Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Review: An Excellent Adventure Starring Intergalactic Misfits
It’s still wild to me that the Guardians of the Galaxy have become a household name. Prior to their 2014 film, these guys were a niche comic book team who only comic fans had a clue about. Even in that medium, they weren’t a huge deal. Somehow, only seven years later, they’re starring in their own colossal action game from the team at Eidos-Montreal, the team behind the most recent Deus Ex titles. Perhaps even more impressively, it’s actually a really good game.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy drops you into the shoes of Star-Lord Peter Quill, a human kidnapped by the Chitauri as a child who has been looking for his place in the galaxy ever since. He’s joined by the rest of the core Guardians team fans of the movie will be familiar with. Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax are all here. While you only play as Star-Lord, every character gets their chance to shine.
After a mission into a quarantine zone goes wrong, the Guardians end up with a hefty fine to pay and little time to come up with the money. Soon they’re desperately trying to figure out a way to get the funds, including the sort of less than legal options they’re known for. Of course, they end up way over their heads, making many enemies wherever they go and getting involved in the sort of end of the world scenarios that a team of misfits like this isn’t equipped to handle. Yet the universe just may need them if it’s going to survive. The story of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorites in any game this year and one of the best Guardians stories I’ve seen in any medium.
A Different Take
Not set in any traditional Marvel universe as far as I can tell, this is a relatively early version of this team where the characters have only recently come together. Friendships have started to form, but trust isn’t really there, especially among a couple of specific characters. Blending elements from the film with some from the comics that spawned it and some unique to this game. The world-building here is actually really impressive, both in its scope but also in its restraint. Many characters familiar to fans of the Guardians comics show up.
While this core team was always going to lead the way due to the popularity of the films, fans who enjoy other characters involved in Guardians comic teams will be pleased. Even outside of characters who actually appear, the scope of the wider Marvel universe becomes clear quickly. Other heroes and foes are referenced, and little nods to a variety of characters are frequent. For example, Star-Lord has a Dazzler poster on the wall of his room. Yet, it’s not overbearing. Fans who aren’t familiar with the wider Marvel universe won’t feel like they’re missing anything.
Between missions, you’ll get to spend a lot of time hanging out with your team, mostly on their ship, the Milano. These moments provide great depth for the characters, allowing you to grow closer. They’re helped by an excellent voice cast who do outstanding work. I sometimes wished there were a bit more to do aboard the ship, but these sections are still highlights.
Fire At Will
When you actually start playing through the campaign, which is surprisingly long for this sort of title but never wears out its welcome, you’ll find a very solid action game though not one that’s pushing any boundaries. At some point, the decision was made to only have you control Star-Lord, and as much as fans of the rest of this team may be sad to not get to run around with them, it was probably the right move. Trying to create five characters with differing play styles would have expanded the scope of this game to an enormous degree. The rest of the team will still be important though, don’t worry too much if you want to see them shine.
Star-Lord fights primarily with his elemental blasters, though he can also engage in melee combat in a pinch. Throughout the game, you’ll unlock a wide variety of elemental abilities and new moves which expand your options in combat. You can unlock them in any order, with Star-Lord having fifteen abilities you can gain from crafting ability and each member of your team having four special moves you’ll unlock as you go, mostly using combat experience. These moves help keep combat fresh, with Star-Lord having options to fly into the air for a better view of the fighting, or to just unload his guns. Everything controls well, and the camera mostly plays nice. I do, however wish there was a little bit more weight behind your shots. At times they don’t really feel like they’re making an impact, though life bars will show that you’re making progress.
Part Of A Team
If you think you can run through Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy just shooting everything, you’ll be mistaken. I learned relatively early on that enemies can quickly overwhelm you if you try, even without having to ramp the difficulty way up. Luckily, you’re not alone. Your entire team follows you through each level, with most of the game putting the entire lineup at your disposal. While your teammates will fight on their own, they’re most effective when you deploy them to use their special abilities. Over time most members of the team get a variety of moves for attacking single enemies, attacking groups, and a few utility moves, but each has a strength. For example, rocket is great at area attacks. Gamora has the most potent attacks on a single foe. Drax is somewhere in the middle, while Groot does an excellent job holding foes in place, important against some of your faster enemies.
