Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy carves out its own identity – and loses it in the chaos

It looks like the odds are stacked against us: Rocket and Groot crouch injured in the corner, while Gamora and Drax fend off waves of shielded cultists – some armed with electric mines. But while the Guardians of the Galaxy might be down, don’t count us out quite yet. It’s time for a pep talk, to get this madcap band of renegades back together and fighting fit. As their enigmatic leader Star-Lord (aka Peter Quill) that job lands on me, and I’m (mostly) happy to take it.

I gather the Guardians around in a Huddle, an ability that has been unlocked during the fight, and listen to their concerns about the current situation. “There’s too many of ‘em,” Rocket tells me, while some of the others bicker among each other. Presented with two choices I reassure them that we have each other’s backs and they break the huddle satisfied. Great work, Quill.

Suddenly, I hear the all too familiar sounds of an iconic guitar riff as Rainbow’s Since You Been Gone begins to blast – fortuitous, as I had been listening to the band on my way to play Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s enough to give both Quill and the Guardians a boost, lifting Groot and Rocket from their fallen states and giving me the much-needed energy I need on a Thursday afternoon. As I blast each enemy which crosses my path, or set one of my comrades on them when I’m feeling a bit lazy, I find myself singing along: “Since you been gone!” Blast. “I’m out of my head, can’t take it!” Pew. 

It’s a bizarre combination: ‘80s rock music combined with galactic creatures fighting on a spaceship overrun with cultists. And that’s what makes it quintessentially Guardians of the Galaxy.

A whole new galaxy

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

(Image credit: Square Enix)

"Quill, meanwhile, is the cocky but well-intentioned leader of this colorful bunch, constantly presented with the choice of what to say that will be best for his team – with his decision ultimately resulting in a positive or negative reaction. It’s a chaotic house and Quill is the exhausted mother."

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sold on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy game from its initial trailers. Part of that skepticism was because Square Enix had burnt me once before with Marvel’s Avengers and, as a Marvel fan, I didn’t want to get my hopes up once again. It was also, perhaps, because – whether I like it or not – seeing another interpretation of the beloved Guardians, that differs from the MCU, is a somewhat difficult transition to make.

So I went into my hands-on session with Guardians of the Galaxy with trepidation, hoping to be pleasantly surprised. And, to a degree, I was. 

I jumped into Guardians of the Galaxy about four hours in. The Guardians had just escaped the clutches of Lady Hellbender and were on course to Nova Corps to pay a fine they owed – standard. But, before actually heading to Nova Corp, you’re given the option to explore the Guardian’s spaceship, the Milano, and to chat to your fellow Guardians, unearthing more about their backstories. It’s reminiscent of Mass Effect, though with a much smaller area to explore. 

What may irk some players is that Marvel’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy is set within a universe of Eidos Montreal’s own creation, inspired by the comics, movies and TV shows, rather than one specifically based on existing Marvel canon. The game is set 12 years after a massive galactic war initiated by the Chitauri, a race of shape-shifting aliens, which sent ripples through the galaxy and had a lasting effect on each of our Guardians. 

As Quill (the game’s playable character), you can explore the rooms of each Guardian, before picking up an artifact that belongs to them and having a conversation with the Guardian linked to the item about its significance. It’s a nice way to integrate this new universe lore, putting the comedy to the side for a moment and allowing you to dig deeper into the characters – many of whom have pretty traumatic backstories – while also making Guardians appear more “human”. It does, however, at times feel slightly shoehorned in. I’m not quite sure why Rocket Racoon would keep the spinal control device that tortured him out in the open, or why Quill would keep his Chiaturi prisoner handcuffs on the bedside table. Regardless, it’s helpful in acquainting players with this new universe.

Each of the Guardians, too, acts exactly as you would hope. Drax is too literal, Rocket sarcastic but brilliant, Gamora takes no crap and Groot is… well… Groot? The bickering between them often results in brilliant one-liners, some of which had me laughing out loud. Quill, meanwhile, is the cocky but well-intentioned leader of this colorful bunch, constantly presented with the choice of what to say that will be best for his team – with his decision ultimately resulting in a positive or negative reaction. It’s a chaotic house and Quill is the exhausted mother.

Chaotic combat

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

(Image credit: Square Enix)

It’s in its combat that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy begins to falter. I dropped into the game, as I said before, a few hours in, after undergoing a separate tutorial. But, still, there is a lot to take in and implementing it all (never mind remembering it) in the throws of battle isn’t easy. 

"It’s in its combat that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy begins to falter....there is a lot to take in and implementing it all (never mind remembering it) in the throws of battle isn’t easy."

Star-Lord’s primary weapon is his element gun which, during our preview, only had a freeze ability unlocked. Star-Lord can shoot normally, but can also use the freeze element when needed (it’s particularly useful against enemies with shields). However, locking onto enemies (L2 on PS5) requires holding down the lock-on button, which can become a somewhat frustrating and tiring exercise for your finger when you’re also having to hold on to the shooting button (R2 on PS5) – a test even for those without dexterity issues. There’s no option to toggle lock either.

Guardian abilities, too, suffer from a similar issue. You can command a specific Guardian to perform an attack (or interact with something in the world) using L1 on PS5 and then holding it in while you select the shape-button representing the Guardian you wish to pick. However, in the midst of combat, I found this left me open for attack quite a bit. I was trying to keep moving with the left analog stick, while I was selecting a Guardian with L1 and Triangle, for example, all at the same time – with movement often inevitably falling to the wayside. If you then throw in the aforementioned Huddle, stunning, a bar that lets you quickly reload ammo if you hit it in time, combined Guardian attacks and the other combat elements that I have already forgotten, and you’ve got too many cooks in the kitchen – and it doesn’t make the meal more interesting.

Combat isn’t only needlessly convoluted, but it can often be a bit boring – even with this bombardment of features. However, there is an option to create upgrades with Rocket at the workbench to cater your approach more to your playstyle.

What did feel exciting was the Huddle feature. I anxiously anticipated its arrival each battle, wondering which licensed ‘80s song would soundtrack my fight next. New Kids on the Block’s Hangin’ Tough? Check. Europe’s The Final Countdown? Check. It’s the part that made the combat actually interesting and felt like the only aspect of the combat that was unique to Guardians of the Galaxy. I just wish there had been more moments like that – though perhaps they wouldn’t have had the same effect if they were two-a-penny.

Not entirely convinced

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

(Image credit: Square Enix)

I’m still not entirely sure of what to make of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. I enjoyed my time with it and am intrigued as to what Eidos Montreal has planned for its own unique narrative take on the galactic renegades. But, apart from the occasional Huddle, there’s nothing about the gameplay that got me truly excited. While the choices are interesting, they don’t seem to affect how the game actually plays out. 

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy risks repeating the mistakes of Marvel’s Avengers if its campaign mode and story aren’t well-paced and intriguing – and from what I’ve played I couldn’t tell you whether this is the case. But it also risks making some of its own mistakes. Marvel’s Avengers at least had tight, great-feeling character combat that made it feel like you were really one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – something Guardians of the Galaxy seems to lack.

I only got to play an hour and a half of Guardians of the Galaxy and my previous trepidation around its release hasn’t completely subsided. The next Marvel outing boasts some brilliant ideas that feel like they should have been the focus of the game, but lacks in a key area: combat. 

Hopefully, Eidos Montreal has created a universe that will make up for this shortcoming or we’ll see a tightening of combat ahead of release on October 26, 2021. At the very least, I’m certainly looking forward to hearing which classic anthem Quill’s Walkman will roll out next.

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