When Square Enix first revealed Guardians of the Galaxy earlier this year at their E3 show, it was a little disappointing that they actively chose to mimic the style of the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe movies rather than take it in their own direction. The sci-fi/comedic mix seemed to aim to emulate James Gunn’s take on the series so thoroughly that it almost felt like it hearkened back to the halcyon days of movie tie-ins from talented studios. In this case, using Deus Ex: Human Revolution developers Eidos-Montreal felt quixotic and, to be honest, like a waste of their skills. To put it succinctly, I was not looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy despite — or perhaps because — liking those movies.
I think it’s good for me sometimes to admit I’m wrong. Guardians isn’t an instant classic, but the choice to emulate those movies is justified by the apparent skill in which it has done so.
The game starts almost innocuously and does an unfortunately good job of validating suspicions of it. The banter and jokes are frequent, to the point where the dialogue reaches Tales of Arise-levels of characters not shutting the fuck up for even a second. The encounter design begins boring and ramps up far more slowly than I’d like and it takes entirely too long to feel like you’re actually doing anything challenging or even vaguely interesting in battle.
Somehow, over time, the dialogue becomes charming, the story compelling, the jokes funnier, and the battles more mechanically complex and difficult. Essentially everything in the game turns the dial up steadily, as if the developers themselves slowly felt more confident in aping Gunn’s movie style as you progress through the story. It probably could have made that ramp a little bit steeper, but it does eventually get somewhere more interesting for players willing to see it through.
Guardians is essentially taking the tone and tenor of the movies and transmogrifying it into a video game, which has good and bad results. It absolutely nails a lot of what it’s going for as the characters banter back and forth, make jokes, argue, and often require player intervention to settle differences or even just be understanding to their frustrations. The player, solely in the role of team leader Peter Quill, is occasionally called on to give a rousing speech, which you can still monumentally fuck up and leave your team looking at you like an idiot.
But all this also means that Guardians has a certain pacing it expects from you, which isn’t going to fit everyone’s playstyle. I very often found myself stopping at the end of cliffs or slow walking to my goal because dialogue was still going on that the game will just skip if a new trigger has been hit. I ended up either missing a lot of dialogue or halting my gameplay to let Gamora and Drax argue once again over nothing, neither of which felt particularly good.
In addition, there are the various dialogue options you’re given, which don’t appear to have a clear effect on the story. Occasionally the game will remind you that Rocket appreciates you defending him or that the team didn’t think talking to the bad guys was a good idea, but Rocket still got really mad at Peter for making narrative decisions I had no hand in and the team never brought up that one decision after I made it. This is definitely not the same as Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy, even though it clearly wears the influence on its sleeve.
Perhaps I am being too generous here, but not really understanding to what extent my decisions affected the game actually freed me up to play the way I want and not worry about the eventual consequences of choosing one option over another. It let me play as Peter Quill, thinking more about the moment rather than the immediate next step or the hundred steps after it.
I don’t think Guardians of the Galaxy is a game for everyone, especially people fatigued by AAA titles or the banter-heavy superhero game that is becoming a genre in and of itself. It’s a movie on its own with occasional fight sequences, a rollercoaster ride where you’re largely meant to keep your hands inside the vehicle barring those huge dips where you get to throw them up in the air and just enjoy the freefall. I doubt it makes many people’s “Game of the Generation” lists, but it still very likely might surprise you.