Marvel's The Guardians of the Galaxy
This game was reviewed on Xbox Series X.
What do you get when you cross a dialogue-heavy superhero story with a walking simulator? The best Guardians game Telltale never made that's what! Joking aside, Guardians of The Galaxy does suffer from somewhat of an identity crisis and therein lies the games biggest flaw. It's never quite sure what it wants to be and the experience is mixed because of this. That isn't to say that it doesn't have its moments though, when the game works it's not only fun but genuinely hilarious too. With that said, here is my review of Marvel's Guardians of The Galaxy.
I Am Groot
Let us first break down the Gardeners' crew and see how they match up to their cinematic counterparts. Now, this would be a redundant analogy if not for their similarities to the MCU characters of the same name but alas the comparisons are apt as they are so obviously inspired by the movies.
Starting with the almighty Star-Lord, I'm happy to report that he is a worthy interpretation. His character design, along with all of his awesome skins, is surprisingly cool considering how cheesy it looked in the trailers. At first, I was slightly deterred as he does look like a bit of a spice boy but I believe that this was intentional. His character arch, along with his personality and humour, works perfectly in this game and he serves as a great mediator for the group. Quill also helps with the relatability of the story due to his boyish charm and optimistic outlook on the increasingly dire situations the Guardians often find themselves in. He probably just falls short in comparison to Chris Pratt's version but is still a solid character nevertheless.
Groot, Rocket and Drax are all completely on par. Drax in particular captures the magic of Batista's portrayal but with an added bonus. The Destroyer is depicted as much more of a serious threat in this game and his high power level becomes pivotal to the plot at times. This is a much better change of pace and makes his comedic style, the infamous literal thinking, all the more funnier. In the films, although he is hilarious, he can come across as more of a joke than a badass. That is not the case here. Groot is Groot, It would have been quite a monumental cock up if they got Groot wrong but I will say that his new design looks amazing! His bark looks more like armour plating and he is portrayed a lot more menacing here whilst still remaining as innocent as ever. Much the same can be said about Rocket, he is pretty much a beat for beat copy of Brad Cooper's cinematic version. Funny, bombastic, irrelevant and foul, all the things we've come to expect from our favourite abomination!
The biggest and most welcome improvement comes in the form of Gamora. Gone is the brooding and boring blank slate. Instead, she's replaced by a cynical yet bubbly version more akin to Drax than a depressed, killjoy. Unshackled by the lack of a love story between her and Quill, she seems to have a lot more depth to her in this story and manages to have quality comedic moments herself which was a nice surprise. She also looks awesome as she dons war paint and a new punk rock kind of style for this outing.
So all in all, this crew are just as good, if not BETTER, than that of the characters from the movies which was a shock, to say the least. The writing, character design, performances and story arcs are nothing short of perfect. Eidos-Montréal clearly identified this as the most important aspect to get right, rightfully so, and they definitely do but the game itself doesn't ever reach that same quality. So with all that out of the way... How is the actual game?
I Am Groot?
Guardians of The Galaxy is split into 3 main sections. Walking, talking and shooting. No, walking, walking and shooting. Nope, meandering, puzzling and talking. Damn it! Guardians is split into 3 main sections, exploration, puzzles and fighting.
The first of which, if you haven't guessed from my terrible jokes, make up the bulk of the game to varying degrees of success. Assuming the role of Star-Lord, these portions have the player exploring different environments whilst chatting and reflecting with your crew. Oftentimes, it will make you vault over debris, squeeze through small gaps (I'm not quite sure why modern games are obsessed with this, if they're hiding loading screens they're not very discreet), crouch through a crawl-space, or shoot little space rocks. Riveting right? If not for the hilarious dialogue, the general comradery and the banter put on display here, these bits would be extremely boring. Be careful not to advance too quickly though, lest you abruptly cut off bits of dialogue in lieu of starting the next spoken line. I would advise awkwardly waiting around until they've stopped talking to move forward. When you hit the campaign's halfway mark the game does intensify considerably but up until this point, you will be doing a lot of walking and talking. The game already had ample opportunity to flesh out these characters through dialogue during the time spent inside the Milano, which it does, so why have so much of the game spent walking around talking? Maybe if the game had more of an emphasis on RPG elements the meandering wouldn't have felt so annoying.
