If there is one company that’s looking to make a hell of an impression this fourth quarter of 2021, by far, that would be Square Enix.
It is certainly a guarantee that the massively popular Final Fantasy XIV’s latest and arc-ending expansion, Endwalker, will result to further financial and critical success come November. But that’s just one side of an interesting coin, as the other side presents a very intriguing tale of redemption, more than a year after the release on one of the most criticized and divisive titles of 2020 – Marvel’s Avengers. From its questionable live-service model and controversial microtransactions to the mixed and relatively buggy (albeit addictive) gameplay, what should have been a home run for the publisher ended up becoming a cautionary tale on how not to transition arguably the biggest entertainment property of a generation to the gaming sphere. A year after its release, there has been more questions than answers on what the future holds for this embattled multiplayer.
With that in mind, Square Enix, with developer Eidos-Montréal (of Deus Ex and Shadow of the Tomb Raider fame), is looking to correct the course in the form of a proper and fun-as-hell superhero game featuring one of the most beloved quintets of the past decade, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (GOTG). And from the hours I had of experiencing Square Enix’s latest, it’s safe to say that they are definitely correcting that course as well as people hoped.
Full disclosure: this game was reviewed using the PlayStation 5 system. This game is currently set for release for the PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC (Windows), and Nintendo Switch (via Cloud).
This unique take of the story, basing from Marvel’s source materials and the MCU equivalent of the group, puts our favorite misfits in a wild, universal ride that takes place some time after a major universal war. As you might probably expect by this point, one thing would lead to another, and this chain of events would result to the rise of a galactic threat that puts the entirety of existence at risk. And whether they like it or not, it is up to the titular heroes to fix this mess before everything goes poof.
Square Enix has made it a point to keep the story hush-hush in the promotional road to the game’s release, and for good reason. For fans of comic books, the Guardians, and even in the intergalactic scope of the Marvel universe, there is a lot to take in when it comes to the story being unraveled all the way to the end of its multi-chapter campaign. Along with having carried over the game’s MCU DNA, including relatively obscure comic characters such as Nikki Gold, Lady Hellbender, and Cosmo helped establish this acquainted yet refreshing take to the typical Guardians formula, making this game feel like a whole new ride for new and veteran fans alike.
First and foremost, this is 100% a Guardians of the Galaxy space opera, which means having all the quips, quirks, mannerisms, and interactions that made them such beloved figures in the first place. More importantly, they also carry the imperfections and internal struggles of many characters that would help complement the overall narrative of the story which you, Star-Lord, will have to navigate through in the form of significant choices you make throughout the game. As the central figure and figurative heart of the team, Peter Quill has to do what is best for the team while making sure you try and keep the rest of the team happy, for better or worse.
Taking a page out of the likes of Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and even Telltale Games’ own version of GOTG, you will be faced with various choices that would have consequences in later segments. For example, helping a certain character out in one chapter may allow for access to certain areas later on that you would normally not have accessed. Not to mention, making narrative choices with the various guardians inside the Milano or even during segments in the game may influence how they feel towards you later on. I feel that, compared to other comic book games in the past, having the freedom to experience the consequences of your actions throughout this journey gave this game more emotional weight than most, and made it easy to appreciate the overall story and the internal narrative within the team. The decision to make Star-Lord the only playable character was a wise idea to drive this idea home, and while not being able to use other characters is a bit of a downer, in the end, making Star-Lord the central character was a wise choice to help connect the dots together in a satisfying way.
Personally, I love interacting with Drax and see him draw out more of his character as compared to his movie version, and I find him stealing the show in quite a few occasions. Not to mention, getting to know more about Rocket’s difficulties made it easier to somehow empathize with his character despite his demeanor. These bits of character building made me appreciate how much effort they put in making sure that we get a game that fans can be proud of.
With space operas, I always look forward to the beauty, grandeur, and scale of their worlds and surroundings, and for the most part, they did well in that regard. The environment looks amazing and loyal to its source material. While the sound of the game has done the space opera feel justice, it would not be a GOTG game without the licensed old school soundtrack to vibe to. And let it be known that they went all out in securing as many songs as they can to maintain that familiar Guardians feeling, from Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” to the immortalized meme that is Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. When it comes to trying to match the feel of what a Guardians adventure should be, they went above and beyond to make it as close to the real deal as possible, and they should be commended for that.
Let us address the elephant in the room: the best thing they have done for this game is to not make this a live-service title much like Marvel’s Avengers last year, and that makes all the difference. By shifting the focus from live-service to a single-player action platformer, they were able to emphasize on the strengths of this game without the shackles of microtransactions and the need for online connectivity. In turn, it felt easier to immerse myself and be invested in the story, the gameplay, and most importantly, its characters. In a way, I felt like this should have been how Marvel’s Avengers should have ended up last year, a game that has a very good campaign but could not reach a more venerable status due to its reliance to the live-service model.
