Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2021) – Game Review

For those of you who prefer your reviews in a written form, here’s the script to the video:

Playing Eidos Montreal’s Guardians of the Galaxy game was pure, riotous fun. This is the kind of title that sends me back throughout years of playing narrative-driven action-adventures, makes me realise just how refined all the elements in this formula have become. From a colourful, inspired galaxy that breathes fresh life into every world visited, to a story that has soul, to a gameplay loop that not only didn’t outstay its welcome but was a joy to engage with time after time–Gardeners of the Galaxy is a triumphant example of what action-adventure can offer. It has even awakened in me the desire to read Guardians comics, which — I didn’t even feel that when I was watching James Gunn’s movies! Obviously, I’ve got thoughts, lots and lots of them. The short of it is, Eidos Montreal offers a version of the Guardians that is at once familiar to movie-goers and comic book afficionados alike. What makes it special, what makes it great, is a narrative that injects so much heart into familiar origin stories. Each and every one shines with a fresh coat of paint, as exuberant as any of the collectible outfits you’ll discover. Without further ado – let’s get into the thick of it.

Gameplay

Guardians of the Galaxy is an action-adventure game, one that prioritises explosive spectacle and player-directed teamwork in combat. There is a small measure of exploration, but outside of narrative, the bulk of your time will be taken up by kicking ass and having yours kicked in countless arenas across various worlds, spaceships, and yet more bizarre worlds!

Here, a few words on playing as Star Lord are required. On and especially before release, both critics and the audience at large were displeased that a game titled Guardians of the Galaxy only allows you to take direct control over Star-Lord. Maybe because that conversation had prepared me for it, but that didn’t make an impression on me. It adds up that the Point of View character here would be Peter Quill–he’s the least of them in terms of firepower and super abilities, but his leadership skills, his personality, hold the team together. The gameplay accentuates that — Star-Lord uses a pear of pea shooters, as YouTube reviewer Skill Up once described them. Wickedly cool as they are, they don’t do a whole lot of damage. The rest of the Guardians do damage independently of commands–but it’s the special attacks, four by the late game for the four other Guardians each, that will take apart the veritable armies in your path. So for example, Gamora’s Shadow Strike and Rocket’s Cluster Flark Bomb decimate clusters of mobs, though I prefer the assassin’s ninja slashes before the racoon’s explosives.

Gamorra is the meanest damage dealer of the lot–a perfect role for the Galaxy’s Deadliest Woman. The assassin’s capacity to dole out damage to single targets far outweighs even my favourite Shadow Strike–and that one, too, has serious single-target use damage.

Groot, meanwhile, is masterful support, using his roots to entangle either entire groups of enemies for a short period, or a single larger enemy long enough for the rest of the Guardians to bleed him dry.

Then there is Drax. Drax is a bruiser through and through–he does a moderate amount of damage, almost exclusively combined with some kind of a staggering effect.

Finally, Rocket–he does a mean amount of damage too, especially with his heroic ability, which is just about the most hilarious, most Rocket thing in the multiverse. He pops up this humongous weapon, which immediately starts shooting up the area the main target is in. And not just with blaster fire; no, no, no, there’re rockets, too. Fitting.

You as Star-Lord have a couple of cool abilities yourself, which help reassure the team that you’re pulling your weight. Maybe. Probably. Yeah, no. Peter’s ultimate is underwhelming, and makes you invulnerable. I only ever needed to use it once or twice, which is as blistering a critique as any I could make. The other three abilities are much better–there’s a blaster barrage one that makes you vulnerable but gives the Elemental Guns a massive boost in damage output.

The Elemental Guns are not just called that for the cool factor, either. The four elements you unlock during key storyline moments to save the team from one deadly situation or another are more or less what you’d expect; ice shots freeze enemies, lightning stuns and damages, and so forth. Like Quill’s skills, a combination of these does a great job of changing up the old pea shooters into something deadlier. The occasional shielded enemy also invites you to break out of a tried-and-tested gameplay pattern and switch up the elemental weaponry. It’s a nice enough addition, and executed well. But by far the most important element of the gameplay is, drumroll please…

…Oh My God, Of Course It’s the Jetboots! – Like anyone who has played video games in the history of ever, I, too, like moving from place to place by pressing space and watching my avatar make heroic jumps and glide through the air. Well, let me tell you something, viewer, the greatest innovation to ever come out of Eidos Montreal’s Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has to do with giving you way more bang for your buck. Star-Lord’s signature jetboots activate with that sweet, sweet double tap of the space button – you’ll be in the air for the duration of a Slow Fall spell, at least! Yes, that one’s a joke for all my D&D friends at home.

One more thing before I move on, though:
In my experience, gameplay reflected the narrative of the game, in particular when it came to commanding my companions. It’s at first a little difficult, you don’t know the system all that well, you’re not half-sure you know what you’re doing but the thing is, neither does Peter Quil. The good news? As these twenty or so hours of gameplay tick by, commanding the other Guardians will become second nature. Speaking of Narrative…

Narrative

Leadership ain’t all it’s made up to be. Its got its perks–you pick who gets which bedroom, you can yell out commands during battle and generally expect them to be followed, and you can even encourage one Guardian to throw another over a great precipice, if you so desire. Yeah, scratch out my first point — leading the Guardians is awesome. It’s not like you’re herding a band of wild children who each have access to sharp objects and/or explosives, a living tree your single help. It’s not like you’re making new enemies by the rotation or seeing the whole Milky Way turn progressively crazier due to some weirdness you might or might not be at blame for, right? Wait, you are? Ooof. At least you have fun while doing all of that — silver linings and all.

