groot can make bridges, Rocket can hack doors, Gamora can leap and cut down hanging objects or slice through vines, Drax is the muscle so he can break through walls or lift heavy objects, while Star-Lord’s blasters gain elemental powers as the story progresses. Ice, Electricity, Wind, and Fire are used in specific parts of the levels to progress, and they also can be used in combat as some enemies can have a weakness to a specific element. Star Lord’s visor can also scan the environment to find lore information, as well as locating ways to progress such as cracks in a wall for Drax to smash through. Each of the Guardian’s unique strengths can also be used in combat (beyond their abilities) such as heavy objects for Drax to throw at enemies or spots for Rocket to trap with a grenade.
The MCU movies are known for their used of music, and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has hands-down the best licensed videogame soundtrack since Grand Theft Auto Vice City. The tracks are used at points in the story (the placement of KISS’s I Love It Loud and Europe’s The Final Contdown are “chef’s kiss” perfect), but they also show up in combat. There’s a “huddle” move that acts like a Super move in a fighting game. You have a huddle meter that builds up and when it does you can hit both bumpers to call the Guardians in for a huddle. There’s a dialog choice here, and if you pick the right one the team will be super-charged while a track from Star-Lord’s walkman plays. It’s hard to describe how damn fun it is to mow down huge groups of enemies to the sound of Wham!’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-go or Starship’s We Built This City.
I played through the game on the PS5 in Performance mode, which prioritizes frame rate. Even in that mode, the game is graphically on the same level as anything you’d see coming out of Sony’s first party studios. There’s also a Quality mode and a Ray-Tracing mode will be available post-launch (it’s in the menu, just not active yet). The art direction in the whole game is just excellent. Beyond just the character modeling, the variety of the environments you explore is just excellent across the board. It reminded me a lot of Jedi Fallen Order in how each planet looked different and unique to the one you just came from. Even when you revisit certain areas in the story, they find a way to make it look different so it doesn’t feel like your retreading anything.
Back in 2018 when I was coming to the end of Sony’s God of War reboot, I got a little emotional because I knew this excellent game I had spent the last ten or so hours playing was coming to an end. Guardians of the Galaxy is the first game since that one to come close to that feeling for me. I loved the story from beginning to end (and be sure to stay through the credits), and really want another adventure with this Guardians crew. If a game comes to a close, and you not want it to end but also want a sequel as soon as possible; I guess that’s one of the best recommendations you can give it.