There aren’t many Marvel properties more ripe for the video game treatment than the Guardians of the Galaxy. After their debut in James Gunn’s 2014 big-screen hit, Star-Lord and co. flew towards new levels of worldwide acclaim. That’s where Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy steps in. It’s the group’s first triple-A foray into mainstream gaming. Sure, they’ve made appearances in LEGO titles in the past, but this is their first bona fide gaming adventure — and it’s one hell of a ride.
If last year’s Avengers game left you with a sour taste, then we’re happy to report that Guardians of the Galaxy excels past its spiritual predecessor in every way. It’s a leaner, more story-driven foray into the Marvel world, and it lays a solid foundation for Square Enix to continue using the company’s characters in future games. Games based on popular comic characters are in something of a renaissance, with the Batman Arkham games, Insomniac’s Spider-Man and the upcoming Marvel Midnight Suns. Guardians of the Galaxy slots perfectly into this canon of the subgenre. It’s a rollicking good time that brings just as much joy and care-free fun as the comics that inspired it.
A Crew Like No Other
Of course, Guardians of the Galaxy is nothing without the multi-species crew that populates the Milano. In this game, they’re in absolutely top form. Unsurprisingly, the game expects players to have seen and enjoyed Gunn’s MCU films. Despite visual differences, their personalities are almost identical to their big-screen counterparts. That’s no bad thing. In fact, it makes the game very accessible for those familiar with Marvel movies, but not versed in wider Marvel comics lore. Rocket Raccoon and Drax the Destroyer are particularly reminiscent of their Hollywood interpretations, with Jason Cavalier’s Drax aping Dave Bautista’s performance with expert precision.
However, don’t take this for a cheap cash-in on the Guardians’ newfound popularity. This is its own beast. While this game’s Guardians might talk and act like the MCU characters we know and love, this isn’t a simple by-the-numbers retelling of previous big-screen tales. No, it’s a much deeper, more character-driven look at the Guardians, and one that does some brilliant work for its main character.
Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy takes the bold decision to lock four of the five Guardians, meaning you’ll only play as Star-Lord. It’s the complete opposite approach of last year’s Avengers, where countless members were available, and even more added as DLC. Instead, the combat focuses entirely on Peter Quill, and it’s a stronger game for it.
Intergalactic Combat Possibilities
It’s surprising to hear that a game based on a team of superheroes only features one playable character. As it turns out, that actually makes for much more focused gameplay. It doesn’t take long into the 14-hour story before you get to grips with Star-Lord’s combat style, which focuses on his dual laser blasters. While there’s a notable lack of weapon upgrades — you’ll rue not being able to upgrade reload speed, for example — the combat is enriched by the clever utilization of the other Guardians.
You won’t play as them, but you can command Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot to unleash special attacks at your leisure. Each has four special attacks that you’ll unlock throughout the story, with different effects based on your approach. Groot is more support-based, with powers focusing on suffocating enemy attacks and buying his teammates time to heal. Rocket, on the other hand, harnesses his astounding arsenal of weapons to totally devastate enemies.
Speaking of enemies, there’s a nice variety in Guardians of the Galaxy, which ensures combat never gets dull. The first five hours feel very reminiscent of 2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, where you hop from planet to planet, wrangling with the unfriendly alien natives. Yet there’s a notable lack of humanoid adversaries in these early stages. Instead, you’ll fight a lot of spiked enemies and blob-based creatures. In those early stages, it makes the combat slightly harder to devote oneself to.
However, from there it’s a mile-a-minute ride, fighting an increasing barrage of enemies that’ll challenge your approach. Even better, you’ll have to carefully consider whose powers to use at which time. Without getting into plot specifics, enemies are increasingly overbearing. Hordes eventually grow so numerous that in the latter stages your display will be a veritable avalanche of intergalactic battle. Boss battles are equally rewarding, if a little similar in approach. That said, a couple of really delightful nods to existing Marvel lore will spice up these encounters, meaning you’re never left dreading the next behemoth to take down.
Bouncing Around the Galaxy
But perhaps the most crucial element that a game based on the Guardians needs is a bouncy, playful tone. You’ll be glad to hear that Guardians of the Galaxy utterly nails this tone. Expect to find plenty of laughs and a plot that, while at times serious and high-stakes, never gets bogged down in gloom. It’s all anchored by Star-Lord, voiced by Jon McLaren, whose ceaseless charm and quick-wit rivals the MCU iteration. It’s also well-accentuated by game design that knows the ins and outs of these characters. The combat, plot, and visuals are all perfectly attuned to the characters they represent. Just try firing Star-Lord’s blasters in heavily-populated citizen areas — you’ll see what happens, and you’ll smile.
Sadly, there’s a lack of endgame content here, aside from a New Game Plus mode that’ll definitely demand another playthrough. Happily, this game is littered with collectibles. Especially, there’s a bounty of outfits based on the MCU movies, and classic Guardians comic runs. It means you’ll be able to double your time with the game if you’re willing to blast through it again.
The main quality that a Guardians of the Galaxy game absolutely needs is the charm to win over those who may be fatigued by the contemporary superhero landscape. Square Enix’s Guardians of the Galaxy does that, and then some. It has a gripping story that’s best experienced first-hand, brilliant characterization, and the rebellious personality that these characters deserve. It’s a sci-fi third-person shooter operating at its peak, and you’ll be gripped at every step of the way. Have a flarkin’ great time!
Final Score – 8/10
This review is based on a PS5 download code that was provided by the publisher. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is available now for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Luke Hinton is a freelance culture journalist living in Cardiff, Wales. He graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism, Media and Communications, and currently balances his freelancing work with postgraduate studies. He specialises in film, TV and entertainment writing.