GAME REVIEW: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Title: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Developer: Eidos-Montreal Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: 10/26/2021 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One/ Series X/S, PC, Nintendo Switch (Cloud Version) 

Reviewed on: PS4, PS5, Xbox Series S & X, Nintendo Switch (Cloud)

Review Contributors: Stephanie, Block, Corey

Introduction. Guardians of the Galaxy is an arm of Marvel known for its killer soundtrack and witty banter amongst an unlikely team of “heroes”. Eidos-Montreal and Square Enix put all their chips on the table with their release of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy during the final months of 2021. This third-person single-player game is marketed as an action-adventure title filled with a familiar cast–you play as Starlord (Peter Quill), supported by Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Gamora. With diverse gameplay elements and a slight choose-your-own adventure element, Guardians really aimed for the stars.

Synopsis

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is broken down by chapters. The game begins with a flashback to Peter Quill’s childhood before thrusting you into your first mission–exploring a quarantine zone in order to collect a rare monster to sell to Lady Hellbender. Of course, it’s never that simple, as this rather straightforward task eventually leads to the crew being involved in a plot that threatens the fate of the entire galaxy.

Analysis

Gameplay. One of the first impressions I had of this game was that it had diverse, if not too much, gameplay elements. The player can control Peter Quill’s movement, complete with jet boots and elemental guns. There are several instances where you can choose your dialogue. Some are inconsequential, while others may impact the story. There are even some QTEs (quick-time events) to secure Starlord when he is about to fall to his death.

When you start a battle sequence, a lot more opens up. Peter has the ability to perform melee attacks (the kick I found particularly amusing and reminiscent of the movies), shoot an elemental gun, call on your team members’ special abilities, and…have a team huddle? All the while, the game tracks combos as you blast your way through enemies. Let’s take a look into each of these:

Elemental pistols. [Block]: They have four different types of attacks: ice, electric, wind, and fire. Each increases stagger, and has an additional effect: Ice will freeze an enemy in place, Electric hurts numerous foes if they are grouped together, Wind will pull foes distant enemies directly to your side, Fire has a long charge but burns an enemy on impact, slowly sapping some health. These abilities are unlocked far too slowly, with the final element becoming available in the waning hours of the game. 

Special abilities. Each member of the Guardian team has a base special ability, which can be enhanced/developed further. Groot, for example, is more defense-heavy, so his base skill is Entangle. This helped me a lot by securing several enemies in place while I dealt as much damage as I could. Rocket Raccoon’s abilities are ranged attacks, while Drax and Gamora are more strength based–including staggering an enemy.

[Block]: The game borrows the staggering system present in most modern Final Fantasy games. Using the elemental effects of your dual pistols will increase the stagger meter, and once filled, the enemy becomes stunned and is susceptible to even greater amounts of damage. This is key to winning most boss encounters.

Team Huddle. A huggle gauge fills during battle, and when activated, a brief cutscene ensues. You must pump your team’s esteem up, and if successful, everyone will receive a bonus to damage. Regardless of success, everyone on your team will have been revived.

Overall, I found fighting in this game to be generally enjoyable. Several times, it felt chaotic and even disorganized. There have been several occasions where I experienced dips in frame rate that were noticeable. I did also question the decisions on some of the enemy design, such as the spiky green balls with one eye in chapter one. The area was filled with those as well as plant-looking enemies. 

Game Design/Audio: Two things that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy nailed were character design and music. There has been some commentary as to why the characters didn’t resemble their Hollywood counterparts; however, that should not be the barometer for how well the character designs were. Gamora looks absolutely fierce, and Groot is a lovable giant. The writing was spot on, bringing hilarity to each interaction. Drax is still very literal, and I look forward to whenever he speaks. 

Of note, I felt that some of the facial expressions were rigid. One scene in particular came to mind. Gamora visits Starlord early in the game and a conversation sequence begins. The camera fixes on the same two angles (one facing each character) and even though the voice acting really matched each character, I felt the facial expressions–particularly Starlord–didn’t match the tone.

[Block]: While the dialogue is well written and actors portray the characters exceptionally well, I did find that there was a bit too much talking throughout the game. There’s rarely a moment of silence, and when there is I honestly wondered if a glitch had rendered the cast silent. 

Speaking of glitches, the release build of the game is completely littered with them. Most are rather benign, where audio will cut out for a moment, or subtitles fail to appear, or a character will clip through an object during a cutscene. Still, I encountered numerous glitches that required me to reload a previous save or completely restart the game altogether.

Once, I was faced with a choice between two options, but the options never appeared, and I had to reload and view the cutscene again. On more than one occasion, I was knocked out of bounds during combat and proceeded to seemingly fall into an endless abyss for all eternity. Required restart. One annoying instance prevented me from obtaining an optional collectible: After walking across a narrow walkway and stepping off, the game forced Starlord back onto the walkway, and made me walk back across before I could pick up the item. Once on the other side, I was forced back onto the walkway again, rinse-and-repeat. Reloading the checkpoint didn’t stop this from happening.

With regard to music–the curated list of songs for this game was enjoyable and very much on brand. I personally purchased the Cosmic Deluxe edition which included a free download of the soundtrack!

