Come And Get Your Love

HIGH Breaking a pep-talk huddle and “Never Gonna Give You Up” blasts without irony.

LOW The performance mode on current-gen hardware leaves a lot to be desired.

WTF What the flark does “flark” mean?

The art of the title screen has been lost in past handful years, which is a shame since they can be great icebreakers to let the player know what’s in store. However, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy has an exceptional one. This image features the cast chilling in their ship — Drax The Destroyer is on the sofa reading a book called “Sarcasm for Dummies” while rocking spectacles. Gamora is by the window stargazing. Groot is hanging out with a houseplant as Rocket Raccoon fiddles with a gadget. In the foreground, Star-Lord is jamming to clips of the best ’80s playlist since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Another interesting thing caught my eye on this title screen — the options.

New Game, Continue Game, Chapters, Settings, Credits, and Migrate Save Games. Considering it’s the year 2021, it’s amazing to not see “Store” here, and the lack of a prompt to buy a season pass is notable. There is no begging to enter an email address, no screen-scroll of the game’s official Twitter account, and no placeholder that will alert the player when new DLC is available. Yes, there’s a “Special Edition” that comes with some extra skins, but it was resoundingly refreshing to see a game just be a game. Standalone singleplayer experiences have become increasingly rare in the big-budget sphere, so it’s great to see a publisher willing to invest in a project like GOTG. If there’s any justice left in the universe (I’m skeptical) it’s going to pay off huge for Square-Enix and developer Eidos Montreal.

Continuing to zig when the rest of the industry is zagging, it would have been easy for a title based on Marvel’s intergalactic squad of weirdos to be a co-op RPG of some sort. Instead, the player assumes the role of team leader Star-Lord in what is mostly a third-person shooter/puzzle platformer while the rest of the group serve as support units.

During combat, the player can order the other Guardians to perform special moves on a cooldown timer. Gamora can deal heavy damage, Drax can stagger enemies, Groot can use his roots to ensnare enemies or launch them into the sky, and Rocket has… well, rockets. After each battle, players earn experience that can be used to unlock new abilities for each team member as well as Star-Lord himself, and these do a good job of keeping the combat interesting just long enough to get through the campaign.

Besides ordering the squad in combat, there are various environmental puzzles that require each team member’s special skills. Rocket can crawl into vents to open doors, Drax can lift heavy things, Groot can make a bridge out of vines, and Gamora can cling to a wall to give Star-Lord a boost. None of these puzzles will blow any minds, but they’re just complex enough to stay gassed up to the finish line, and whenever things are starting to feel a bit stale, the developers throw in a flying section in the team’s spaceship to mix things up.

In fact, it’s an exceptionally-paced title from start to finish, and the engine that makes it go is the fantastic story that unfolds. This is a great rendition of these characters, and this universe offers Marvel Cinematic Universe vibes while also keeping touch with the IP’s comic book origins. What made the GOTG movies so successful was James Gunn’s ability to make a bunch of crappy people seem relatable and worth rooting for, and this remains true here. Each member echoes their film counterparts, but also remain satisfyingly distinct.

In order to support these characterizations, Guardians Of The Galaxy has a lot of dialogue, and it never repeats. There’s essentially a script for each entire level — start-to-finish — with characters constantly throwing situationally-accurate quips at each other during traversal and combat. Not every joke hits, but the vast majority of the banter is quite good, and it does a lot to ensure that things occasionally touch on some heavy themes with grace. The game also has a surprising amount of branching paths based on actions and dialogue options that can make big changes in how levels or specific situations play out. While the tale’s ending is the always the same, the road getting there can vary wildly based on the player’s decisions.

Also worth celebrating is the truly exemplary presentation. Guardians of the Galaxy looks fantastic thanks to huge, detailed environments full of color and delightful little details, such as a pixelated scoreboard that pops up to represent a competition between Star-Lord & Rocket Raccoon shooting at targets. The voicework is exceptional, as is the original orchestral score. That said, the highlight is a pitch-perfect licensed soundtrack. While the movies had a ’70s-centric funk/classic rock sound, this enrty goes all-in on an ’80s mix that hits every note one could want. Take On Me, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Kickstart My Heart, We Built This City, Don’t Worry Be Happy, Hit Me With Your Best Shot, and so many more make up Star-Lord’s awesome mixtape.

This is a stellar package overall. In fact, the only issue I have with the presentation is that GOTG comes with three graphical modes — “Quality” targets 30FPS at 4K resolution, while “Performance” targets 60FPS with only a paltry 1080p resolution. On top of that, many effects are toned down in Performance mode, and even then it’s still not enough to reach a rock-solid framerate. Given the horsepower of current machines, I would hope that Performance mode could be more impressive, but hot-damn does it look great in 4K.

Patched in after launch is a ray-tracing mode, and that’s the option I would choose if I was going to replay. It maintains a solid 30FPS while keeping the resolution much higher than in Performance mode, and the ray-tracing is well-implemented. Lighting and shadows are tremendously improved in this mode, and it makes already-great-looking locales look even better.

It’s been a rocky road for Marvel properties in videogames, but Guardians of the Galaxy stands out as one of the very best. The combination of likable characters and fantastic scenery make for a game that’s an absolute blast to play for the entire duration. It’s got great style and a big heart, and really, that’s kinda what Guardians of the Galaxy as a franchise is all about. Eidos Montreal should be congratulated on an excellent adventure, and Square-Enix should be commended for letting them make it while locking the upselling bean counters in a broom closet.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game was developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square-Enix. The game is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series S/X, and Steam with an MSRP of $59.99. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Playstation 5. Approximately 16 hours were devoted to playing the game, and the campaign was completed. There are no multiplayer modes

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Teen  and features Mild Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, and Violence. So the script is actually quite vulgar, but it’s all done with space swear words like “Flark”, which makes the whole thing pretty harmless for parents who think their kids can’t figure out the substitutes. Outside of that, it’s very much in the Marvel Movie style in terms of subject matter and violence levels, so those who let their kids watch the movies should have no problems here.

Colorblind Modes: The game features no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features voiced cutscenes, and the dialogue is presented in quite readable font. The text can be re-sized, read on a background, and generally speaking is heavily modifiable to suit a variety of needs. All dialogue and instructions are provided in text, and there are no necessary audio cues. I’d say it’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The games controls are not remappable. Some control related functions like the duration of “press and hold” options is modifiable, but the core button layout cannot be changed.

Jarrod Johnston
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1 year ago

It’s been a rocky road for Marvel properties in videogames”

Have you heard of Spider-man? Miles Morales? Marvel vs Capcom? Ultimate Alliance?

1 year ago

it was resoundingly refreshing to see a game just be a game”

Have you heard of Nintendo?