Early indications suggest Eidos Montreal’s Guardians of the Galaxy will be sufficiently fun, frothy, authentic and, in certain respects, original to excite fans of the franchise
Thanks to its status as the most frivolous and wacky outpost of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s a lot of excitement about Square Enix turning Guardians of the Galaxy into a videogame. Mixed, it must be said, with a certain amount of trepidation, arising from the Anglo-Japanese publisher’s previous exercise along similar lines: the disappointingly loot-centric and generic Marvel’s Avengers.
Happily, two hours of hands-on gameplay with Guardians of the Galaxy suggests that its developer, Eidos Montreal, has worked hard to make the sort of game that fans of the franchise would actually want to play. Guardians of the Galaxy is single-player only, unsullied by even the merest hint of a loot box. Gameplay-wise, it’s a story-driven third-person brawler/shooter/puzzler that makes the most of the chemistry between Peter Quill/Star-Lord and his motley crew and makes a fine job of evoking the unique Guardians of the Galaxy universe.
Chapter 5 – visiting Nova Corps
Commendably, for preview purposes, Eidos Montreal and Square Enix chose to let us play through the entirety of the game’s fifth chapter (rather than the more conventional yet less enlightening route of a tutorial followed by a tantalisingly brief taste of later gameplay). They explained (via a number of short videos made by various team members) that the chapter, about four hours into the game, involved more detective-style gameplay than most, but contained a representative slice of Guardians of the Galaxy’s various gameplay elements.
Story-wise, chapter 5 – entitled Due or Die – began with the Guardians regrouping on their spaceship, the Milano. Apparently, the previous chapter had seen Quill, Drax, Rocket and Gamora encountering Lady Hellbender, before escaping from her fortress. Now, their task was to pay a fine imposed on them by Nova Corps, the galaxy-wide police force, which would allow them to remove a Nova Corps tracker that had been placed on the Milano, thereby letting them get back to their usual dubious business.
Trying to reach Ko-Rel, the Nova Corps centurion who had sanctioned them, they ran into communications problems, discovering that another resident of the Milano, a purple llama called Kammy (who, the developers promised, would become a useful member of the team later in the game) had chewed through the comms array. So, after our first encounter with the conversational engine (Quill frequently has to settle disputes among the Guardians, and will regularly have to make choices that determine how the game plays out in the short-term) the crew resolved to fly to a Nova Corps outpost called the Rock.
Banter on the Milano
Before that, there was an opportunity to explore the Milano, lovingly recreated by Eidos Montreal, who were keen to point out that it essentially constitutes the Guardians’ home, so is a key environment, acting as a repository for artefacts they collect in the game, and a base for them to converse and strengthen their bonds.
As you would expect from a Guardians of the Galaxy game, amusing banter between the crew was a constant feature onboard the Milano, and the writing in that respect seemed to do justice to that of the films. Sensibly, in our opinion, Eidos Montreal has opted to design its own faces for the characters, rather than trying to ape the movie actors, although Groot and Rocket look pretty much identical to their film counterparts.
On the Milano, we also used a workbench, which converted the scrap you find during missions into pretty useful perks – among which were an upgrade for Quill’s jet boots allowing him to effectively hover around, a charge-shot for his blaster and an upgraded dodge move. Guardians of the Galaxy also has an Ability Points system, which extends across all the characters and upgrades specific attributes. For example, Gamora packs the most devastating melee attack of them all, but with some judicious Ability Point upgrading, Drax’s melee could be brought up to a similar level to her. Thus the system provides a way of plugging individual characters’ perceived weaknesses if you’re keen on pursuing a particular play style.
Puzzling on the Rock
On arrival at the Rock, there was a strange lack of any Nova Corps centurions to meet the Guardians, which prompted much conversation, so we made our way through the outpost to find out what was going on. To that end, Quill’s visor came into its own – essentially a more imaginative-than-the-norm help/hint system, which highlighted elements of the environment in lurid colours and let you scan them. It also worked with enemies, offering insight into their weaknesses and keeping them targeted on a crowded battlefield.
Faced with a locked door, a visor-scan revealed a vent next to it; we shot the cover out with Quill’s blaster, scanned it and hit the Guardians button on the controller, instructing Rocket to climb through. Cutely, he refused until we asked him a second time, then hacked open the door for the rest of us. Later, we controlled Rocket as he hacked power nodes in another room, in a puzzle very reminiscent of Watch Dogs.
