Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is something that had a lot of potential to be great, but just barely makes it to above average. This comes after a near-perfect lesson on what not to do.
Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics struggled to make Marvel’s Avengers the hit it needed to be. There were too many alienating design choices that made the game a repugnant experience: the live service style business model, insufferable microtransactions, and the endless grind guaranteed that Earth’s mightiest heroes landed in the bargain bin within months.
Not wanting to have another Avengers situation again but still stuck with the Marvel license, Square Enix set Eidos-Montréal loose on the next big Marvel production. Having learned from the mistakes made by Crystal Dynamics, Eidos-Montréal’s take on Guardians of the Galaxy aims to be a real video game that does not treat the player like they are an ATM.
Most of its best qualities lie in its amazing graphics, art direction and the care put into the narrative experience. There was potential with the gameplay, but it never reaches its the heights that could have been.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Windows PC, Geforce Now, Nintendo Switch (via Cloud), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: September 23, 2021
Price: $59.99 USD
Marvel’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy to the uninitiated can be best described as a modern, punk-rock take on those lame sci-fi serials from the 1940s. It features a cast of violent misfits who are a struggling band of mercenaries, but are all quirky and relatable to the average millennial. These may be characters who fall into the typical quippy Marvel trap, but Eidos-Montréal manages to elevate it with superior writing.
Anyone familiar with the movie from 2014 will have a broad understanding of the premise and characters. Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, is leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s an affable chad-like figure comes out on top, thanks to his uncanny intuition and wits which make him a natural-born leader. He carries two mysterious weapons that harnesses the elements, and wears a nice pair of rocket boots.
Gamora is a green lady who’s power is to kill anyone with blades. As an adopted daughter of Thanos, she was trained by the very best assassins, but that never stopped her from also being a huge smart-ass. Talk about beauty and the beast; she’s both.
Rocket is a high strung and sneaky science experiment with a troubled past. He is a gifted mechanic and engineer, as well as serving as the team’s demolitions expert. With his tree-monster and best friend Groot, they have gotten by and survived in the universe by sticking together.
The only thing stronger than Rocket and Groot’s bond is Drax the Destroyer; the team’s muscle who sometimes has a simple approach that proves the most effective. For a guy who seems the most two-dimensional, Drax becomes the most complex and best written characters in the entire story.
The adventure began with a simple salvaging job where the Guardians unwittingly encounter an unknowable anomaly. Seemingly innocent seeds are planted that blossom into extremely high stakes scenarios, where the entire galaxy is under a threat.
The Guardians get entangled in the web of a space cult that has caused a rift in the Nova Corp; and at the center of it all is Quill and a turn that will shake his already turbulent life.
Anyone who has never read or seen any media connected to Guardians of the Galaxy will be able to get invested in the story of this game. Eidos-Montréal proved in their Deus Ex games that they are masters of environmental story telling, and in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the developers go all out.
The level of detail in every location is packed; especially around the Guardians’ ship The Milano. Every character’s quarters are stuffed with nuance like Gamora’s doll collection, or Quill’s hoverboard that looks like he stole it from Marty McFly. Even Groot’s garden area is teeming with a wide variety of weird alien plants that defy human understanding.
Even greater is the jaw-dropping rendering for the lurid and neon soaked alien planets and settings the crew will visit. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy as a whole is extremely bold with its intense uses of bright and striking colors.
The bizarre technicolor and psychedelic vistas make for a strong impression, and the various alien denizens roaming about in Nowhere are truly bizarre. Quill truly feels like an odd man out in a universe that is so intense with color.
With extremely dense geometry and texture work to realize the characters and setting, a compromise came at the expense of level design and gameplay. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was designed to run on last generation consoles, and this meant that the game had to be designed around the limitations of last generation specs.
Gameflow is a very linear and story driven affair, with players controlling only Star-Lord/Peter Quill; moving through corridor environments with light platforming and occasional arena-like areas to battle enemies.
