From developer Eidos-Montréal and publisher Square Enix comes the latest Marvel video game Guardians of the Galaxy. which is an overall much better superhero project from the company.
During the summer’s E3 conference, Square Enix and Eidos-Montréal revealed the first trailer for the publisher’s second Marvel game Guardians of the Galaxy. Reactions to the trailer were, at best, lukewarm. with fans criticizing Star-Lord’s design and the fact that you could only play as him, as well as a number of lackluster-looking design choices. Given the reception to the company’s previous effort, Marvel’s Avengers, it seemed like the writing on the wall for another superhero-based disaster for the publisher. Much to my surprise, the new Guardians of the Galaxy video game turned out to be good. It’s not great and is by no means a masterpiece but a solid play all the same.
The game takes place roughly twelve years after a massive galactic war. The Guardians of the Galaxy, led by Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, are barely scraping by to make a living, taking any job that they can find. After an unfortunate encounter with what may or may not have been an Infinity Stone and a job gone horribly wrong, the Guardians inadvertently kick off a series of events that threaten the entire galaxy. In order to save the day, Star-Lord will have to rally his team and actually get them to act like the heroes they pretend to be and hopefully grow up a little in the process.
Regardless of how good or bad the game was it was inevitably going to be compared to both Marvel’s Avengers and the versions of the characters created in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films. When looking at the trailers, you got a distinct impression that the Square Enix game was making all the same mistakes that the publisher’s previous superhero project had made. Mainly that the characters all looked like the actors’ stunt doubles, were trying to be carbon copies of them and were taking on an approach to the heroes that might have been fresh in 2015, but now feels old and outdated. Somehow, however, the game manages to avoid almost all of these pitfalls and instead opts to do its own thing.
In the films, for example, Star-Lord is, like many other protagonists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more or less portrayed as a child in an adult’s body who can’t quite seem to get over his own parental issues. This new game, on the other hand, more or less keeps the spirit of that idea intact but instead turns Peter Quill into a douchebag who peaked in high school. Framing the character as an aging burnout is something that seems like a terrible idea on paper and definitely doesn’t lend itself well to marketing but, in the context of the actual game, it surprisingly works.
The main reason is that it actually gives Quill a character arc in the game. Early on, he encounters an old girlfriend who he was with during the war who went on to do bigger and better things. He also discovers that he may or may not have fathered a daughter with the woman, inadvertently setting him on a path that may or may not get him to finally grow up. It completely rolls with the idea that the guy is one of these people who couldn’t get out of their high school/college mentality and you find yourself hoping that he just might reach that point by the end of the game. It also works because the character is likable enough and even if screws up a lot you get the impression that, at the very least, he means well. It may not be a iteration that everyone can vibe with but nonetheless distincts itself from the Chris Pratt version.
Likewise, the Guardians of the Galaxy as a team function less as a surrogate family and something more akin to a bunch of coworkers who barely stand one another. Unlike Quill, however, the difference between the rest of the team members and the movie versions is a bit more subtle but noticeable all the same. Rocket Racoon and Groot are basically the same (if it ain’t broke and all that), but the former seems to lack his borderline R-Rated edge. Drax the Destroyer also seems to be almost the same character but is played less for comedic relief and acts more like a serious hero with a dry sense of humor. Gamora is arguably the most entertaining of the group, playing the straight man in a room full of clowns. They’re all similar enough to where they are recognizable but different enough to where you feel like you’re experiencing something new.
The main problem with these characters is that they all just lack the same on-screen chemistry as the versions in the films. Unless there is an argument going on all the interactions feel slightly awkward. It’s like everyone is being forced to talk to one another when the characters would rather be doing literally anything else. It’s all well voice-acted enough but when you watch some of these characters talk you just get the feeling that you’re in the middle of a really toxic workplace.
The one area where the game falls on the lackluster side, unfortunately, is the gameplay. It’s not exactly bad but lacks the WOW factor that games like Spider-Man or Spider-Man: Miles Morales had. You only ever play as Star-Lord which, in itself, feels like a massive waste in terms of gameplay variety and multiplayer possibilities. Playing as Peter Quill and shooting enemies is fun enough but it’s nothing that we haven’t seen in a million other third-person shooters.
Giving the Guardians commands to use their special abilities and using Peter’s elemental weapons helps break up the monotony of it all but it all feels a bit a little underdesigned. One of the big issues is that, like Avengers, the combat mostly amounts to crowd control encounters where the main strategy of the enemy is to overwhelm with you sheer numbers. The combat itself isn’t broken or boring by any means and is far better than that of Avengers but you’ll be hard-pressed to remember anything about the fights once you turn the game off.
Likewise, you have the game’s various platforming sections. Large amounts of Guardians of the Galaxy revolve around these sections and simple puzzles. You have to use different members of the team in order to solve them and work together for the more involved stuff. Like the combat, it all works and is by no means boring but it isn’t exactly a thrilling experience with most of these sections going on too long by about ten minutes and SO much of the game feels like it revolves around them.
In the end, Square Enix’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a far better game than I expected but it falls firmly into the category of “good but not great.” It’s a more satisfying play than Square Enix’s Avengers but is nowhere near as fun as Spider-Man or Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The story and characters all work for what they are but, one way or another, you’ll find yourself comparing them to those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe versions. It’s not a masterpiece by any means but it’s an entertaining enough game that will scratch your superhero itch at least until Marvel’s Midnight Suns and Spider-Man 2 come out. Sometimes that’s enough.
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