There is a saying: less is more. And if there’s anything that games such as God of War (2018) and Horizon: Zero Dawn have taught us, it’s that you don’t necessarily need to be an online-only title to be a success, and I feel that GOTG did a great job in making the single-player experience worth the price of admission. In fact, having put all of the effort in long-term storytelling provide a satisfying feeling to those who stuck by and enjoyed the course of the story, and in the end, the players win.
In my experience with the PlayStation 5 version, I did not have any issues with loading times, and it was easier to go through the game with minimal drop in framerates in certain demanding portion of the game. It also helps that opening the game through its Activity Card can instantly bring you back to your latest save, a godsend to those who are wary of their time. Overall, the use of its SSD made for a smooth experience.
Like most PS5 games, you have the option to choose between Performance and Quality Modes, and being the sucker for 60 fps, I went with Performance Mode all the way to the end. Although, Quality Mode has been satisfactory as well in my short time of experimentation. The use of haptic feedback and adaptive triggers have been a joy while using Star-Lord, helping enhance the sensation of traveling through surroundings, worlds, and even during combat.
However, I did encounter a few bugs during the game such as the interface display lasting longer than it should have, and issues of Guardians not doing their intended action during gameplay, resulting in a restart in order to fix the problem. Despite this, a supplementary patch that came in during my time with the game fixed some of these issues, and hopefully, the other concerns can be addressed in future patches. Nonetheless, these encounters did not deter my overall enjoyment of the game.
In terms of gameplay, GOTG is not in the business of redefining any formulas. If anything, what they did right was to refine what works in an action-adventure title, and transition this in the context of how a GOTG game has to feel like. And in that regard, they succeeded in transporting what worked in Marvel’s Avengers into the game.
While you only play as Star-Lord all throughout, shooting enemies (via his normal shots or various elemental shots that you gain during the story), floating around the battlefield, and blowing up as many enemies as you can, your fellow Guardians work as assist NPC’s that can help mow down enemies in their own ways. However, they do also have their own respective skills that help shift the tide of the battle, activated through Guardian Mode by holding down the L1 button. You can improve overall DPS by chaining different skills between different characters at the right enemies, which can be quite satisfying especially against a horde of enemies or that one tough boss battle. Leveling up your team will mean being able to unlock more skills for the other Guardians, opening up new ways to chain skills, which can help as challenges get a bit difficult later on.
When things get rough, Star-Lord can utilize a “Team Huddle”, rallying the team and giving them a motivational speech in the middle of a fight. Not only will this resurrect fallen Guardians (if any), but depending on how you inspire your team, it can give Star-Lord a boost as well as improve team DPS and skill cooldown if you inspire them right.
Exploration is straightforward, but the game does encourage you to explore your surroundings to look for materials used to improve Star-Lord’s own stats and skills, as well as various costumes and lore items, which can be used to initiate special interactions with your teammates depending on what you got. Even though the campaign is relatively straightforward, being able to explore and hunt for materials to make Star-Lord stronger can make for a fun diversion.
The gameplay and mechanics can be somewhat familiar, but familiar doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t fun. If anything, it felt like the game did itself a favor by sticking with a formula that works without adding anything else that might deviate from its intentions. And for my money, having such a fun, dynamic, and addictive gameplay system is already a victory.
The game doesn’t have much in the way of having any other specific features, especially for a game that is spread throughout different platforms, besides the aforementioned haptic feedback and adaptive trigger functionality for the PS5. But it does have various accessibility options that would expand its reach towards as many players as possible, including in-game targeting modifications, subtitle adjustments, and auto-win QTE’s. They also have an option to shift from licensed music to the game’s in-house band music in case they want to stream the game and not be hit by DMCA takedowns, which can be a pain especially for those who experienced these in the past. With these in mind, the team has to be commended for providing these options can help make the experience better and more enjoyable towards different player bases.
The game also features the proverbial trap in games with impressive visuals: photo mode. For those who love to share good-looking screenshots in social media, this is a feature I’m sure fans are not just familiar with, but also know how much time they might end up sinking just to get that one great shot.
When it comes to superhero AAA releases, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a step in the right direction. Ditching the live-service model and crafting an enjoyable single-player superhero adventure made for a fun experience that rewards fans for taking part of one heck of a ride, especially when the narrative involves Marvel’s most functional dysfunctional family. It makes you realize how much fun it is to be part of this experience when the focus is you, the universe around you, and how you help shape the way you want to tell the story. While there are some kinks that need to be worked on, such as previously stated issues with interface, certain buggy portions, and somewhat lag-laden portions of the game, it doesn’t dampen the overall experience intended.
I honestly feel that whatever games Marvel eventually comes up with in the future, such as Wolverine, they will have a good base to work with in the form of the latest adventure of Star-Lord and his merry misfits, and reminding how the focused single-player experience can reward players for being immersed in the story. For my money, this game gets a 4/5.
Game review by Lance Tan Ong