My last attempt at playing a superhero game was with Marvel’s Spider-Man, an excellent game according to one and all. After playing it for a few hours, I concluded that I was far more interested in swinging around New York as the titular friendly neighborhood hero than following Peter Parker’s story. In the moment, superhero fatigue was probably at play. I had definitely had my fill of costumed fighters saving the world from costumed fighters who wanted to destroy it. These lingering feelings played into why DC Universe Online didn’t quite stick, and why I just couldn’t get into Spider-Man: Miles Morales, either.
And then along came Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2021).
Oh, my own stubbornness kept me from being impressed…at first. But then, as I watched several scenes from my husband’s initial playthrough of it, I could feel my “eh, superheroes” wall begin to crack. Not only did the game look amazing, but its pointedly amusing dialogue and fast-paced action drew me in. The massively positive reviews the game received also helped. Even though we later learned that the game wasn’t exactly the smash hit Eidos Montréal and Square Enix had hoped it would be, it received near-universal praise for what it was – a great and enjoyable superhero game. Long story short, that’s exactly what I found it to be, too.
As deftly as Guardians of the Galaxy set forth a classic good versus bad story—the Guardians versus a religious zealot leading the so-called “Universal Church of Truth”—it’s real story is about its merry band of outcasts, which what helps set the game apart from the more famous recent movies. The movies focused on the Guardians exploits; the game focused on the characters themselves. In it we learn of Peter Quill’s/Star-Lord’s origins; why Rocket (he’s not a raccoon) developed his hard outer-shell; how Gamora (the deadliest women in the galaxy, for sure) is dealing with grief and loss; what defined Drax the Destroyer besides, um…destroying; and who Groot really is beyond just being the last of his kind. Sometimes character development in a game can be a bit of a slog, but such so seamlessly enmeshed within the game’s good versus bad storyline that it is neither boring nor jarring. The story also has excellent pacing, and there’s very little fluff in between. Every moment means something, from the big reveals to the smaller (and often very amusing) conversation between teammates.
And what of those teammates? Well, in Guardians, players take on the singular role of Peter Quill/Star-Lord, making them the team’s leader, or “leader,” as the question of leading the Guardians anywhere is moot at best. Still, decisions in the game all came down to Peter. Would he be supportive or sarcastic? Reluctant or willing? Empathetic or, well…just pathetic? Having only played through the game once, I’m not entirely sure how Peter’s choices made throughout the game affected anything except for, perhaps, the Guardians attitudes towards him. Generally speaking, when it comes to dialogue options in any games, unless I know that choices already have good, bad, or neutral tones associated with them, I am very bad at reading into conversation choices. Some of the conversations resulted in prompts displaying how my teammates had reacted, which were very helpful. When no indicators appeared, I assumed that Peter had simply done well enough to not make his squad hate him. In the end, everyone came together as a team, but the path to such was not without more than a few bumps in the road.
Speaking of bumpy, that sums up my experience with the game’s combat system. To be clear, the game’s combat is really good – it’s fluid, action-packed, and the controls were very responsive. It’s more that I was a very inelegant participant. With Quill’s special, dual guns at my command, shooting everything was easy enough. Going beyond that was where things got messy, especially when battles were brimming with waves of enemies. I chalked part of this up to the fact that I played the game on our old Xbox One, which has been struggling with overheating. When battles became full and intense, I experienced framerate issues and drops that hampered things considerably. Controlling my teammates actions – they each developed some very cool abilities over the course of the game — with extra button inputs was fun but finicky. As much as I enjoyed how talkative everyone was generally, having each of them yell at Peter constantly throughout battle that they were ready to unleash this or that was very distracting. I was able to obtain several (but not all) upgrades to Peter’s weapons/armor, etc., which helped significantly in later battles. (I look forward to using them all to their fullest extent in new game plus.) The bright side is that I made it through to the end without dying too much; though, my goodness, how easy it was for me to accidentally huck Peter off a ledge during battle! Gamora kept telling me to “avoid the edges;” maybe I’ll try to heed her advice next time.
Ultimately, the quibbles I had with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy were few and far between, and I cannot recommend that game highly enough. It’s an excellent, solid, funny, well-conceived, and visually stunning game that’s well deserving of all the praise it received. And if you thought, like me, that you were over superheroes, this game might just change your mind, because really…the Guardians aren’t superheroes at all. They’re just out there saving the galaxy, because without it, there’d be no way for them to make money, or trouble, or both. I’m actually already itching to start up a new game plus just to pick up all the extra stuff – did I mention all the costumes? So many costumes! — I didn’t find before, and, of course, to bask in the Guardians’ entertaining repartee. Without a doubt, Guardians of the Galaxy now sits comfortably among my favorite games. It’s a worthy addition to anyone’s game library.
All images, including lede, were captured by author during Xbox One gameplay of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (© Eidos Montréal, Square Enix).