*Disclaimer: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy review code was provided by Square Enix for the purposes of this review. That being said, all opinions expressed in this review are entirely that of the author.
Since its first announcement at E3 earlier this year, I have defended Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy against anyone and everyone who wanted to shoot it down before it had even had a chance to take to the sky. My cautious optimism led Guardians to being my most anticipated game of the year. I can’t count the amount of neon-coloured dreams I’ve had about zipping around in rocket boots.
Well, Guardians of the Galaxy has finally arrived, I’ve rolled credits, and I’m ready to tell you all whether it hits the heights I expected to, both as a AAA game following the disastrous launch of Marvel’s Avengers, and as a counterpart to my favourite MCU movie.
“What A Bunch of A-Holes”
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy wastes no time in introducing you to the titular team. Taking place 12 years after a Chitauri-led Galactic War, the Guardians are a little fresh-faced as a team. From the get-go, it becomes pretty apparent that you may need to spend some time getting used to these versions of the now-beloved team, as things aren’t quite the same as their MCU counterparts. While the costumes and visual designs of each character act as a perfect blend of MCU familiarity and creative originality, the voice acting might take a parsec longer to get used to.
Although performances across the board are excellent, there are one or two interpretations that just didn’t mesh with me. Jon McClaren’s Star-Lord is one such interpretation. Say what you want about Chris Pratt stealing everyone’s voice acting roles now, but his Star-Lord (at least in the first Guardians of the Galaxy) strikes the perfect balance between Han Solo-like cool cockiness and deep-rooted vulnerability. And while McClaren’s Star-Lord is essentially the same character on paper, his gruffer voice doesn’t really lend itself to some of Guardians‘ more emotional moments, with some lines coming across as unintentionally disingenuous or even mocking. Again, McClaren is clearly giving it his all here and there are quite a few moments of genuine emotion that do land, but despite spending 20 hours with this iteration of the character, I still found myself raising an eyebrow at some lines of dialogue.
Despite these odd few lines, however, Guardians‘ portrayal of these surprisingly complex characters is absolutely spot-on. Dialogue is a constant throughout the game, but rather than grate, it elevates with every single back-and-forth. Every line of has a purpose, whether that’s to make you laugh, build upon the relationships of the team, or to give you gameplay assistance. The chemistry between the team is palpable from the offset; even Gamora and Drax verbally sparring with one another cements their relationship, with the voice actors responding in a natural and relatable rhythm. Guardians also has some brilliant comedic dialogue, giving players an extensive amount of one-liners and genuinely funny banter between team members.
Often, you’ll be given the opportunity to pick from a few dialogue options. These range from choices that may affect some mission scenarios to choosing the best quip for the moment. Giving the player these, admittedly, small but meaningful choices further cements these character relationships and puts you directly at the heart of the team, a team you’ll undoubtedly grow to love. By its closing chapters, Guardians will have you grinning from ear-to-ear with some entirely earned fan-service and some of the most heartfelt and heart-warming dialogue you’ll come across this year, at least in the superhero department.
Mass Effect, Eat Your Heart Out
The combat in Guardians of the Galaxy took me a little by surprise, with an unexpected amount of depth. Star-Lord, as the player character, has immediate access to his trusty elemental pistols and rocket boots. Your main source of attack will be shooting, with a range of unlockable abilities giving you the chance to take flight, harness different elemental powers, and a few more I won’t spoil here. An intuitive lock-on system will have you blasting through foes with satisfying ease while simple but weighty hand-to-hand combat mechanics will see you brawl with creatures great and small. Stagger mechanics, the aforementioned abilities, and a fluidly-animated dodge all combine to make the moment-to-moment combat of Guardians feel surprisingly complex and polished.
But a good leader is nothing without their team. If you’re looking to play Guardians on a higher difficulty, using your team effectively is absolutely imperative to success. Each of your team members has four abilities that can be unlocked over the course of the game, with each team member specialising in a certain area; Gamora damages health, Drax inflicts stagger damage, Rocket has an arsenal of heavy weapons, and Groot acts as support, being able to hold enemies in place. The real enjoyment of Guardians‘ combat comes from chaining together your team’s moves in various creative ways. For instance, a favourite of mine was to begin a battle by having Groot hold some enemies down while Rocket throws a cluster bomb, Drax focuses on the tougher enemy, and Gamora flips between some weaker foes, all while I flew around and gave supporting fire.
While it may take some getting used to (with the button combinations being a tad fiddly, especially if you’re not used to squad mechanics), once you have a knack for the combat you’ll find yourself engrossed in the chaotic rhythm of it all, stringing together dodges, punches, power shots and abilities with satisfying grace.