Thankfully, these exploration segments do evolve puzzle and platforming components which seemed very promising at first. Quill must delegate the crew to carry out various tasks to overcome obstacles and adversities. Rocket can blow stuff up and access small spaces, Groot can raise platforms and erect bridges, Drax can move heavy objects and punch through weak structures and finally, Gamora can slash through roadblocks and anchor herself on walls to give you a boost if necessary. All fine mechanics which are introduced to you smartly and systematically but as the game goes on it becomes apparent that these puzzles are just a facade. At no point will these challenge you, rarely will you have to combine powers to solve a problem, and sometimes the Guardians will either straight up tell you what to do or just do it themselves. It quickly devolves into in order to get from A to B you must get the relevant character to do a thing. The only input you have is identifying which character is needed, pressing 2 buttons and then the puzzle is solved. Nothing smart or inventive is ever done with these mechanics which is such a wasted opportunity. I've got the intellectual capacity of a rock and even I have plenty more ideas that make better use of these mechanics than the game ever exemplifies. Consider this, what if in order to get from A to B, Rocket has to blow up a cliffside so that it loosens a boulder, Drax can then move and position said boulder into useful proximity, Groot raises it to the desired elevation whilst Gamora attaches her self to it to give you a boost? Again, I'm no expert and that's a very primitive puzzle but at least it incorporates and combines all of the Guardians' abilities! In any case, I found the puzzles to be little more than forced and arbitrary roadblocks that were solvable without having to engage with them in any meaningful way. They do try and mix it up with Star-Lord's elemental guns but unfortunately, these also follow the same formulae whereas there will be something blocking your way, something abundantly obvious, and you have to choose which element is required to remove it. Again, I found this to be completely pointless and that it didn't add much value as they never work in conjunction with the other puzzle elements. Speaking of Quill's gun though, the final main chunk of the games is combat.
During the shooting sections, you will have dominion over the Guardian's many abilities. You can tie down enemies with Groot's roots, bomb them with Rocket's rockets, pulverize them with Drax's attacks or slice them up with Gamora's plethora of sword-based strikes. All the while peppering enemies with Quill's aforementioned dual wield elemental guns, which feel more like pea shooters in truth. This all sounds good on paper and I was particularly excited for the combat-based upon what we saw from the coverage that preceded the release. I envisaged tactical, strategic and complex skirmishes, having to combine different abilities smartly depending on your opponent. This is not the case and forget about any meaningful encounters on the lower or recommended difficulties. To get any challenge from this title you must play on higher difficulties or it quickly boils down to button mashing as if it was a hack and slash. Once I discovered a certain tactic, I never deviated from it due to its effectiveness no matter who my enemy was. I won't disclose it here as it makes the game a lot easier and will deter any readers from experimentation. Quill also yields his own abilities, including invincibility as if we needed that, but like I said once you figure out the most powerful one it's not likely you'll deviate. These portions just seemed lacklustre and for me the weakest parts for a variety of reasons, not least of all what I've already mentioned. When executing your team's abilities they will often teleport across the screen in order to fulfil the prompt which completely breaks emersion. Enemy AI is as basic as it comes and I honestly didn't like the majority of them in regards to how they looked or attacked. Finishers look and feel awful, with the animations looking specifically dated here too, especially when compared to the recent Marvel's Spider-Man games where the finishers featured there are majestic. To the games credit though, it does feature a really cool huddle mechanic where you can hype your team up by choosing a correct dialogue option to boost your team's abilities whilst licensed music triggers in the background during battle. Fighting to I Ran, Call me, Never Gonna Give You Up or Jitterbug, just to name a few, was amazing! However, it manages to flark this up too as you'll quickly notice dialogue repeating itself and you'll seldom even reach the chorus to most songs as battles are so short-lived.
