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If you, like me, played the Square Enix-published Marvel’s Avengers and said to yourself “I wish this had just focused on the single-player campaign instead of all this game-as-a-service stuff,” then do I have good news for you: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, also published by Square Enix, has flown in to save the day. With no microtransactions, no multiplayer, and a relatively meaty story, it’s further proof that linear, single-player campaigns haven’t gone anywhere. Its simple but entertaining combat and fairly straightforward level design won’t revolutionize the genre or anything, but those solid fundamentals and the metric ton of personality slathered on top of them are more than enough to make Guardians of the Galaxy some good old-fashioned fun.
Despite being named after the team, you spend the entirety of this roughly 18-hour campaign playing as Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord. That was a surprising choice to me, but it’s one that ends up working very well for the story that’s being told. The main plot is basically exactly what you’d expect: a cosmic comic book adventure about the Guardians trying to get out of debt, learning to work together, and maybe saving the galaxy along the way – but it’s framed by events that are much more personal to Peter. The result is an engaging story that balances its constant barrage of spectacle and banter with some genuinely heartfelt moments, for both Peter and the rest of the crew: Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Screenshots
While that story is also entirely linear, developer Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex roots certainly show through with the amount of dialogue choice you are given during it. You’re constantly handed options for how Peter will respond to different conversations, whether those are during important story moments or while walking around chatting with your teammates – there’s rarely a moment where the Guardians aren’t talking, which is welcome when the writing and performances are all as amusing as they are. These dialogue choices are mostly just a fun bit of role playing in an otherwise on-rails story, but some of them can have an unexpected impact.
For example, making the right dialogue choices to save a character at one point could have them come back to help you later on. Another time I made a choice that resulted in the next level being a simple stealth section, only to find out after finishing the story that choosing the other option would have instead turned the entire level into a massive firefight. The vast majority of this campaign will likely look very similar for everyone, but these little differences did add a personal touch to my playthrough and got me more interested in trying New Game Plus to see what else could have happened.
It’s not just the story that’s played from Peter’s perspective, either: in combat you only have direct control of him and his dual pistols. Instead of swapping into the shoes of the other Guardians, they unlock a total of four abilities each which you can instruct them to use on command. That could be Groot sending out roots to bind up enemies or Gamora dealing a massive amount of damage to a single target. This system gives you a lot of options at any given moment, and the pace at which they are rolled out and the intuitive way they are mapped to your controller makes it a rewardingly manageable task to juggle mid-fight.
Peter has a few tricks too, of course. He’ll get four powers of his own, one of which is the ability to activate his jet boots and fly for a short time, and four different types of elemental shots that can do stuff like freeze or burn baddies alongside his regular laser blasts. Combat is a lot of fun thanks to that variety of options, even if it isn’t exactly the deepest or most complicated dance I’ve ever taken part in. Between giving orders to your fellow Guardians, you’ll mostly be holding the left trigger to lock on to an enemy and the right trigger to unleash a fire hose of lasers. A simple active-reload system will reward you with extra damage and keep you paying attention, but for the most part you’re gonna be holding down that right trigger a lot.
Even still, combat never stopped being enjoyable for the entire campaign. That’s partially thanks to the enemy design, which is varied enough that you’re pushed to use different elemental attacks to exploit weaknesses or remove shields, as well as bigger enemies that can be staggered by certain abilities. Your teammates all have different roles they fill too – Gamora’s abilities generally have high damage, Drax is more about stagger, Rocket has the best AOE, and Groot can bind targets. It’s good that their abilities feel impactful, too, because apart from them you’ll be doing nearly all of the damage yourself; your teammates’ auto-attacks deal about as much damage as an aggressive massage.
Another thing that keeps combat fresh throughout is the banter. Seriously, there is so much voiced dialogue in this game, and the interplay between each team member is both entertaining and informative, in that you see their relationships evolve throughout the story. There were undoubtedly moments where I’d hear the same line yelled a few too many times, but on the whole there’s an impressive variety to all these barks. That meant overly similar fights could still be lent new appeal based on their context or the conversations that take place during them.
Dialogue choice is even brought directly into combat with a super move called The Huddle. When activated (which can be done accidentally a little too easily by pressing L1 and R1 at the same time), Peter gathers everyone around to talk about the fight, and then you have to choose a pep talk response based on the things they’ve said to earn a buff. It will also play one of Guardians of the Galaxy’s many licensed ‘80s songs for the duration of the buff, which can either be exciting or hysterical depending on the result. Fighting a giant alien squid boss while “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung played has got to be one of the most absurdly joyous moments I’ve had in a game all year, while having Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” unexpectedly come on during a climactic endgame encounter was a different sort of hilarious.
Between the fights and cutscenes you’ll make your way through Guardians of the Galaxy’s varied locations, which range from Nova Corp space ships to gorgeous alien worlds. Like the story itself, these sections are extremely linear paths with an occasional environmental puzzle to solve or optional collectible to find, broken up by fights in more open arenas. And similar to the combat, they stay entertaining the whole way through more thanks to the banter and visual variety rather than being especially deep or engaging on their own.
You’ll occasionally need to command your teammates here, too, potentially asking Rocket to hack a terminal or Drax to carry something big and heavy from one spot to another. That can make for some extremely simple but still relatively amusing puzzle solving as you figure out the right way to combine different abilities. Having your team around also adds a little more liveliness to these paths, with them wandering off to look at things on their own or standing around bored while you go search a side route – their presence also helps solve that completionist problem of knowing whether a path is the right way or the “wrong” way full of goodies, since they’ll usually move toward to the next main path on their own and make comments when you head off in search of loot.
The collectibles you’ll nab are either crafting currency used to upgrade Peter’s capabilities, cosmetic costumes for different team members to wear (all of which are cooler than a recolor, full of new outfits and throwback references alike), written logs for a bit of story flavor, or special items that unlock new conversations when you are hanging out back on your ship between chapters. It was always rewarding to collect these things, even if the side paths were often just as easy to find and navigate as the main ones. The only real complaint here is that crafting currency is so prevalent that it starts to become a bit tedious to pick up, but that’s probably primarily due to the unfortunate lack of a sprint button.
Continuing the overall trend, the upgrade system itself is also something that stays satisfying and enjoyable till the very end, even if it can be a little flat at times. Completing fights earns you ability points to unlock new powers, while crafting currency can be spent on any of 15 different perks that are available to unlock right from the start. Having everything on the table right away is nice because it means you get to prioritize the upgrades you want in the order you want them, but it also means there aren’t really any surprises as the campaign progresses. But even without that, I enjoyed that perks felt significant – only some of them are pure stat increases, while most unlock new moves like a dash punch or time slowing for a moment when you dodge at the last second.
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that I did encounter a handful of bugs throughout my playtime on PlayStation 5. Apart from two hard crashes nothing was too dramatic, and Square Enix has said that a number of the issues I encountered will be fixed by release. That said, I did find my progress impeded a couple of times due to an event not triggering correctly or a button prompt breaking, as well as some weird visual issues here and there like the adult Peter model being horrifically squished into childhood Peter’s frame for one scene. All it ever took was a quick checkpoint reload to sort things out, and the auto-save and checkpointing are so forgiving that even the worst issues never left me sour, but it’s not clear how much of that will be there on launch day.