After the resounding flop of the Avengers, I was totally reluctant to see Guardians of the Galaxy as anything more than another cash cow unable to do anything even remotely enjoyable or worth the cash and time investment…. I’M SO GLAD TO BE WRONG and honestly, if I had played this last year at the time of its release, Lost Judgment may not have been my Game of the Year.
Bringing the 80’s aesthetic to the masses once again, Guardians of the Galaxy brings the motley crew of space aliens along for an emotionally charged and linear third-person action adventure while still maintaining the biting humour and ridiculously over the top tantrums that the cast have become known for. Coinciding with phenomenal voice acting, the complexity of these characters is what really stands out for me - adding real-life issues (and the necessary levity to balance it out) allows for a level of relatability that’s only been seen in games like Life Is Strange and Mass Effect, two great franchises that have seemingly inspired a lot of the games presentation.
Split into 16 chapters, Guardians of the Galaxy will take you across the far reaches of the universe aboard the Milano and features an abundance of action as it blends different gameplay styles into what is branded so uniquely as… Guardians of the Galaxy. From typical fighting to piloting the Milano, choosing dialogue options and bonding with your team akin to Mass Effect, interacting with personal items and changing NPC behaviours based on your actions similar to Life is Strange. The game is boasting more unique content than any open world game in a much smaller package. (Albeit larger than most single player games) I’d say it’s a healthy reminder for the industry to see that relevant and fulfilling content can be made without resorting to using the trend of open world to make a great game… nor do they need to be so big.
Upon the first hour of the game, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the Tomb Raider reboots where momentum and platforming still hasn’t been properly addressed. The jump button results in Star-lord almost instantly snapping into the air with no animation in between or wind up to imply effort. It makes things even worse when you realise that running jumps are practically devoid of function and you have to rely on the double jump or dash to create any length in your leaps. I can at least say that the platforming isn’t as heavy as in Tomb Raider or we’d probably see more momentum being cut short just to angle snap onto a hanging ledge or grapple point. This being said, because of the games linearity there isn’t a lot of times where this becomes too much of a problem. It’s more of a contextual gripe.
My initial thoughts of the combat itself was… dull. I didn’t see how constantly running away with blasters out could make for interesting gameplay but it really grows on you. Star-lord is the main character and you won’t be able to control the other Guardians, however that didn’t disappoint me as much as I thought it would. Similar to the Mass Effect sensibilities the game encourages you to act as a leader in all aspects of the word; confidant, decision maker and battle strategist but the latter is where the gameplay finally comes into its own. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock more and more abilities, perks and team-based attacks to help expose and exploit enemy weaknesses and still have enough gas in the tank to include environmental hazards, team up attacks based on your proximity to team members and context sensitive special attacks that can be utilised after filling up an enemy’s stagger bar for massive damage (A returning Square-Enix feature from the Final Fantasy series). You can even call a time-out during battle and “huddle up” with the team to revive them and potentially ramp up your damage upon a successful rallying speech and cue an iconic 80’s track for the duration of the effect. It’s these over the top 80’s moments that make me love the game so much and beating enemies to a pulp while George Michael - Wake Me Up playing is nothing short of hilarious.
Ultimately, all of these gameplay features and abilities leads to what I can only refer to as Olympic level finger gymnastics. It’s hard to keep up with all the buttons you need to press while keeping the camera focused on the action. Needing all but one of the trigger buttons held down to contribute to the combat effort while evading and opening team-action wheels that take three clicks through THREE menus just to pull off one ability is a lot of effort and will have you fumbling more than you’d expect. After 20 hours, I’ve still not developed any muscle memory to manage any bread-and-butter combinations. It’s obvious they ran out of menu buttons for all the combat mechanics too when Star Lord’s ability wheel is relegated to the Left Stick press. Nevertheless, I really do appreciate that they’ve done something unique here while they try to separate themselves from the flock of third-person action games that play so similarly.
With all that being said. Platforming issues and finger gymnastics are all I can fault the game for and there is an abundance of accessibility options to help ensure that every player of every skill level (Including a custom difficulty setting) can enjoy this incredible game. Everything else about Guardians of the Galaxy exceeded my expectations. Most of all the story and how drop dead gorgeous it is.
Usually, I’m not one for talking about graphics as I prefer games to be more focused on storyline and gameplay but it truly has blown me away even as I play on last gens Xbox One X. (I think I’m going to try and frame some of the screenshots I’ve taken.) From the myriad of planets, locations and alien races you come into contact with there is no shortage of reasons to comment on how pleasing to the eye this game is and can be. The close ups on characters and the expressions they make really sell the whole game as they convey a full range of emotion throughout this incredible story. The lip-syncing could really use some work though. Despite all the incredible nuanced facial expressions, the characters sometimes look like they’re talking through their teeth.
Taking the 80’s appeal to a whole other level with the globally saturated styling plays such a huge role in why I’ve enjoyed this game. Every area feels different and I can only imagine how much time was spent trying to make each location feel that way, not only that, these locations bear relevance to the storyline without feeling like filler and that’s something I haven’t felt from any open world game where “exploration” is guised as a means to prolong gameplay with very little of the content pertaining to progress. All I mean to say is Guardians of the Galaxy is a breath of fresh air and a gorgeous one at that.
Throughout the course of the game, you’ll be allowed to talk to your team and find collectible items on your adventures that serve as a means to bond with the other Guardians. When collectibles have meaning, they have worth and where there is worth, there is incentive. While there is a fair number of text-based logs to find in game (Which I have to ask, how many people actually read them? It makes me sad to think that people spend hours writing them just to have them glossed over as nothing important) but, the rest of the collectibles either serve to provide more gameplay and story or provide new outfits for the team. As a little added bite of humour, you are being constantly chastised by the team in their typical fashion for wandering off the beaten track in your hunt for collectibles and essentially ignoring them. It’s quite amusing and I want more collectibles like this!
Guardians of the Galaxy was awarded best narrative. It’s well deserved. This story in itself takes you on a journey unlike any I’ve played in a long time and it’ll remain with me as one of my all-time favourites because of it. Guardians of the Galaxy is strong enough to stand against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it may recycle a bunch of features from other games, thanks to their clear vision, Eidos Montreal has made a AAA title that is absolutely stronger than the sum of its parts. I urge everyone to get their hands on a copy and support the team that made this game because I want more games like this out there… and a sequel.