I went hands-on with roughly an hour's worth of Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy last week, and I have come away pleasantly surprised. I'll admit, I judged a book by its cover on this one, thinking it would be an action adventure game only Marvel stans with decades worth of MCU facts beamed into their brains could rally behind. But no, even I, who's watched precisely three Marvel films in the last ten years, had a lot of fun with it. Good fun, at that.
Mainly, I liked how the game's combat takes cues from JRPGs, of all things, cribbing off the likes of Final Fantasy XV and Tales Of Arise so your fellow guardians feel just as - if not more - important than yourself.
In Guardians Of The Galaxy, you play as Peter Quill, better known as Star Lord. He has a short back and sides haircut, is nonchalant, and commands a band of heroic misfits you'll probably recognise from the films: There's Rocket, a brainy raccoon with attitude; Groot, a tree person whose voice actor has it figured out; Gamora, a deadly assassin who is quite serious; and last but not least, Drax, who isn't Dave Bautista in this one but will always be Dave Bautista in my heart.
Out of all the Guardian names, you have the most powerful sounding one. And yet, in the flow of combat it really doesn't seem this way at all. If anything, you're very much plain old Peter Quill, screaming instructions at your violent players like football manager Jürgen Klopp, only you're armed with laser pistols, not a dazzling row of front teeth.
As Pete then, you lace your enemies with laser beams while your fellow AI controlled companions crack on around you. In my hands-on, I fought my way through a space facility's tight corridors and large, expansive arenas. All of which were mighty chaotic in that classic Guardians Of The Galaxy way, with jibes and craic thrown around just as much as grenades or sword swings. From what I played, it did a great job capturing the feeling that fights are just as much fun for these characters, as they are for you, the player.
While diving headfirst into the chaos is all well and good, emerging victorious requires that managerial, Kloppian nous I mentioned earlier. Peter's laser guns aren't all that powerful, you see, and at least in the early section I played, they're only capable of slowly chipping away at enemy health bars. Even the most basic baddies I went up against could take a fair deal of punishment, so it felt like you alone really don't have that much of an immediate impact on enemies, as say, a lone Max Payne on a gloomy night.
Instead, your pew-pew pistols feel more like a tool manufactured to pry open opportunities for your mates. It's not yet clear how you'll go about earning these abilities in the full game, but I was capable of firing off these icey shots that would freeze enemies, or more importantly, burst shields that were vulnerable to ice attacks. If you don't, well, they'll be much harder to take out, and your life can be snuffed out pretty sharpish if you're not careful. So while you can dish out some pain, it's actually more important that you're performing a role within the group. Less Star Lord, and more 'The Can Opener'.
Each of Peter's fellow Guardians had three unlockable abilities in my hands-on, each playing into their position on the pitch. Gamora's a single-target slasher who's great at demolishing health bars, but only if they don't have a shield. Drax doesn't deal a huge amount of damage, but he's a big lad who can smash shields to bits. Rocket deals exclusively in large explosions and has an ability that groups enemies together. Meanwhile Groot's great at pinning down multiple baddies with his gnarly roots.
Peter has his own abilities too, and I sampled one which let me fly above the battlefield to avoid threats, or stand rooted on the spot and fire off a barrage of powerful laser blasts. But mainly, your job is to order allies to perform their (much cooler) moves to untangle each fight, and then conveniently swoop in to take all the glory.
Out of all of them, I took to Drax the most. Not only is he actually quite funny with his serious remarks on things, he's got all of these sweet area-of-effect smashes that stagger anyone caught in his wake. That's right. In another JRPG twist - this time borrowing from Final Fantasy XIII - some larger enemies have stagger bars that you'll need to max out before you can do any serious damage, and Drax is great for doing this super, super quickly.
As you battle away, a Momentum meter also ticks upwards in the corner of your screen. Fight smart and you'll earn more points, which then feeds nicely into being able to do more fighty stuff. For instance, quick time events may start to pop-up on powerful enemies, so Rocket might rip off their jetpack, then Groot might lash them with a root, then you might dropkick them for good measure. All very satisfying.
And if all that wasn't enough, there's also 'The Huddle', which only unlocks if you've earned enough momentum points. Activate this power and the action pauses in favour of a quick team meet. They're a slightly more chaotic riff on the tea parties from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, in that you've got to select the right dialogue option in response to how your team's feeling at the time. They might be like, "Rocket's being a numpty", and you might be like, "Yes, but we're a team innit", and everyone will receive a big 'ol damage boost. Even if you misjudge the chat, it's still a neat bonus to turn the tide of battle.
All in all, while my play time didn't even reach a full Marvel film's worth of action, I came away impressed with Guardians Of The Galaxy's stream of combat tricks and managerial take on fights. You must embrace the chaos, but also learn to control it, which is definitely something a villain would say. Here's hoping Marvel and Eidos Montreal's end game is just as good.