The fight is not going my way. I need to get to my ship, the Milano, and make a hasty escape. Problem number one is that it's been impounded on the other side of the Nova Corp base. Problem number two is that blocking my path is a host of heavily armoured goons. And problem number three is that Rocket was right that my plan sucked.
Unlike Square Enix's Avengers game, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is a strictly single player affair. You have direct control of Star-Lord and the other members of the team take care of themselves - including chatting to each other and offering up snide remarks as you explore the world. At this moment in the campaign, Rocket in particular is not happy. We're only at this Nova Corp base to pay off a fine and get a tracking device taken off our ship. He thinks we should just have broken the tracker and made a run for it. An opinion only solidified by the presence of heavily armoured religious fanatics.
Developer Eidos Montreal has done a great job of bringing the Guardians to life, and all the chat between the characters plays on the familiar bonds we know from the films and the comics. Though, even in this short two-hour play session, it was clear the writers are making these characters their own. For instance, the Peter Quill in this game spent years in a Chitauri prisoner of war camp, a departure from both the comics and the films.
While the dialogue within missions hints at the backstory of the characters, most of it came out before we docked at the Nova Corp base. In the pre-mission section I was free to explore the Milano and interact with objects on the ship and in each crew member's cabin. A broken translator opened up a conversation with Groot and Rocket about how the two started working together; inspecting a pair of Chitauri handcuffs had Quill tell Gamora about his time in the prison camp; walking in on Gamora browsing an auction site for dolls started a chat about her unusual collection of toys. It reminded me of walking around the Normandy in Mass Effect, but there were more space llamas this time.
When it comes to combat, the focus on controlling Quill makes things a little more manageable - especially as everything plays out in real-time with no way to pause or slow-down the action. The Guardians make themselves useful blasting, slicing, and... Grooting enemies without you needing to press a button.
The standard Nova Corp soldier isn't too much of a challenge. Punch or shoot them enough and they'll fall down pretty quickly. Quill's melee attacks are particularly satisfying because he often ends a punch combo with an uppercut that sends your enemy into the air where they'll then be smacked by one of the other Guardians. It seems like a small thing but it gives a sense of you all scrapping together as a team.
The grunts do hint at Guardians' complexity, however. The troops sometimes activate a short-term bubble shield that blocks all melee and ranged damage. You don't need to wait for it to time out, as you can stagger enemies with elemental attacks. Using the d-pad, you can swap between different ammo types for Quill's blaster. Shoot an enemy with enough ice shots and they're frozen in place, their shield deactivated.
Things get challenging when the Nova Corps grenadiers show up. These chunky soldiers have a huge health bar, a massive shield blocking all damage from the front, and can throw out floating mines that trap and damage any Guardian they hit. The first grenadier I face turns up on its own and still proves a challenge to overcome. Soon, however, I'm facing two at a time and a whole host of grunts.
While you can fight on your own in Guardians - simply punching and shooting as Star-Lord and leaving the AI to look after the other members of your squad - when the brawls become more complicated you have to start giving orders to your team. Each Guardian has their own set of four abilities that play to their strengths: Gamora can do huge damage to a single character, Drax does massive stagger damage, Groot can immobilise enemies with his roots, and Rocket has a range of area of effect abilities.
So, when facing a pack of Nova Corp grunts and a pair of grenadiers, I couldn't just focus on taking out enemies myself. The grenadiers kept trapping and killing off my team and then I'd be overwhelmed by the sheer number of Nova Corp troops attacking me. Instead, I had to start directing my allies and strategising on the fly. Using Groot's Entangle ability I could hold one of the grenadiers in place, stagger them with a hail of ice shots from my blasters, and send Gamora in to do a massive damage attack on the stunned enemy.
It can be a lot to keep track of in the moment. You're facing a room full of enemies that have different strengths and weaknesses, some which make them immune to certain kinds of attacks. You need to keep an eye on your squad's health and status, because at any moment they might be downed and need reviving or trapped by a grenadier's shock mine and need to be freed. You have four different elemental ammo types that you will want to swap between to make sure you're using the right attack at the right time to best exploit the weaknesses of your enemies. And you have potentially twenty different abilities that you might want to activate, four of your own alongside the four that each of your four teammates have. Oh, and there might be environmental objects you want to activate - like getting Drax to throw an explosive barrel at an enemy.
The thing is, though, you are playing Peter Quill, the de facto leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy. In the comics and the films his role is to pull these wildly different characters together to make them work as a team. By making combat complicated and punishing, Eidos Montreal pushes you to inhabit that role. As much as I wanted to just bash and blast enemies, it made more sense to hang back at points and direct the team around the battlefield instead of getting too involved myself.
In this way, Guardians feels very different to Marvel's Spider-Man, but has that same quality of capturing the essence of the different heroes.
I left my demo with Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy really wanting to play more. It's satisfying when you nail a fight, calling the right shots at the right moment, and carving through an enemy encounter. But I was still playing messily by the end of my session and I can't tell if that's because I wasn't practiced enough or if combat in this game is inherently messy and overwhelming. I have to bear in mind that I was dropped into the middle of the campaign, I missed all the gradual introduction of new characters and abilities, so it may simply be a case of having too many new mechanics to learn at once and not something that will be a problem in the final game.
Separate to the combat, I just want to spend time with these characters. The Guardians of the Galaxy are a lot more fun than many of the heroes in the Marvel universe and it's clear from the demo that Eidos Montreal has captured the voice and quirks of these characters. We're only a month away from the game's full release and the chance to spend tens of hours with these characters. Even Rocket, who is insufferable when he's right.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is out on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and PC on October 26th.
Featured Image Credit: Square Enix
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