Further exploration uncovered no sign of life, although we did come across a prison with one prisoner detained in a glass cell. We tried to free the prisoner, but the cell disappeared into the floor – Eidos Montreal informed us that taking that choice would have meant that we would see him later in the game. And soon we did have a decision to make when we found a helmet with a comms link to what sounded like Nova Corps centurions. At that point, we were given the choice to either say something or stay quiet. We spoke – the wrong choice, since it made the enemies we were about to encounter aware of our presence, sending them onto us all at once, rather than in smaller groups.
Progressing further through the Rock, we came across some dead Nova Corps centurions, then a cut-scene triggered in which we saw a number of live ones, except they were suffused with a weird purple glow, and some appeared to be enacting a quasi-religious rite. It became obvious that something was seriously wrong, we weren’t going to be able to pay our fine and that we would have to head for the Milano and escape.
A tactical, momentum-centric combat system
Which meant engaging in combat, the core gameplay mechanic in Guardians of the Galaxy. The game started us off quite gently, with a couple of basic enemies – instantly confirming that Peter Quill’s melee was more powerful than his blaster. Next, it hit us with a single mini-boss: a Grenadier with a shield and the ability to send out electric mines that raked across the battlefield and caused a substantial amount of damage if they hit you.
That encounter with the Grenadier allowed the true nature of Guardians of the Galaxy’s battle system to reveal itself in full. The idea being to get the Guardians working as a team, in a tactical manner: you could only directly control Quill himself, but you could influence proceedings by assigning Guardians to prioritise specific enemies.
Quill’s blaster had an elemental freeze attack – with three other slots showing next to the freeze icon, it’s a safe bet that it will be possible to acquire three other elemental blaster attacks throughout the course of the game. Triggered via the right bumper, that proved a handy means of immobilising the Grenadier so that everyone could move in and rain melee and ranged attacks on him.
Chaining attacks and combos generated an increasingly fulsome stream of adjectives praising our performance, indicating that the game’s momentum system was coming into play; when that built up, it let us unleash one-off powerful special attacks from various Guardians. At the same time, the Huddle Gauge was building up, letting us trigger a Huddle by pressing both bumpers.
The Huddle was a very Guardians of the Galaxy idea: it dropped us out of the battle into a cut-scene in which we had to listen to what the other Guardians were saying and pick the correct motivational speech from Peter Quill – if, say, they were sounding too overconfident, we’d have to take them down a notch and so on. Post-Huddle, if you picked the right option, the whole team got a temporary boost in terms of damage-dealing and defence; otherwise, the boost was only applied to Quill.
We also found take-down moves involving more than one Guardian that could be triggered when the Grenadier fell below a certain amount of health; the constant super-cheesy 1980s pop blaring out (including the likes of A-Ha’s Take On Me and a Wham track) added to what was quite a cinematic spectacle, and very much in keeping with the films.
Overall, the battle system impressed: it let us take on a large number of enemies, but ensured that we took a tactical approach, dispensing the enemies which posed the highest initial threat (the Grenadiers’ electric mines caused a lot of damage, although finishing off lesser enemies regenerated our health) first, then teaming up to eliminate the rest. There was help from some environmental attacks, too: for example, Drax could be directed to pick up explosive drums and hurl them at enemies.
A proper Guardians of the Galaxy game
It’s impossible to offer a definitive assessment of a single-player game based on playing a single chapter, but after our play-through, we have pretty high hopes for Guardians of the Galaxy. Eidos Montreal has clearly gone to great lengths to make its game impressively true to the franchise, and its vibe feels utterly authentic.
The battle system, adding shooting elements to the tried-and-tested Arkham-style blueprint, feels pretty fresh, which is all you can ask for, and requires a gratifyingly tactical approach. The puzzling we encountered was pretty basic, but hopefully, that will add a layer or two of complexity later in the game.
Eidos Montreal explained that in the chapter after the one we played through, the Guardians would return to Knowhere, where encounters with various characters would open up multiple paths to pursue, busting the game out of its previous linearity.
Guardians of the Galaxy is undoubtedly highly enjoyable, pleasantly amusing and utterly authentic – which immediately renders it a much more attractive proposition to MCU fans than Marvel’s Avengers. Whether it proves to be a great game or merely a good one remains to be seen.
Steve Boxer attended a hands-on event as a guest of Square Enix.