The narrative did something I was particularly impressed with, in that it seamlessly got me to identify with Peter Quill as a character. Identification with fictional characters can work in many different ways: here, and to me, it was an alignment in mine and Star-Lord’s reactions to the other Guardians, and especially Rocket. The relationship between Peter and Rocket is not an even line. While the highs are real high, the lows–my, can the lows get ugly. That the narrative staff managed to create a story compelling enough that I could map mine and Peter Quill’s emotional responses perfectly…that speaks to a job well done. It’s a very personal point, and player experience with this will vary widely but I give props to Eidos Montreal for credit where it’s due in my book.

And what of the antagonists? Guardians cleverly offers a passing glance at one of the game’s villains, without making too big a deal of him. Certainly, attention early on is given to–who else but Lady Hellbender? Lady Hellbender, whose reputation is a thing of beauty, especially if you take Drax’s word for it. clip of all the bullshit Drax says in 2x time speed Take it from me?…Don’t take Drax’s word for it. But dommy mommy Hellbender definitely isn’t the worst bad guy out there–just you wait

Spoiler section – SKIP THE ITALICIZED TEXT: Let’s talk about Nikki, and the red herring that is our assumption about her and Star-Lord’s relationship. You as the player are let in on Quill’s history with Ko-Rel before you’ve ever met Nikki; the player is invited to make the assumption that Ko-Rel’s kid is his own before Peter has even thought of it. You’re made to feel almost smug–oh, Star-Lord, how slow you are–as you watch the dawning horror on Peter’s face as he works out what you’ve worked out half a minute into meeting Nikki Gold for the first time. It makes so much sense. It’s just like Quill to end up with a kid he doesn’t even realise exists until she’s pubescent. It’s easy to get even more invested in her–by no means a difficult task in the first place, as Nikki is beyond likable.

That Nikki is actually a war orphan, adopted by Ko-Rel after the galactic war against Thanos and his Chitauri–what a great plot twist that is. I’m usually good at picking up on twists before they’re delivered, but this one caught me unawares–and the best part is, it fits so much better. Guardians has always been about found family, about a bunch of individuals who have no home, no one in the galaxy left. So they make a home, together. When Peter finds out the truth, he chooses to save Nikki just the same, to give her a place in his made family. That’s why he’s the leader of the Guardians, character-wise; more importantly, it ties together the main conflict of the game to the individual conflicts of each Guardian, and in such a thematically powerful way. On one side of this narrative is the loss and trauma suffered by each character–on the other is acceptance, first of that loss, then of the self, and finally of the family made along the way. It’s a powerful, cohesive narrative that packs an emotional charge I did not expect to encounter.

Presentation

Not since Control has an environment struck me with such unbridled creativity. Whereas Control turned brutalist architecture eery, uncanny, and volatile in typical SCP Foundation and Twin Peaks fashion, Eidos had a blank canvas in the face of Marvel’s cosmic galaxy. With it, the studio has created visually distinct worlds, even as the level design is more or less the same – you can always tell when you’re exploring and when you’re entering a battle arena. Exploration is not difficult at all, though sometimes you might miss out on something because you’ve gone the way of the main quest. The game has the tendency to lock you out of exploration zones after you’ve taken ten steps past them.

The voice acting captures so perfectly the essence of each Guardian, of their allies and antagonists. They sound not just similar to the Guardians on the silver screen; more importantly, they sound exactly the way they do in my head when I pick a Guardians of the Galaxy comic book.

The music is alright, one of those OSTs that fit the game and world but don’t leave too much of an impression. They do their job–the choral tracks capture the cultish nature of the Universal Church of Truth perfectly, and a few tracks like “Magus Dream” manage to stand your neck hairs on end. A lot of these I’ll use in my home D&D games, and with the greatest pleasure.

What’s far, far cooler is that the Senior Audio Director at Eidos-Montréal, Steve Szczepkowski, wrote a whole bloody 80s style rock album, the debut album of the diegetic Star-Lord band, from which our brave protagonist stole a moniker he’d eventually make his own. Steve not only wrote the lyrics and came up with a lot of the melodies, he’s also the lead vocalist of this bad boy!The music, chock-full of epic guitar riffs, Steve worked on with Yohann Boudreault. For more on their collaboration, you can look at one of the links in the description down below.
It wouldn’t be a Guardians game without so very many licensed songs–the choice here is impeccable, and so many are perfectly tailored to tense moments, funny ones, and anything in-between. They also play after a huddle at the height of battle. Perfect, but not YouTube friendly.

This Guardians of the Galaxy video game was a delightful romp across Marvel’s cosmic nonsense – if you haven’t gotten to experience it just yet…you should.

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