Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy review: a blast from the past
My superhero name is Layman, and I really like this game
In a video game landscape that's pocked with millions of map markers and vast open worlds, Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy is a linear action adventure game with a clear beginning, middle and an end. It's an approach that feels refreshingly old-school, in the way it guides you smoothly from one story bit to another. But this doesn't mean it's one big flatline without any peaks, troughs, or surprises.
If anything, the game as a whole is a wonderful surprise. Planet-hopping as Star Lord is great fun, made even better by his colourful compatriots and the genuinely funny craic they share. Marvel fan or clueless layman? Doesn't matter, you're in for a good time no matter where you sit on the MCU scale.
Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy follows the exploits of Peter Quill a.k.a Star Lord who leads a band of misfits: Gamora, the deadliest assassin in the galaxy; Drax, a muscular titan who's unintentionally hilarious; Rocket, a clever raccoon who likes explosives; and Groot, who reaffirms that he is Groot with every breath. Is Peter cut out to lead such an unruly bunch? As a clueless bro, probably not, but he makes it work.
And Peter has to, because the game's story quickly diverts from something typically criminal, to something dangerously personal. Without spoiling too much, it becomes a hunt for someone close to Peter, and as they draw nearer to tracking them down, things spiral out of control - as they often do - and into a galaxy-wide crisis that affects them all. Even as someone who's not well-versed in the Marvel universe, I was properly invested.
Honestly, the quality of the story, facial animations and the action feels just as good as any decent Marvel film, only you're not sitting down with a Tango Ice Blast letting the projector do the work; you're the one actually in control of these raucous superheroes. Having said this, I'd say the way the game's structured is reminiscent of golden oldies like the original Gears Of War. There is only one way forward; and that's forwards. You have one objective that flows into another and then another. No side quests, no open world, no map markers. And man, does it steer you through nicely.
Leaning even more into Gears Of War, I'd say the very act of playing Guardians is a bit like steering a bunch of boisterous goons through a series of interconnected tunnels. Interspersed between these paths, you crawl through hidey holes and slide down ramps. You might call on Groot to create a makeshift root bridge, or Gamora to slice through hunks of metal blocking your path. There might be some casual platforming or puzzling. Occasionally, you fall down a ledge and into a large arena. You fight, then repeat the process.
So yes, Guardians tells its story through a predictable framework of stuff-you-do, but intersperses it with unpredictable moments and neat little touches. It might hand you the reins during flashbacks where other games would have settled for a cutscene. Or it might suddenly pop you in the cockpit of Peter's spaceship and give you a simple task: jet the hell out of there. One time, it let me take in the view of this bustling black market, but instead of your average slow-pan, Peter actually stuck on his headphones, leant on the nearby railing, and banged on some tunes.
Speaking of which, you'll be globe-trotting a great deal in Guardians and each area is wonderfully realised. Standouts include that black market I've just mentioned, with its seedy bars and dodgy mini-games, to the reflective cells of this prison conjured by a powerful, Soviet labrador. Oh, and encroaching on a legendary beastmaster's fortress as lightning crackled around us was quite something.
No matter what you're doing, whether that's lounging around in your ship, or traversing alien caverns, your companions generate constant chatter. And yet the stream of banter between the Guardians never gets old. It's all relevant to what's happening, and often pretty amusing. In fact, there's sometimes too much, to the point where you might miss something because you unknowingly cross an invisible threshold and trigger some more dialogue.
Still, it's a good problem to have. Although, there's one aspect of the Guardians' chatter that leaves me a bit frustrated, and it's in the game's plentiful dialogue options. These can be very good. For instance, I awkwardly deflected attention away from a friend successfully enough that they entrusted me with a special key card. This came in handy later on, as I could skip certain puzzle sequences or access a collectible I wouldn't have been able to otherwise.
However, these dialogue options can also lead to frustration, especially when they reduce big story moments to games of chance. Stumble into a sequence of wrong answers and it'll pop up with a message like, "You failed to convince Timmy in that argument, so you'll just have to wing it!". It's especially annoying when you aren't even aware it's a pivotal moment until it tells you that you've failed at something. Look, these dialogue options don't have rippling, tragic consequences like The Witcher 3, but even still, I can't help but feel they're a product of a bygone era. It's the only part of Guardians' retro tendencies which leaves me feeling hot, then cold.
You know what doesn't leave me lukewarm, though? That's right, the combat, baby. I sang its praises in my Guardians Of The Galaxy preview, and I'm happy to say it remains just as entertaining in the final version of the game. Mainly because it's not all about you. As Star Lord, you've got to assess the battlefield and use your teammates abilities appropriately, otherwise you'll straight-up die.
As Star Lord, you largely whittle down enemies with your blasters, or fire off different elements (like Ice and Lightning) to shatter shields or freeze enemies. You're a sort of all-rounder, I suppose. But your teammates are arguably more important. Each Guardian is particularly good at one thing, so Drax, for example, is brilliant at maxing out enemy stagger bars with his fists, rendering them vulnerable for a bit. Gamora deals heavy damage, Rocket can explode large groups of enemies, while Groot can root them in place.
Combat is all about creating deathly combos and opening up ways to drop your enemies in creative ways. One of my personal faves is having Drax slam the ground, launching baddies into the air, then having Gamora slice them to ribbons. If I'm feeling particularly nasty, I could have Rocket group them all together with a gravity grenade, or even send them flying again with Groot's explosive roots. And with four unlockable abilities each, the possibilities are plentiful.
Simply put, Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy is a really good time. Not only that, but its linear story-telling and fast, nippy pacing feels intensely refreshing after the bloat of, say, Far Cry 6 and the sometimes frustrating openness of Deathloop. As it funnels you down a story filled with japes and jabs, I'm transported back to a happier, simpler time. If you're a Marvel fan, this feels unmissable. And even if you haven't got a clue what a Marvel is, it still delivers a very enjoyable romp through the stars.