Last fall, Square Enix released the long-awaited Marvel’s Avengers from Crystal Dynamics, and while the core game was fun in the beginning, the heavy emphasis on end-game events, grinding, and repetitive gameplay kept it from really shining. This year, Square Enix once again dips into the Marvel well with Guardians of the Galaxy, developed by Eidos Montreal — the team behind the amazing Tomb Raider reboot — and the differences are like night and day.
I know that the two games shouldn’t really be compared, as they are from different studios and are two wholly different experiences, but since both are based on Marvel Comics properties, the comparisons are inevitable. Guardians of the Galaxy is on such a different level of quality that it quickly separates itself from what has come before, and gives players one of the best comic-book-based games ever.
Guardians of the Galaxy borrows from the comics more than the films, which gives it a bigger toolbox to curate an enjoyable game. There are plenty of epically cool moments, especially in the final third, though Square Enix asked us not to divulge too much. But for fans of the GOTG comics, strap in, as you are about to go on an unforgettable ride.
Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, and his team of Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Gamora are just making their way in the galaxy, picking up odd jobs for cash and avoiding the Nova Corps as best as they can. When the game begins, the Guardians are seeking a mythical beast from Lady Hellbender, and they enter the quarantine zone to do so. This leads the team into a confrontation with the Nova Corps that sets off a series of events that shakes the universe to its very core, testing the faith of this rag-tag team of misfits like never before.
The story takes the team to various locations and scenarios, some familiar to film fans, others familiar to comics fans. For fans of both, it’s a treat on all fronts. Players control Peter, who can assign tasks to the team during combat and exploration. If you need a door opened, call on Rocket’s ability to hack locks; if you need a new path, call on Drax’s strength to break though a cracked wall. The maps are huge and there are secrets hidden everywhere, but it never feels too big. Guardians of the Galaxy draws on other games, including Tomb Raider and even Mass Effect, to establish its core gameplay, but then builds off that with Marvel goodness.
The controls are fluid and intuitive, and I was amazed at how quickly I adapted to the whole thing. Combat can (and will) get very hairy and intense as the game goes on, and yet I found myself able to handle even the biggest enemy rushes by using the team’s skills at the right time with a few simple button presses. The various skills, powers, and team assignment commands are mapped to various button combinations, without getting too complicated. Eidos Montreal found the veritable sweet spot by keeping Guardians of the Galaxy challenging without making it too easy — and in a combat-heavy game like this, that balance is important.
Peter has dual blasters left for him by his father, Jason of Spartax (remember, this game follows the origin story from the comics), and as the game progresses, the weapons adapt and take on a variety of elemental properties. Gamora has her sword. Drax has his blades. And Rocket and Groot team up to create a living, breathing gun battery. In combat, Peter can activate skills for himself and the team, and each character has four unique combat skills, with the fourth being a superpower move. For example, Rocket’s unleashes a comically large weapon that includes missiles, bombs, and possibly even a landing strip for small aircraft. I laugh every time he whips it out.
Utilizing these skills is paramount to success in combat, especially when the screen fills with enemies of various strengths and weaknesses. When things get too hairy — and they will — Peter can call a huddle, where the team explains their thoughts, and it’s up to the player to decide how to pump the team up. A successful huddle will power up the team for a short while in a battle, while failing only powers Peter.
As an action RPG, Guardians of the Galaxy sparkles like stardust, but what really separates this game from its contemporaries is the surprisingly emotional story of a team of misfits coming together when it matters most and realizing that they are a family no matter what happens. Better yet, the narrative is graced with some of the best voice-over performances in recent memory. Drax, voiced by Jason Cavalier, is singled out for his stunning performance, but each member of the team has their moment in the spotlight, and their respective actors deliver in every way. The writing keeps the story light, and the banter between the teammates drives the narrative.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Guardians of the Galaxy without some incredible licensed music, and the soundtrack is littered with some of the biggest hits of the 1980s (trading in the soft-rock — or “yacht rock” of the films), and I’ve found myself laughing out loud by breaking a team-inspiring huddle only for Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” to begin playing. Who would have thought this George Michael/Andrew Ridgely hit from the decade of excess would fit in so well while fighting epic monsters on a planet you probably have never heard of? That’s the beauty of this game. There are surprises in every nook and corner, and each gameplay session has been a different and unique experience.
Guardians of the Galaxy is also absolutely stunning to look at. I played through the game on PlayStation 5, and the graphical fidelity is without peer. The line between cutscene and gameplay is non-existent as it all flows together seamlessly. The visual design and use of color on some of these alien planets are jaw-dropping. The artists at Eidos Montreal have crafted one of the best-looking games of 2021 — if not all time.
Guardians of the Galaxy is an amazing gaming experience that takes the best elements from both the films and the comics to create the seminal Guardians adventure. By the end of the game, I really felt that I connected with my team, as the strong writing and performances brought these characters to life in new and exciting ways. The combat is intuitive and thrilling, and the exploration elements can lead to new character costumes, all without having to spend real money (yes, I’m looking at you, Avengers). This is how team-based games should be built, and other developers should be paying attention.
Guardians of the Galaxy is, as Drax would say, a butt-striking adventure that never lets up, taking players on an epic journey that I will not soon forget. Even with an onslaught of new games coming this holiday season, I’m ready to go back and replay this one from beginning to end. It’s one of the best comic book-based games I’ve ever played, and I hope that it’s the beginning of a new game franchise, as the greater Marvel universe is vast, and there are tons of stories to mine from the deep reaches of space. With any luck, this game is just be the beginning.
Editor’s Note: The name of the actor who voiced Drax was misidentified. It has been corrected. We apologize to both actors.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy takes the action RPG and draws from both the films and comics to create a stunning gaming experience. With humor, an amazing soundtrack, and stellar gameplay, this is one of the best team-based comic book games ever.