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Guardians of the Galaxy is publisher Square Enix’s second shot at building a Marvel game following 2020’s Marvel’s Avengers, which had a... pretty mixed reception. But I’m confident that this latest attempt, developed by Eidos-Montréal, might be more of a hit with fans.
You take on the role of the not-so-legendary Star-Lord, leader of the Guardians. The game is set long after the team has already formed, so don’t expect an origin story similar to the MCU version of the titular heroes. With that said, the group is still very much in the midst of trying to become a cohesive unit, and the game often has you, as an exasperated Star Lord, trying to bring everyone together. And what better way to unite the team than by hunting a monster to make some sweet, sweet units?
Unlike Marvel’s Avengers, you only directly control one character: Star-Lord - aka Peter Quill. You can still command each of the other team members to perform all sorts of actions though, from combat moves to helping clear paths for you to progress. When it comes to using Groot to make a bridge or getting Drax to punch his way through a wall, it’s all pretty straightforward; it’s simply pointing them in the right direction. It’s when you’re in the heat of combat that things start to get a little messy.
At the beginning of the game, it’s easy to use each member; they’ll only have one move unlocked. But as you start unlocking more abilities, it becomes harder to pick specific actions when you’re in an intense fight. While things do slow down a little so that you have some time to take stock, it can still be pretty difficult. On multiple occasions I’d want Rocket to use his ultimate ability, which is him whacking out a mighty arsenal of weapons to fire, but I’d accidentally hit another one of his less useful abilities and use up his charge.
Guardians aside, you’re predominantly using Star-Lord's abilities. He has two sets of attacks to choose from. While these are a lot more streamlined, because you’re only focusing on the one character, it’s still a bit finicky. On the D-pad you can switch between the type of special blasters then Peter can use, which is as easy as easy can be. What’s trickier is that some of the abilities are assigned by default to the left joystick, which you have to push in order to select one to use. Again, it’s just too easy to hit the wrong ability.
Despite the messiness of activating these abilities, a lot of them are great fun when you’ve unlocked them and get to use them. When things do go right, you really feel like a powerful team ready to take on anything that the galaxy throws at you. When in a boss fight, if you time the moments right using each team member's ultimate ability, you can easily obliterate them. And in the moments when you’re waiting for abilities to charge up, you can coordinate melee attacks to completely knock out an opponent. You can really feel how it pays off to work as a team rather than trying to lone-wolf it, which is exactly the point of the Guardians.
Speaking of working as a team, there’s also a special ‘Huddle’ ability, which lets you rally everyone together for an inspiring speech, providing an extra buff. While using this ability has helped me out of tight scrapes, I avoided using it too often, as it can completely throw you out of the flow of the game. It’s meant to be a big moment to make things more epic, but whenever I used it I would feel the pace of battles just completely die. Nevertheless, it had its usefulness in helping me not meet a grisly end.
Mechanics aside, what’s pleasantly surprising is the narrative journey that the Guardians embark on. It’s so much deeper than simply being about a motley crew trying to get rich and save the galaxy while they’re at it. It’s a story about family, loss, grief, and mental health. You might be thinking that means the focus is on Peter Quill and the loss of his mother, similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy film, but you would be very wrong. This story is far from predictable, and that’s why its message of loss and grief hits so much harder.
On a personal level, I’ve had a year where I’ve had to deal with mental health being at an all-time low, losing a family member to COVID, and nearly losing my own father. This is why the narrative really hit home for me. I did not expect that a Guardians of the Galaxy game, of all things, would be what makes me re-evaluate how I’ve dealt with my own grief and struggles. That might sound ridiculous, but the fact of the matter is that this game helped me focus on what’s ahead in my own life.
What really helped shape this is how some of the decisions you make in the narrative do play a major part later in the game. It’s extremely important to think through your responses to the other team members, along with some of the NPCs you come across in the wider world. What you might think is just a passing moment could surprisingly show up again - much like in the real world, where the things you say can have some very real consequences. Your words impact people, so think hard before you say something, both in reality and in this game.
While I found Marvel’s Avengers to be such an important game for Muslim representation, Square Enix has knocked it out of the park again by making this an important game about mental health. It tells a fun yet important story, and while the mechanics at times can be frustrating, Guardians of the Galaxy is a really enjoyable experience that I would recommend to a wide audience: for fans of all things Marvel, action games, and stories that dare to go that step further in relating a compelling fantasy to hugely relevant real-world matters.
Pros: Fun abilities, important story about loss and mental health, lots of great Marvel references
Cons: Abilities and mechanics can be messy, Huddle ability kills the pace of a battle
For fans of: Marvel’s Avengers, Life is Strange, Mass Effect
Guardians of the Galaxy is released for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 on October 26th. Review code for Xbox Series X was provided by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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