Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
This summer set the table for the future of Marvel video games with new titles starring Spider-Man, Wolverine, and the Midnight Suns coming in 2022, 2023, and beyond. However, those wanting a new comics-inspired game before this year ends have Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy coming next month. This new cosmic title from Eidos-Montréal graced Game Informer’s cover a few issues back, but as the anticipated adventure gets ready for liftoff, we finally got our hands on the title to see how it’s shaping up.
If you read our early coverage surrounding Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, you know our first glimpse of the story took place as the misfit team tried to dupe Lady Hellbender into giving them enough credits to pay a fine. That initial look at gameplay ended as the team entered her stronghold; now, our first hands-on session picks up right after they leave it.
While I don’t know exactly what happened within the walls of her fortress, the team escaped with the credits they sought and now have a llama with them for some reason. Peter Quill (AKA Star-Lord), who you control in this single-player game, charts their course to Nova Corps’ station so they can pay the fine and get back in their good graces. But before embarking, I catch up with the other Guardians aboard the Milano. After chatting with Drax, I walk in on Gamora browsing for dolls she collects in secret and Rocket discretely using Peter’s toothbrush to clean his tools.
Once the team arrives, they notice the station is abandoned. After scanning the deserted lobby with Star-Lord’s visor, I use the squad commands to tell Rocket to crawl through the vents and instruct him on how to reroute the power so the team can progress. Later, I use Star-Lord’s ice ammo to freeze a door open. These puzzles are simple but left me intrigued at how they might expand later.
"Some of them get a little bit more complicated and have multiple steps, and you're going to have to use more than one Guardian, but they never get very difficult," senior gameplay director Patrick Fortier says. "A lot of these things are for pacing and the opportunity to interact with your Guardians, and to [prevent just] walking in a straight line and not doing anything. You get a little resistance; we need you to make something happen, but we don't want you to get confused there. [We don't want], 'Oh my gosh, I've been spending an hour in this room' because a lot of the magic starts evaporating."
As they walk through the station, the Guardians bicker the entire time, lobbing insults and comebacks. Sometimes, you can even respond. The constant chatter between the Guardians, both in and out of combat, goes a long way to installing the tone for which the space-misfit team has become known. "With each chapter and each location, we broke it up and we wrote tons and tons of extraneous banters that could be happening in the combat," senior narrative director Mary DeMarle says. "We had to write tons because we knew that we wanted to keep that bantering going in the combat, so we were always creating of system of combat arcs/banters in which they're throwing out one line and randomly another will answer."
Though the path through the narrative is linear, decisions you make with your fellow Guardians and other characters impact the story as you progress. However, the game doesn't operate on a morality meter or anything along those lines. Instead, your interactions can lead you to learn more about a character's backstory or even set up events to happen as you play through the story, such as unique gameplay paths or different tools at your disposal.
In this instance, I learn Jack Flag is imprisoned on the station. If I free him, I’ll see him later in the stage. While Eidos-Montréal is hesitant to say how his story continues depending on what you do when you encounter him, the team does say Marvel fans will find several references to the broader universe throughout the game.
"Some easter eggs are true easter eggs; you have to be a hardcore Marvel fan, and then you're in a location and you're looking at artifacts and suddenly you'll see something from the cosmic universe," says DeMarle. "[Some] might be easter eggs in the background of locations that you'll recognize, like, 'Wait. Isn't that wreck something of importance?' Some of it will be readable."
As the team moves from room to room, I have small divergent paths I can take, but they often lead to dead-ends where I can either learn more about the universe's lore or collect resources for upgrades. This mission is rather linear due to its nature of moving through a space station to find what happened, but other missions in the game feature more exploration.
"In some chapters where you're going to be searching for things, every nook and cranny is going to be rewarded," says Fortier. "It's obviously not an open world or anything like that, but if you pay attention and you look around, you're doing to see a lot of little spaces that you can explore and gather some loot, some costumes, some objects that reveal more storyline for the characters, or the crafting parts."
As much as I love wandering through an environment and picking up what I can along the way, I have bigger things to worry about. The eerie exploration is soon crashed by surviving Nova Corps troops. Gamora soon notes they’re glowing purple, and once they start talking, it’s clear something is off. After realizing a fanatical cult has infiltrated the Nova Corps ranks, a battle ensues. Star-Lord can use his blasters at range, float above the battlefield, or get up close for melee attacks. However, the meat of the combat involves issuing commands to your fellow Guardians.
By tapping the bumper, a menu maps each squad mate to a face button for commands. Drax hits hard and typically inflicts stagger on his targets, while Gamora is a bit speedier and more precise. Groot’s moves often set up combinations for the heroes, while Rocket’s tech attacks deal AoE damage. Each Guardian operates on a cooldown, so you can’t just spam their attacks, but if you combine them just right, you can deal serious damage and turn the tide of the fight. Once you get the enemies hurt enough, you can execute a cinematic finisher that involves all the Guardians volleying the enemy back and forth.
For Eidos-Montréal, much of the combat's depth comes from finding combos between the Guardians and their various specialties, which then drives the player towards unlocking new abilities for the Guardians to fill the gaps and more perfectly complement your play style. "The game rewards you a lot for creating your different combos in creatively taking advantage of your abilities," Fortier says. "I think that's what's fun with it: Without being overly punishing, some players will maybe still try to apply the same formula throughout, but you do get rewarded for trying different things. I've had a chance to play it again and again, and it's a little bit like Deus Ex when you try different augmentations, you find different styles and different ways of playing, and the game still supports that."
On top of the core combat mechanics, you can also use an ultimate-style attack called a Huddle. Huddles operate on a longer cooldown and when you activate one, the team circles up like a football team. The Guardians express their concerns and you’re given two choices for your response. If you adequately address their worries, the entire team gets a temporary boost. Answer incorrectly and the group walks away confused, and only Star-Lord receives a boost. Either way, the team’s health is restored, and you get an upbeat soundtrack with which to blast enemies.
It’s obvious Eidos-Montréal nailed the tone of Marvel’s favorite space misfits. However, it remains to be seen how exciting combat is throughout the massive number of encounters we’re sure to have during the game’s total length. Thankfully, we’ll know the answers to any uncertainty surrounding Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy in the coming weeks.