Commentary on multi-platform experiences:

[Corey]: Guardians of the Galaxy is a game I was higher on than most when it was revealed at E3 earlier this year. A comedic, character driven, linear action game from the makers of Deus Ex and Shadow of the Tomb Raider was exactly what I wanted from a Marvel game. Though I’ve only played a handful of hours, I wanted to give my impressions of specific versions of the game now that it’s out. I’ve played three versions, including the Nintendo Switch Cloud version, the Xbox Series S version, and the Xbox Series X version.

Let’s start with the Nintendo Switch Cloud Version. Now, I don’t mind cloud gaming as long as it’s a secondary option. Look at Xbox Cloud Gaming through GamePass. It’s a nice option to have on the go or if you don’t feel like packing up your box to go somewhere, but it’s also nice knowing that a local version of the game can live on the hard drive or a disc. I really wish this was the situation with the Switch version. I can handle some performance issues on Switch because of the convenience of portability, but the Cloud Version of this game (and others) misses the point of the console. Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the worst cloud release yet. It is slow, unresponsive, and a graphical and framey mess. Even if this is your only option, maybe skip this version entirely. 

Now, let’s get to the Xbox Series versions of Guardians of the Galaxy. I went in expecting similar experiences based on the countless other games I’ve played across Xbox Series X and S including Destiny 2, Halo, Gears 5, Forza Horizon 4, Outriders, Shadow of the Tomb Raider… the list could go on. All of these games I mentioned have given similar experiences across the board. The Xbox Series X is the superior version, but not by much with the Series S giving a lower resolution but similar performance and quality modes capping out at 60fps. With Guardians of the Galaxy, it was the first time I noticed a significant difference in performance between these consoles. 

On Xbox Series S, there are no options for performance modes anywhere. This version is locked at 1080p and 30fps, which is the same as the Xbox One X according to the chart Eidos Montreal released before launch. I have played a lot of games at 30fps that still felt responsive enough, Destiny 2 being a prime example until the current generation upgrades came out. But when I play Guardians of the Galaxy on my Series S, What surprised me the most was how unresponsive the controls were. I found myself waiting on button presses for almost half a second while the delay in camera movement made me feel dizzy. I was shocked at how underwhelming this version of the game was and really made me think about if Xbox Series S in particular is a long term viable console for games and developers outside of Microsoft’s first party and indie games who don’t put the effort into optimizing their games for the platform. (Note: This review was written before any patch that adds performance modes, if there is one.)

With the Xbox Series X version; however, Guardians of the Galaxy runs and looks stellar.  In quality mode, it runs at 4K and a pretty responsive 30fps with beautiful high quality textures on characters and environments. It’s perfect for sharing screenshots and if you just want to play something beautiful without caring about the frame rates. I personally have been playing in Performance Mode. It runs at a buttery smooth 60fps at 1440p. Some of the texture density is lost but the game no doubt still looks incredible. Controlling Star Lord feels incredibly familiar and unique, especially if you’ve played Eidos Montreal’s other games like Deus Ex and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Issuing commands to each of the teammates feeling natural in the heat of battle and I haven’t noticed any dropped frames. All in all, I highly recommend Guardians of the Galaxy if you are playing on Xbox Series X.

[Stephanie]: I played on the PS4. While the game ran relatively well, there were frame rate dips regularly–sometimes that would place into the responsiveness of my controls, especially in the heat of battle. Many textures were also considerably noticeable. I perhaps will consider buying a Series X copy when the game goes on sale.

[Block]: Playing on the PS5 was a similar experience detailed above for the Xbox Series X: the game runs smooth at 60fps, the graphics are stellar, and the loading times feel practically non-existent. I was let down with the lack of any unique use for the DualSense controller, however. The immersive, improved rumble technology is completely absent, and in its place is the same standard vibrations we’ve been feeling for decades now. The developers also fail to utilize the adaptive triggers properly, creating a bit of a hindrance. In order to use your charge up shot, you must double tap the right trigger. Without using the adaptive technology of the DualSense though, it feels especially clunky as you must completely release the trigger in between taps. This often led to many failed charges for me, and was plenty annoying in a heavy firefight.

FINAL SCORE:

3.5 STARS

[Stephanie]: I personally enjoyed this game, but much had to do with my love for the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise as a whole. I got to live life as the galavanting Peter Quill and interact with some of my favorite characters. I appreciate how Eidos-Montreal balances keeping things “on brand” while still holding its own identity. The world is bright and vibrant. While the writing is stellar, sometimes I felt there was a little too much chatter and was distracting at times. While combat is fun, I do feel the game gets a little “scatterbrained” and trying to do too much in one game. Overall, I think Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun romp and recommended for those who are fans of the Marvel universe.

[Block]: Even for someone who isn’t as adept in the Guardians universe, I felt the game was very enjoyable. It has a very likeable cast, a unique and captivating world to explore, an intriguing plot, and plenty of action. Glitches and the overall lack of polish in many areas do bring down the experience somewhat, but I enjoyed my time with the Guardians enough to muster through these bumps in the road.

[Corey]: I came out higher than most people on this title after E3, though I had some concern based off of Marvel’s Avengers from Crystal Dynamics. So far, on Xbox Series X at least, Guardians of the Galaxy is exactly what I wanted from a Marvel title: a story driven, action game with cool abilities to upgrade and fun characters to go along for the ride with. Eidos Montreal has done a stellar job giving this game a lot of heart, which above all else, I can truly appreciate. If you can get over some performance issues on a Series S, I still recommend this game to everyone looking for something fun, heartfelt, and a good mix of action with character development. Just maybe don’t try it on Nintendo Switch Cloud.

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