This is where much of the world building can crumble, there’s always only one way forward, and most doors are purely for decoration. The few times the road forks, it leads to a dead end with some scrap to pick up for upgrading Quill’s abilities. At times, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy evokes memories of Final Fantasy XIII with how the game constantly shunts the player forward with no chances to open up.
There is a brief moment in Nowhere where players are free to explore a small section of a city to partake in some optional spending that can lead to unique situations. Generally, the pace and direction taken with the story and flow is understandable if the gameplay could live up to it.
Star-Lord is a terrible fighter. At least he feels like he is. The story suggests he is awesome in battle, but playing as him reveals he can barely punch, his rocket boots are extremely limiting, and his element guns are severely underpowered. Getting headshots does not matter, and the gunplay does not function the way like most modern shooters.
What Eidos-Montréal was probably going for was to make an action-tactical game. It would make a lot of sense since Star-Lord can fly, and could give commands to his fellow Guardians from the air.
However Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy leans more heavily into acting like a typical third-person shooter than having strategy. Most of the time dashing around and spamming available commands gets the job done.
The idea was to make Star-Lord the glue to the party, and to not let the player become too good at overwhelming the enemy as Star-Lord alone. This is why he is so lame in combat, and feels like he controls like an out of shape old man. He should be using his rocket boots like the guy in Vanquish; boosting vast distances and launching himself over huge gaps, going into slow-mo and headshotting-noscoping scrubs.
Unfortunately, battling only happens when the writers will it. When not having showdowns with a cult of robots or alien monsters, the Guardians will slowly explore and solve puzzles while having character build banter. Eidos-Montréal does try to keep things fresh by tossing in a gimmick once in a while, but they are too far and few between. The impression felt is that they got cut due to time restraints.
Controlling and flying the Milano is very rare, and the game teases a hover bike sequence that never happens. The major gimmick is the TellTale Games-style social link mechanic with characters. Star-Lord will have to make many dialogue choices over the course of the adventure, and while some do make an impact on the gameplay, the consequences for most of the choices are nonexistent.
There is no story branching at all, and no matter what, there is only one narrative path forward. The only thing that alters is how the other Guardians react towards Star-Lord, and to be fair, there is a very impressive amount of unique dialogue. Characters are quick to react to actions, and usually mock the player for trying to explore to scrounge up some scrap.
Voice acting is strong throughout, with the performance of Drax the Destroyer being a stand out. He’s fun to listen to, and his love of violence makes him very relatable. Nolan North does a pretty good job at not sounding like Nolan North as Rocket. He brings a manic energy to him, and embodies the character far better than the movie version.
Overall the characters look and sound way better than the film counterparts. Eidos-Montréal did an excellent job at not making their vision look like a Brazzers knock-off, and managed to make visual style and performances superior to the movie. Even Gamora looks way hotter and tougher than the boney movie Gamora who’s not believable as a space-assassin.
Another aspect that Eidos-Montréal took from the movie is Star-Lord’s walkman, and his penchant for 80s mixtapes. There is a respectable selection of 80s classics, though there are some that are far too played out now, like I Ran, Take On Me and Call Me. The real bold choices are Hangin’ Tough from New Kids on the Block, and of course the immortal classic; Never Gona Give You Up.
The real star of the soundtrack is the 10 original 80s style metal songs from the fictional band “Star-Lord”. These pieces hit the nail on the head at capturing the spirit of the hair-metal glam of the era, and they’re legitimately awesome songs to work out to.
Endos-Montréal’s Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is not the kind of game that is fun on repeated playthroughs. It suffers from what most story driven games suffer from: diminished returns. The first time through, it’s an exhilarating scenario, but the gameplay and flow of the action don’t hold up after the first time.
When the story is done and told, all Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has left is its gameplay. Hearing the same quips and walking down the long corridors as characters bounce off each other only works the first time when experiencing it. Since the player is technically in control, these parts cannot be skipped, and it’s tedious in subsequent playthroughs.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.