The Guardians of the Galaxy are now held up alongside some of the greatest from the pantheon of Marvel superheroes, but it wasn’t always like that. In fact, up until their 2014 film debut, I doubt non-comic book fans had ever heard of them, not least because their modern incarnation had only been cooked up in 2008.
From nothingness to one of the hottest properties in film, it’s no surprise that Square Enix sought them out when signing a multi-game licensing deal with Marvel back in 2017. With Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy a little over a month away from release, we got to go hands on to see how well Eidos Montreal has managed to adapt the source material
One of the greatest challenges that almost any adaptation of a Marvel property is going to face right now is getting people over the uncanny valley of seeing characters that they know from the movies, but that look and behave a little bit differently. It’s easier for something like Spider-Man, where we’ve seen the film franchise rebooted on a few occasions already, but for the main MCU? The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy where the films were the first time that millions upon millions of people were actually introduced to these characters by way of superstar Hollywood actors? Yeah, that’s tricky.
If you can quickly look past that point – there’s a variety of unlockable costumes if you really want the MCU look, or something a bit sillier – then Guardians of the Galaxy has a lot going for it. I got to start playing the game a few hours in, shortly after the Guardians have tried to pull a scheme on Lady Hellbender, but before they’ve really encountered the main baddies for this game’s story arc.
There’s some downtime between missions, giving the Guardians a breather to digest what’s just happened, set out their next steps and, by way of a janky, messed up message that comes through, have a little bit of extra mystery thrown into the mix. The reason for that disrupted communication? Well, Groot’s pet space-llama has a taste for the electrical cables.
As you wander around the Milano, there’s the cockpit, a common area, and personal quarters for each of the Guardians, and a few other little nooks and crannies. Exploring this as Star-Lord, it’s fun to hear the bickering banter between the other members of the team, Rocket continuing to complain about Groot’s pet, Drax with his no-nuance statements. You can amble into the various quarters and pick up items of interest, such as a little ring in Gamora’s room, for example, that sparks up a conversation. This fleshes out some of her back story with a little bit of whit and relationship building between the two…. not least because of the invasion of privacy! There’s some other fun moments as well, catching other characters in mildly embarrassing situations due to the claustrophobic living conditions.
Eventually you call time on the downtime, jumping to the next point on the adventure, as the Guardians are forced to pay a fine to get out from under the heel of the Nova Corps. But when they get to the meeting point? Well, there’s the big Nova Corps cruiser, but no sign of the intergalacitc space cops anywhere. What’s the deal with that? Much to Rocket’s annoyance, you forge ahead into the locked down space station to try and figure out what’s going on.
Some slightly spooky space station hallways and rooms follow, broken up by some light puzzling – such as using Star-Lord’s VISOR to solve pipemania puzzles overlaid on the world, have Rocket go down small hallways, Drax do some heavy lifting, etc. – and narrative beats and decisions, like whether or not Star-Lord should speak through the Nova Corps helmet they come across. In classic Telltale style, the rest of the Guardians are going to remember that…
But then, how else was I meant to get their attention? And, wait… why do they all have glowing purple auras around their heads? That’s something to figure out another time, because this is when the game’s combat takes centre stage.
The fighting in Guardians of the Galaxy is a great mix of shooting and brawling in an action RPG style, but with the team dynamics that you would want from an ensemble cast. You only play as Star-Lord throughout this game, where other games might have given you the choice of who’s boots to wear while kicking butt, but that makes sense from two perspectives. Firstly, he’s the self-styled leader of the group, and secondly, his twin blasters let you keep a little bit of distance from the action and give you the opportunity to engage in a little bit of tactical team management.
You can, to a certain extent, button mash at this point, bringing up the character selector and then getting one of your buddies to pull off one of their unlocked combat abilities. However, a little bit of understanding and thought can go a long way here. Groot can bind enemies to the ground with his extendable tree limbs, Rocket has different grenade launcher effects, and Drax and Gamora are great for leaping into the action. Each one has four potential abilities that are unlocked through spending skill points that you earn for the team as a whole.
Star-Lord himself is also pretty handy in a fight, zipping in and out of the action quite easily with his rocket boots aiding mobility. When you unload a full clip of bullets, there’s a Gears of War-style rapid reload mechanic, and you have elemental special ammo that can drain enemy shields, turn them into ice blocks to shatter, and more. He’s also got a few kicks and punches that he can throw.
Then there’s the Huddle. Star-Lord calls the whole gang together for a little cassette tape-backed pep talk, seeing them all comment on how the battle’s going, if they’re getting whooped, having fun, or whatever, and then choosing between two dialogue options. Sure, it’s daft that you can take a time out mid-fight, but it’s very handy if you keep a Huddle for the right moment, as it can revive allies and boost everyone’s fighting if you pick the right option.
I really felt like I needed every trick in the book to get through some of the fights. The basic Nova Corps goons were fairly easy to deal with, even when battling eight or nine of them at once, but the second encounter introduced a heavy with a rotating shield and stunning electrical attacks that was a real pain to deal with. He popped up as a kind of boss to fight after a wave of standard enemies… but after beating him was then immediately followed by another much larger wave with two of them alongside a whole host of regular enemies and grenade launching baddies from up high.
Not having been able to build up to this point through the game’s first few missions, this was pretty tough to deal with, my Guardians really being put on the back foot with several needing rescue as I desperately ran away to cling onto the tiniest sliver of health. It took a couple attempts, but I got there. As a ‘normal’ difficulty level, it feels like it’s on the more challenging side of things, and I can imagine some people might opt for an easier mode to shift the focus more to the story. There are also a range of accessibility options to tune the gameplay further.
For Square Enix’s second bite of the Marvel superhero apple, there are plenty of encouraging things from my hands on time with Guardians of the Galaxy. Going off the bickering and banter, it certainly feels like an earlier adventure for the five-some, meaning there’s plenty space for them to grow as you explore the wider lore of the galaxy. And that can also be seen in the combat, as you unlock new abilities that work together in some of the trickier encounters and situations. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how the rest of their adventure plays out.