The strategic element this provides isn’t insanely deep, but you and your teammates work well together, even able to combo up for group attacks. Different enemies require different strategies as well, and bosses can often provide unique challenges you’ll have to consider. If things get tough against one, you can, over time, build up enough energy to call a huddle. While this may not make a lot of sense, think of it as more of a metaphysical timeout where you and your team can get on the same page. They’ll talk about how the fight is going, and you’ll be given the opportunity to inspire them. No matter what, Peter gets a temporary stat boost coming out of the fight, and your team is healed. But choose right, and your whole team can gain that boost. You’ll also be treated to a song from the game’s excellent eighties-inspired soundtrack after the huddle, setting the tone for your fights.
Explore The Galaxy
Between fights, you’ll wander through some excellent-looking environments that are filled with color and look great. Your team will banter and bicker as you go, both when you’re exploring and in fights. I actually came to enjoy this a lot, and there’s enough of it that you have to stand still for a long time before anything threatens to repeat. New dialogue in each area keeps this fresh throughout. The game primarily performs well with only occasional frame drops. I did, however, after several days of leaving the game running in sleep mode, notice sudden terrible framerate issues. A quick restart of the game solved the problem, but it happened multiple times, so it may be worth closing the game out periodically if you don’t normally. Loading is generally good with restarts happening fast, though doors, particularly on your ship, take a surprisingly long time to load for what needs to be loaded behind them.
These areas will ask you to perform some light platforming and puzzle-solving but nothing terribly strenuous. If you can’t figure out a puzzle, depending on your difficulty, one of your teammates will likely nudge you in the right direction. One of my favorite parts of the game is actually the completely customizable difficulty. It allows you to customize everything from the damage you deal, the damage you take, how quickly your shields and special moves recharge, whether you need to make a choice in the huddle, whether you actually need to do the game’s occasional quick time events, and much more. Difficulty in video games is frequently binary; either everything is really easy, or everything is really hard. I appreciate that the team at Eidos-Montreal are going their own way with this, letting players have the experience that’s right for them.
There’s plenty to keep players playing too. Not only are there sixteen chapters, each of which averages around an hour, but each area is filled with resources and costumers for your characters worth hunting for. I really enjoyed hunting down as many costumes as I could, with a combination of classic looks from the movies and games combined with some great ones designed specifically for this game.
Space Bugs Are The Worst Bugs
If some potential memory issues that can be solved with a quick restart were the extent of my issues with the game’s performance, I’d be mostly happy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is filled with bugs. I ran into a number of visual issues with textures not loading correctly and flickering popping up too often for a game of this caliber. On several occasions, I got stuck in the environment, and while I could sometimes free myself, other times, I wasn’t so lucky. Those weren’t the only issues that stopped me from proceeding entirely. During one boss fight, the prompts to destroy my foes limbs just stopped showing up halfway through the fight. Another time me and one of my teammates tried to enter a path at the same moment, and the game entirely locked up. Even a part of the ending locked up entirely, making me afraid I might have to defeat a late boss again.
To the game’s credit, checkpoints are frequent, and you can quickly return to the most recent one in seconds. That’s mostly fine if you get caught in the environment, you’ll probably lose no more than a minute or two. It’s less acceptable in boss fights, though, where you might have put in significant time and gotten through some difficult moments only to have to start again. Square Enix assured us that a late patch would help with many of these issues, and I did notice less of the visual issues after installing it. There were still a few, though, and I had the game completely lock up on me more after the patch than before it. These performance issues are a shame as they slightly sour the overall experience. Hopefully, they’ll be addressed quickly.
Despite some issues with bugs and shooting that could use a little more weight behind it, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy tells a fantastic story that kept me glued to my seat until the very end. An excellent voice cast, killer 80s soundtrack, and strategic combat sweetened the deal. Anyone looking for a fun action game should consider checking it out, and for fans of the Guardians, this is an absolute must-play.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Xbox Series X (Reviewed), Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC, Switch Cloud Version; Publisher: Square Enix; Developer: Eidos-Montreal; Players: 1; Released: October 26th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy provided by the publisher.