Review: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (PS5) - A loyal take on the truly rock Guardians
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is an incredibly enjoyable and very funny title. Fueled by the fun vibes and the best of both movies on the big screen, it tells an original story that enthusiasts will love and newcomers can easily follow. With endlessly entertaining combat and wonderful characters to boot, the game is much more Marvel's Spider-Man than Marvel's Avengers. While it's not without its flaws, developer Eidos Montreal has a winner in its hands; one that deserves a sequel or two.
Set 12 years after the Chitauri tore the universe apart in Galactic Warfare, Star-Lord and his charismatic crew members do odd jobs to pay the bills. One of them takes them to the quarantine zone, which is governed by the Nova Corps and comes with a fine upon capture. Of course, that's exactly what happens to those aboard the Milano. The team collects just enough galactic units to clear their debt when, upon returning to Nova Corps HQ, they discover another threat to the galaxy.
It's a pretty engaging plot that will keep you entertained from start to finish, but what you're really there for is the characters - and they deliver. The five bandits of Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket and Groot do not suffer quite the same fate as the Avengers; they all mostly resemble their screen appearances. Star-Lord is obviously the intruder - maybe it costs too much to deal with Mario's new voice - but he makes up for that with the charming and usual act of the center of attention.
In fact, all the performances behind the five Guardians are top notch. Brandon Paul Eells returns as Drax after voicing him in Guardians of the Galaxy: The TellTale Series, and once again does a terrific job of capturing the overly serious but also hilarious tone of the Kylosian. Kimberley-Sue Murray portrays both the deadly assassin and the softer sides of Gamora's personality, while the ever-lovable Groot is his sweet self in the hands of Adam Harrington. Cutscenes don't have nearly the same budget as a real Marvel movie, but the characters you've come to know and love are very much present.
You will only directly control Star-Lord, but the dialogue options and decision-making elevate you to the rank of true leader of the Guardians. Conversations with your teammates allow you to explore their stories during the timeouts between chapters, while resolutions for important story moments can be dictated by your hands. This is not a TellTale style approach where certain decisions can lead to drastically different ends. However, it's a welcoming extra layer that lends a bit more depth to the narrative as it notes which of your decisions will be saved for later when the ramifications of your actions take hold.
Plot, characters, and decision making all fuel a surprisingly meaty 20+ hour campaign that explores the galaxy and more. Combat is a big part of the experience, but there is also time for environmental puzzles and exploration. Divided into 16 chapters, you can stray from the main path to find collectibles and outfits inspired by comics from the past, or take the time to visit some of the larger areas. Think Carson V from Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and you are on the right track. Don't get me wrong, gaming is a largely linear business, but there is certainly room for some fun alongside it.
So combat is your meat and your potatoes, with Star-Lord equipped with his trusty blasters. You might think Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is a third-person shooter based on that, but treat the game like your playtime is increasing exponentially. You see, while Peter Quill's weapons can deal with basic enemies, they border on uselessness against tougher enemies. This is where the other Guardians come in; you can activate their abilities based on individual cooldown counters. Each equipped with four powers that are unlocked through story progression and purchased through upgrade points, they all help in different situations.
Larger fighters have an offset gauge that makes them immobile and prone to additional damage when filled, and Drax is perfect for accomplishing that. Gamora can then either remove a good chunk of HP from a single health bar, or quickly deal damage to a number of enemies at once. Rocket pulls out the heavy weapons and explosives while Groot focuses on crowd control and healing his teammates.
At its peak, 20 different abilities could be selected, which might sound like a lot. And it does, but the game stuffs them clever enough that you never feel overwhelmed by the possibilities at your fingertips. In fact, the game flips that perspective: there are so many skills to choose from that you want to get caught up in tricky scenarios so you can enjoy what each goalie has to offer.
In combination with Star-Lord's standard blasters, the wide array of abilities help significantly flesh out combat with various approaches to take on the toughest villains in the galaxy. You can focus on the staggered meter, stand back and let Rocket play with his toys, or allow Gamora to go to town.
However, if you bother, the Huddle Up Mechanic will be your saving grace. Once activated in the middle of combat, Star-Lord brings the Guardians together for a pep talk that, if successful, encourages the team and increases damage dealt for a limited time. These streaks can be a bit too long, especially during the latter half of the game, but the classic 1980s track that follows them is always worth it. A fun feature though.
Our only real gripe during the fight would be the repeated dialogue, which takes some of the charm off the lines themselves. In a single encounter, Guardians can repeat themselves two or even three times. Drax's bellowing war cry doesn't quite have the same effect when you've heard the same 30 seconds before.
All in all, however, these are a fantastic foundation for what is a great title in the present and anything that might come to pass in the future. Star-Lord is just good enough in combat to tackle forage enemies on his own, but the wide variety of abilities that the full Guardian roster possesses makes sense the more you play the game. Endlessly entertaining and fun to use, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy gets its most important mechanics.
What is also relevant is the soundtrack; a long list of hits from the 1980s accompany original tracks for a memorable listening experience. The new songs are heavy metal in tone and are used relatively often in standard fight encounters. The tracks you already know and maybe like are saved for the aforementioned Huddle Ups and when the story crescendos, or you can select them from the full list at will in the Milano. There is no better feeling than fighting your way through a flood of bad guys, only for Rick Astley I'll never give up on you to take your game to the next level.
But then there is nothing worse than the breakdown of the game, which has happened too often during our game. Characters would lose body parts during cutscenes, objects would drop out of the environment, and objects would no longer be able to interact with them. The characters would seemingly forget who they are with, which means we couldn't access the workbenches to purchase upgrades. And large parts of the landscape would be missing before suddenly falling into place. Reloading a checkpoint usually fixes the problem, but it happened so often that we started rolling around with the bugs so that we didn't lose progress all the time.
All of these issues were encountered prior to the availability of a Day 1 patch, which was posted late in our review process. We launched the most buggy section of the game and went through it twice to test if the update has changed much; We are happy to report that no issues were encountered except one. A birthday cake had duplicated. While we can't guarantee that your own game won't be free from technical flaws here and there, it looks like the Day 1 patch has significantly improved this side of the title.
A ray tracing mode will also be added to the game in a post-launch update to accompany the standard quality and performance modes. Quality mode targets 30 frames per second and dramatically increases visual quality, while performance mode doubles frame rate but affects graphics. It's actually a bit of a boring situation because the title looks really , really good in quality mode, but you don't want to play something so action-packed at 30fps. Performance mode sweetens the gameplay, but the visuals aren't as good. Fair, sure, but you'll always know inside your head that the game can be much better. You can't have the best of both worlds here.