A teenager’s bedroom some time in the 1980s. A boy is listening to his favourite band when his mother enters his room for a heart-to-heart. A very normal situation, only that this boy is Peter Quill, and this is the memory of how he ended up in space, leading the ragtag mercenary band Guardians of the Galaxy.
In the present, said Guardians – Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket and Groot, for those who’ve never seen the films or read the comics – are on a monster hunt that will inevitably go very wrong, setting the wider events of the story in motion. Peter, whom players control, will return to the memory of his mother several times throughout the story, an emotional anchor that makes him a more likable protagonist than his movie counterpart.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy expects you to have some familiarity with the franchise; while the characters look different from their MCU actors, the overall tone of the game is strongly reminiscent of the films. It carries forward a love for 80s music, with hits playing throughout, and Rocket’s voice actor Alex Weiner seems to make an effort to sound like Bradley Cooper, who voices the not-racoon in the films.
This is an exceptionally good-looking game. Whether it’s an alien jungle overgrown with fleshy purple shapes or the neon-soaked streets of the space station Knowhere, there is much to admire. There is very little reason to ever go off the beaten path, however, and no challenge in finding your way. Sometimes, you come across obstacles that can only be overcome by asking the other Guardians for help, but this too feels linear. It’s always a specific type of wall, clearly signposted, that Drax can smash through, and always the same kind of cable Gamora can cut. You don’t need to invest much thought in these puzzles.
As you explore planets and space stations, the Guardians provide a running commentary and trade quips and insults. You can participate in conversation with the press of a button, but it’s only choices made during set-piece scenes that have an effect on the larger narrative. The sheer volume of dialogue is astounding, and the writing in Guardians of the Galaxy is the best thing about the game. Dialogue sounds natural; the comedy, while not laugh-out-loud funny, fits the tone of the Guardians franchise exactly. The story, while simple, takes some interesting turns, and thanks to some very good motion capture and voice acting work, characters are very expressive. The narrative pacing is very filmic – every new revelation is followed by lengthy discussions among the Guardians about how to proceed, and battles only come when it makes sense in the context of the story.
Combat is disappointingly simple. You’re funnelled into large arenas where you encounter enemies who really sponge up damage, making encounters drag. You can only control other characters by asking them to perform a special attack, and often combat only ends when you take down a specific target, which is difficult owing to the volume of foes and a lock-on that asks you to hold down a shoulder button at all times. You can learn new skills and upgrade the Guardians, equipping Quill with perks such as a fun slide that has him zipping around the battlefield, but even then, combat takes little more than two buttons. It turns out to be just as simplistic as the traversal and puzzles.
I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy despite the gameplay, not because of it. If it were a film, I’d watch it in a heartbeat; I was always eager to see where it would take me, what characters I would meet and what turn the story would take next. But as a game, it feels too repetitive and drawn-out to hold its own.