One Guardians combat mechanic that you’ll either love or hate is the “Huddle” ability. After building a decent combo, you’ll unlock the ability to “Huddle” your team together. While it acts on the surface as a simple damage boost and heal for you and your teammates, this brief break in the combat cements the tone of the game with near-perfection. Hitting both L1 and R1 initiates a cutscene where your team gathers around and comments on the battle at hand. Based on the fears or jubilations expressed by your teammates, you need to choose a dialogue option that best suits the occasion. As the music builds and your team enthusiastically rallies together, you’re thrust back into combat, but now an 80s classic is playing and now you’re the Guardians of the Frickin’ Galaxy. It may grind the fast-paced action to a screeching halt, and the animations might take a little longer than necessary, but this mechanic absolutely worked for me. Every time I hit those bumpers and the music ramped up, a smile refused to leave my face, long after the song had died down and the battle had finished. Even when you’re given a song that doesn’t fit the tone of the fight at all (I’m looking right at you Rick Astley), the bizarre juxtaposition somehow fits this rag-tag group of galactic misfits perfectly.
“I Wasn’t Listening, I Was Thinking of Something Else”
Ironically, it’s Guardians‘ stellar combat that makes the rest of the game feel like a bit of a slog at times. Guardians devotes an oddly large portion of its runtime to making you walk slowly around (masterfully-crafted) environments, picking up countless upgrade materials on the way and solving enough environmental puzzles to make even Tomb Raider look twice. Now, these puzzles aren’t too challenging and don’t take too long, and the constant witty dialogue between team members is at worst entertaining and at best upliftingly funny, but there’s only so many beautifully-lit space corridors, hallways and caves you can walk down in a given play session before getting a little bored. At its worst, there can be 45-minute long stretches of gameplay with no combat whatsoever.
Occasionally, it feels as though Guardians is trying to pad out its runtime, taking what was once a 12-hour streamlined, action-focused shooter and turning it into a perfectly enjoyable, but at times dull and meandering 20-hour sci-fi adventure. Nothing about Guardians is bad, but some gameplay elements just don’t reach the heights of others. Thankfully though, the third act of the game boots it into hyperdrive, giving you essentially 4 hours of non-stop action, and undoubtedly leaving you with a definitive sense of satisfaction by the time those credits roll.
As Expressive As a Jackson Pollock
Guardians is my second PS5 review and I have to say, I’m still utterly blown away by this console. The visuals on display in this game are breath-taking at times, with every new planet and environment offering new forms of vibrant neon-soaked lighting and next-gen weather effects. Character models are exceptionally crisp, with each strand of fur on Rocket’s head being visible during cinematics. Animations in this game are as varied as they are fluid, with Star-Lord having a wide range of naturalistic shooting and melee movements that give combat a decisive weight.
Framerate is generally quite consistent, with no noticeable dips during combat sequences. However, I did pick up on some minimal framerate dips during some puzzle sections and during some cutscenes. There’s also an occasional odd cut that appears during cinematics when your dialogue choice is synching up with the next cinematic. I also experienced a few general bugs like button prompts remaining on-screen and some audio looping. I had a few crashes to home-screen during my playthrough and on quite a few occasions my teammates would get trapped or would disappear while they attempted an environmental interaction, requiring me to reload my checkpoint. Thanks to that godly SSD, however, these setbacks were only momentary as loading times are almost non-existent.
Once again, the DualSense proves to me its worth during gameplay, with the adaptive triggers gaining more resistance as your pistols begin to overheat and the haptic feedback making each shot and punch feel suitably devastating.
The sound design in Guardians is flawless. The blend of comic-like sci-fi fantasy and naturalistic realism that is so unmistakably ingrained in contemporary superhero media is here in full force. Star-Lord’s pistols make a heavy “pew” noise while Rocket’s gravity grenades sound deliciously destructive and futuristic. The main musical theme of the game is also exactly what we’ve come to expect from a modern Marvel property; a bombastic, swelling score that appears exactly when it needs to to heighten the moment, with a lighter version of the theme playing in the more emotive scenes. Sure, the cynical may say it sounds extremely similar to the MCU Guardians’ theme, but you won’t hear me complaining, that theme’s an absolute jam.
As previously mentioned, Guardians has a spectacular 80s soundtrack with a range of classics that is guaranteed to give everyone at least a handful of songs they know. The integration of these songs in the gameplay and cinematics is always purposeful and enjoyable, whether it’s playing “The Final Countdown” during a boss fight or playing “Don’t Worry Be Happy” in the background while you stroll around the Milano; it all has a thematic purpose. It’s great to see this game embrace something that is now so synonymous with the cosmic team, but also provide their own spin on it, making it feel warmly familiar but engagingly unique; a notion that runs through every aspect of this game.
While its plot may be a little too familiar for some and certain gameplay choices won’t be for everyone, Guardians of the Galaxy has a ship-load of heart and charm and boasts a complex and compelling combat system that will have you hooked on its feeling all throughout your playthrough. Guardians‘ only crime is that it doesn’t give you enough of what makes it so enjoyable.
Final Verdict: 8/10
Words By Cameron Swan