Other mechanics include an extremely shallow perk upgrade system, which are inconsequential due to the games easy nature. A skill tree, which is rudimentary but fine and serves as the route to unlocking the Guardian's abilities. Flying sections where you pilot the Milano, I counted 4 of these segments with only 1 having any meat on its bones, otherwise, they are on rails shooter sequences. And finally, collectables you can pick up to bolster your compendium, add skins to your characters or act as conversation starters back on the Milano. These were plentiful and interesting, leaning on the games strongest aspects, its story and its characters.
I Am Groot!
So if the gameplay was a dud, how was the story? I have little to complain about in this regard, it was interesting and fun throughout whilst managing to remain consistent, endearing, emotional and hilarious all at the same time! I was astonished to find that it was the same writer that worked on this title that worked on the Deus Ex games as well. Deus Ex was written expertly, of course, but it was such a far cry in terms of style than what was featured here. The amount of dialogue included in this game is impressive but even more so was its capacity to make me laugh out loud. I can't remember any jokes that didn't land, apart from the made-up profanity with "flark" and such that annoyed me a bit but that's such a small complaint considering how much they nailed the tone and humour. Furthermore, the sci-fi elements incorporated into the story are awe-inspiring, inventive and full of imagination. I loved every planet I visited, every character I encountered and every new piece of lore that came my way which would all be documented and expanded upon within the deep and rich compendium.
There are genuinely high stakes to fight for here, compounded by an adversary that is both fresh and compelling. Although, the cult-like villain is a little bit played out it does allow for some fascinating story beats that wouldn't be possible to show otherwise. It wouldn't be a proper Guardians of The Galaxy game without a Galaxy wide threat and it fulfils that promise tenfold.
Apart from that, I'm not going to mention anymore as I don't want to spoil anything. This is an adventure definitely worth experiencing for yourself, despite some of the shortcomings of the gameplay. I would go so far as to say that it's essential to play if you're a big superhero fan as it stays so true to its source material and couldn't have done it justice any better.
I Am Groooooooot
One last thing that is worth mentioning is the game's presentation and audio qualities. The graphics on display here are for the most part excellent, the game can look gorgeous at times thanks in large part to the almost flawless art design. Be that as it may, the animations can look outright shocking in some departments. Quill's jump, for example, looks and feels so awkward as he doesn't propel himself into the air with any animation he just jolts up slightly. It was so bad it became like a scab I couldn't stop picking where I would jump constantly just to check if it wasn't just me going crazy or if it actually looked that terrible. I've mentioned the teleporting ability animations but there is so much jank featured within that it can be a bit of a killer, especially considering the amount of polish that games usually boast nowadays. I just couldn't stop thinking of Ghost of Tsushima, Uncharted and Tomb Raider as they play kind of similar and how cool their jumps looked. How hard is it to animate a jump for a character who literally has rocket boots?
The audio is something to behold. I don't think I ever want to go back to original scores again, instead, I want a curated list of licensed songs because it felt so awesome destroying enemies to 80s bangers! They even went through the effort of creating a whole album for their fictional band Star-Lord, which isn't my cup of tea but I appreciate the effort. In short, the acting performances, underlying score, licensed songs and sound effects are all top-notch.
I.... Am.... Groot
To conclude, the experience that The Guardian's of The Galaxy offers is somewhat mixed. The story is one of the most engaging adventures I've been on in some time and it's probably the funniest superhero game since Deadpool way back in 2013. However, the gameplay just never clicked with me at all. To hark back to my opening statement, if the game had more focus on dialogue in a way that the Telltale games did and the action was just a bonus, I think it would have worked. But alas, it just never managed to capture my imagination in the way that the story did so easily. A swing and a miss for me but I'm glad that I played it nevertheless.