I’ve long grown tired of the proliferation of superhero and comic book films. The initially novel trend has now grown into something we almost take for granted every year. Superhero video games caught on a bit after the Marvel renaissance, and with Batman Arkham Asylum, the public was finally convinced that adapting comic book source material could be a winning combination. Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of Marvel movies or even the Guardians of the Galaxy in general. I watched the movie years back, forgotten about it, and really didn’t engage with it further. I’ve never even touched any of the comics. I am as ambivalent about the source materials as you can get. And despite all of that, I was shocked to find how much I enjoyed my time with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Maybe this was because I have no attachment to any of the movie characters, any of the comic books, but I think even fans of the series will find that this is an ultimately fulfilling journey.
For the uninitiated, the Guardians of the Galaxy are a ragtag group of superheroes who travel the universe doing odd jobs to make ends meet. They are led by Starlord, their leader, Rocket, an anamorphic racoon with a hot streak, Drax, a hulking alien focused on destruction, Gamora, an assassin, and Groot, a giant walking tree who can only communicate in a single three word phase: “I am Groot”.
This team, established in the comic books and movies, play off each other quite well for comedic effect. While the Guardians of the Galaxy is pretty straightforward narratively and has standard-fare third person action gameplay, what differentiates Guardians of the Galaxy is the sheer amount of dialogue, which is surprising in its quality. Characters are constantly playing off each other, and having side conversations, which rarely feel grating. Characters never stop talking, which to some may be off-putting, but it comes across naturally enough where I never felt like it was overbearing.
While Marvel movies have never been known for their narrative, the story here has surprising twists and turns that left me anxious to complete the next chapter. Roughly one half of the game is spent doing typical space-cowboy shenanigans, while the other half is spent dealing with an unforseen enemy that I won’t spoil here. Still, this foe is unique and challenges our heroes in shocking ways that gripped me well past the initial twist. Guardians of the Galaxy does a solid job at giving the player reason to care about their squad, even if it interjects some drama for the sake of plot. And while Guardians isn’t exactly Shakspeare, it handles more tender moments surprisingly well. Overall I was taken aback by how much the story here stood out among pretty much every other title I played this year.
In-game environments are detailed and breathtaking
Gameplay is the weakest portion of Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not terrible by any means, but rarely elevates itself beyond third person shooting, with the addition of teammate abilities that you can trigger to command one of your squadmates to perform combat actions. Many of these abilities synergize quite well. Groot can bind enemies with his vines, allowing Gamora to easily dispatch them with her katana. Rocket can freeze enemies in place for Drax to charge in and send them flying. Each character has four moves that players can experiment with to unleash satisfying combos. Unfortunately, the game locks most of these behind in-game experience points. While I believe this was to establish a sense of progression, as a result combat just feels stale and uninteresting early on when players only have one or two abilities to choose from. Once the full set is unlocked by the end of the game this comes together quite well, but it takes too long to get there.
The actual feel of controlling Starlord is a slight weak point. While the teammate combos can often result in some satisfying carnage, shooting Starlord’s blaster never feels all that great. There are different elemental bullets one acquires throughout the game, but ultimately the actual moment to moment shooting lacks the impact and feel of superior shooters.
Players control Starlord, and the other teammates can be commanded through button prompts
One last aspect I wanted to mention is the art direction, which is superb. Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy is an already established franchise with tons of assets to pull from, but the team did a fantastic job making each environment the player explores unique and visually interesting. Ranging from giant alien fungi surrounding Lady Hellbender’s fortress, to grungy streets outside of Knowhere, to the glowing inner sanctum of a mysterious cult, almost every single chapter is a visual treat and had me eager to see where the adventure would take me next.
While Guardians of the Galaxy’s gameplay is not particularly inventive, the sharp dialogue and surprisingly strong narrative prop up what is an otherwise standard third person action experience. While I came into this game completely apathetic towards the Guardians, once credits rolled I was more attached to the team than I had ever expected. With memorable characters, a plot that delivers in spades, and an adventure that takes players into some of the year’s best environments, Guardians of the Galaxy is a delight for both fans of the series and newcomers alike.