The Guardians of the Galaxy only really entered mainstream pop culture when the 2014 movie introduced millions to Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord), Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot. Up until that point they were a motley group of characters on the fringes of the Marvel comic book universe, but have since been transformed into some of the recognisable characters in the film franchise. Taking those inspirations and turning them into a video game, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy game is not based on the movies but weaves it own tale to explore who these misfits are. What we expect from this game is engaging relationships between the Guardians, some comedy, action pieces, and a great soundtrack. And that is there, for the most part.
This version of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy picks up 12 years after the Galactic War. The threat of Thanos and the Chitauri has been vanquished, with the galaxy in a relative state of peace. The Guardians are broke, so they are on the lookout for a job/con that could pay well, and in the process get wrapped up in events that have major repercussions for themselves and the galaxy around them.
The story itself is pretty good and the writing is sound. The story focuses on the Guardian’s relationships with each other, but one of the big themes throughout is about dealing with loss, trauma and grief. This theme plays into how different characters process grief, and the lengths they will go to escape that feeling. Every character from the core group, to those around them has their own trauma to deal with, and the motivation of the main villain, Grand Unifer Raker, is based upon that. The villains are more than cardboard cutouts and have depth to them that can make you sympathise with their plight, even if you don’t agree with it. Throughout the game you are able to influence choices and outcomes through dialogue choices that can have a bigger impact on the overall story. These moments can pop up at any time, with some early choices impacting late game dialogue and events.
There are moments that let each Guardian shine through, giving us details of their own histories and motivations, though you will only ever be directly controlling Peter through the game. However, there are moments which do feel a bit too stretched out on occasion in the story, a couple of the game’s 16 chapters going on for a bit longer than necessary. The world building introduces elements of the universe that both major fans of the Guardians can appreciate, while also providing adequate introduction to newcomers to the group, and there is, of course, the soundtrack which delves into a wide range of licensed 80s hits. When it triggers during battles it can really lift things and add to the fun. Taking down a group while Tainted Love or Never Gonna Give You Up plays is a unique experience.
The gameplay in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is split between environmental exploration and platforming, and combat. When it comes to exploration you will use each of the Guardian’s talents to get past obstacles levels. Groot can create bridges and lift some platforms, Drax can punch through some walls and lift heavy items, Gamora can reach high places, and Rocket can make his way through smaller gaps. These abilities also let you explore levels for hidden areas where you may find resources or chests that contain alternative outfits inspired by different comic runs and some more unique costumes.
Peter chips in with his guns and four elemental damage types, letting you freeze things with ice, melt things with, pull things towards him with wind, and give some things a bit of an electric shock. He also has his visor that can be used to scan areas in the environment that give details on lore as well as showing interactive elements. This visor and Peter’s abilities can be upgraded by Rocket with resources found that can do things like improve health and shields.
When it comes to combat you will face off against different factions, but the types of enemies you battle are generally consistent. Grunts will come in for close combat, long range snipers attack from afar, and heavies force you to focus your efforts to take them down. Where they will differ is in their weakness, with some being more susceptible to one elemental power over the others. Some enemies also need to be staggered before you can pull off a strong move against them.
Each Guardian has abilities that you can call to use on-the-fly in combat, complementing each character as a whole. Rocket attacks from range using grenades and other weapons, Groot uses his roots to attack and bind enemies, Drax uses his strength to deal a lot of damage and stagger enemies, while Gamora can use her sword to deal high damage to one enemy, or slice through groups of them. Using these abilities in tandem is key to survive the waves of enemies that come in, and bosses in particular.
One of the key mechanics is the Huddle, the Guardians taking a little time out in the middle of the fight to chat about how things are going and have a little pep talk from Star-Lord. You have to try to pick the right dialogue option, and if you do then all the Guardians are buffed, their powerful abilities can be used quickly, and they’ll get back up if they’d been knocked down. It can be a clutch play, but it’s disappointingly repetitive with nowhere near enough dialogue variety, both in the Huddles and in the fights.
Combat can get pretty hectic, your buddies going down or needing your help to get out of a bind, and the number of enemies meaning you can sometimes get killed by someone off-screen. There are also some aerial combat moments in the Milano and the controls could be a bit better here too, with turning and flipping not being ideal.
Thankfully, if the combat feels a bit too much (or not enough), there’s a lot of different ways to customise in through a pretty comprehensive set of difficulty and accessibility options. Don’t want to worry about picking the right Huddle option? You can automate that to succeed every time, as just one example.
Through the review process it was disappointing to encounter quite a few bugs, particularly in the second half of the game. The caveat is that I played almost all of the game before the day one patch was released, which comes with the broad note of “visual, UI and animation improvement”. Hopefully this will fix some of the issues I found, which included getting stuck in environments, mid-battle cutscenes that didn’t trigger correctly, mismatched audio cues with personnel files, some environmental traversal doesn’t trigger correctly and more. Even without an update, you can generally reload a checkpoint to resolve the issue, but it wasn’t ideal.