The AAA video game industry has an ambiguous relationship with single-player story-driven games. One moment, they’re telling us we don’t want them, which is how questionable live service games like Marvel’s Avengers get made.
The next, though, they knock it out of the park by releasing true labors of love like Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. A triumph of game design that harks back to when games were primarily made as storytelling vessels, this Marvel title proves that good old-fashioned video games can still be made and be great.
Guardians’ narrative takes place a little after the ragtag group of misfits was formed. Led by the retro music lover Peter Quill, the team is in a place where their notoriety isn’t exactly where they’d like it to be as the Nova Corps has them one misstep way from placing them under arrest.
And that’s exactly what happens when a questionable mission goes awry, as one would expect. The Guardians’ lack of teamwork and clear mismatch of personality lands them in hot water with the Marvel universe’s space police which slaps them with a hefty fine.
While on their quest to keep themselves out of the sights of the Novas, the Guardians have to learn to work together by understanding what it means to have mutual respect for each other even if they don’t quite always get along.
The overarching story of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy irrefutably takes a page out of its MCU counterpart’s book and it works like a charm. In the movies, these unlikely galactic heroes are at their best when they narrowly manage to band together despite their differences.
The same formula permeates throughout the Square-Enix title and in some instances, it does an even better job than the Marvel-produced films. One of the best examples is the relationship between Peter and Gamora.
Instead of bringing them together as star-crossed lovers, it chooses to focus on their developing friendship. This pays even more respect to the Galaxy’s Deadliest Assassin as she feels like a much more empowered Marvel superhero in the game compared to her MCU version.
I also found Rocket much more fleshed out and nuanced in the game. He’s still the smart-mouthed weapons expert we know and love, only this time we have more opportunities to explore his background and relationships with the rest of the team. Drax is also arguably an even funnier version of the one fleshed out by Dave Bautista.
His deadpan reactions and unapologetic cluelessness are at the center of the game’s best jokes. Finally, Groot is Groot, just more than ever. The ensemble is completed by a solidly voice-acted Peter Quill who we also get to explore a bit more in-depth in terms of his teenage years on Earth.
Overall, the story aspect of this story-based Guardians game is a masterfully crafted rollercoaster ride that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.
Equally as engaging and fun was the overall gameplay, with only a few minor blemishes, I would classify as nitpicks rather than straight-up flaws. Guardians of the Galaxy has two modes of play that interchange over the course of its 17-20 hour journey, both of which involve the use of your team’s unique skills and traits.
Outside of its reasonably paced cutscenes, the game features light environmental puzzle-solving where Peter has to guide the right Guardian to open up a path for the team to progress forward.
When the job requires a sharp blade and some acrobatic skills, Gamora is the right choice. Drax can carry and pull heavy objects to create leverage when it’s time to bring in the muscle. Rocket can sneak into tight spaces and hack into interfaces. Groot can be called upon to use his mighty vines to build bridges.
Finally, Quill can destroy certain parts of the terrain to open up pathways and use elemental shots with his blasters to create, for instance, platforms. There are instances where you’ll need to call upon more than one Guardian to make use of their powers to help the team push through.
While not the hardest of puzzles, this aspect of gameplay adds a nice, calm level of variety to the overall game. They rarely veer into frustrating territory, apart from a few sporadic instances. For instance, the terrain elements Quill can blast aren’t always immediately evident unless you are using his helmet’s scanning properties.
The real meat and potatoes of Guardians’ gameplay lie in its combat sequences, where you can again combine the team’s unique abilities to dispatch foes of varying shapes and sizes.
You primarily control Quill while using commands to instruct the rest of the crew to do their thing. Groot’s skills primarily focus on crowd control and setting up foes for devastating combos.
Drax can attack single targets to mainly attack their stagger bar that, once depleted, stuns them and makes them susceptible to more damage. Rocket uses a smorgasbord of gizmos, gadgets, and explosives to strike multiple enemies and deliver some more crowd control.
Finally, Gamora is the big damage dealer of the team whose skills enable her to strike enemies lethally. Using each character’s attacks and abilities strategically allows you to support Peter Quill, who’s an all-rounder type.
He can damage enemies from afar with his blasters, which later receive elemental upgrades that can add more options for managing crowds and taking out foes faster. For instance, early in the game, you receive the ice element, which gives you the ability to freeze enemies after several shots.
There are four of these in total, which unlock as you progress through the story. Quill can also deal melee damage by swinging his fists or delivering his signature football kick from the opening sequence of the first movie. Thanks to his rocket boots, you also have access to a dodge and a hovering ability.
All of these elements combined sound like they would an overwhelming amount of skills to keep tabs on, but the game does a great job of introducing them as you go. I barely ever felt that I didn’t know how to deal with the foes around me, even when the game introduced another layer in the form of elemental weaknesses via Quill’s scanning ability.
Overall, combat feels exhilarating and well-designed, with enough options that allow you to dispatch foes in many creative ways.
If I had one nitpick about Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy’s gameplay, it’s the quick-time events. Personally, I never understood their inclusion in action games where there already is a combat engine available.
Admittedly, these mostly come into play during story sequences and were likely used to make them more interactive. However, they often came unexpectedly, leading to my death.
There’s a moment in one of the early sequences where Quill dives in to save a character from plummeting to their doom. As he grasps onto a ledge, the QTE pops up, and you have a moment to learn what you need to do.
It’s never entirely clear why these are included, and the game doesn’t do an excellent job of making their presence known before abruptly bringing QTEs to the fold. Thankfully, they’re sporadically used.
The final piece of Guardians’ methodically designed gameplay puzzle brings us back to the game’s narrative. Throughout the music-filled adventure, Quill will often need to make certain choices, especially during dialogue.
There are three types of options. Snap decisions occur during action sequences and typically involve Peter mediating arguments and defusing situations. These, along with some minor dialogue choices that come up during puzzle and exploration moments, don’t have an impact on the ending you get.
Then, there are the big decisions that can change the path you take with the story and influence the game’s closing moments. One of these comes very early in the game when you’re looking for ways to pay the fine handed to you by the Nova Corps and involves deciding which of your team’s members to sell to Lady Hellbender.
Dialogue options and games are usually a black or white affair. They either work or they don’t. Guardians, I’m happy to say, does the former, and it’s superbly executed. The big decisions do matter in significant ways, allowing you to choose your own path and the way the story plays out. But even the snap decisions function well as means to narrate the story the way you envision.
And it works because most of the options given to you all feel very much like answers Peter Quill would give. They merely serve as a touch to allow you to make your playthrough’s Peter your own.
A powerful characteristic of the MCU Guardians movies is their rocking retro soundtracks that bring back classic bands from hallmark decades. The game not only makes heavy use of this idea but goes a step further by making an entire fully recorded album of a fake band named Star-Lord.
It’s a stroke of genius that adds a touch of detail to the narrative by making it the origin of Peter’s name in notoriety. Star-Lord’s, as well as other artists’ tracks, play throughout the game but where they really shine is during Huddle sequences, the game’s version of a comeback mechanic.
As you attack foes and take damage, a Huddle meter fills up, and once it’s ready, you can activate the sequence at any time. Upon activation, Quill summons his team for a pep talk.
The Guardians will make some remarks about how things are going, and you’ll be given two options that will either buff the entire team or just Peter. Making the right choice depends on you listening to what the team is saying, so you need to decide what will really put a spring in their step.
Once you’ve made the right choice, a track will play for the duration of the effect, making the fight feel every bit as cinematic and epic as the MCU movies.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those few AAA gems that makes a powerful case for how the industry can still produce excellent titles.
From start to finish, the game plays and feels like a labor of love that fully respects not just the MCU but the team’s entire comic book legacy. Square-Enix has managed to strike such a perfect balance between giving us the flair of the movies and the deeply flawed yet charming group of misfits found in the prints.
It culminates into a spectacular experience that showcases the Guardians at their best and most definitive versions. Combat is snappy and exciting to play without a dull moment in sight. Exploration and puzzles are rarely ever a chore and break up the pacing beautifully.
The insistence on using QTEs baffles me, but they're so limited in use that their inclusion can get a slight pass. All the while, the game looks absolutely stunning, especially when you’re playing on next-gen hardware, with cutscenes that could easily make one feel the game could be turned into a movie in its own right.
As the Guardians of the Galaxy are a callback to the good old-fashioned days of hard rock and power metal, so is this game a must-play for anyone craving a single-player experience that delivers a solid narrative and fun-filled gameplay.
Pros & Cons
- Delivers a superb Guardians story that rivals and even surpasses the MCU movies in some respects
- Brilliant voice acting that brings the Guardians and their relationship to life
- Excellent use of classic pop and rock music
- Superb visual design with jaw-dropping graphics on next-gen hardware
- Accessible and cleverly-designed squad-based combat that makes you feel the teamwork aspect of the Guardians
- Solid puzzles that make use of the unique powers and skills of each member of the team
- The game uses quick-time events that often feel out of place or unnecessary