Guardians of the Galaxy had, at least from my perspective, a lot working against it from the start. The Avengers game from the same publisher might be in a slightly better state now, but it was definitely a plate of tepid shit back when it launched. The news that Guardians would be a single player, narrative driven experience was definitely welcome, but outside of Insomniac, these big team superhero games don’t have the best track record.
Guardians is, honestly, an extremely lukewarm game with some spectacular visuals and rare moments of genuine personality. Those moments are few and far between, and for the most part you’ll be endlessly slogging through on-rails shoot-outs and beautiful but otherwise uninteresting environments. It’s by no means a bad game, but I’m not sure it’s that good, either.
Leading the Guardians is, well, boring
Commanding a motley crew of spacefaring rogues should never be a dull affair, and yet Guardians manages to turn it into a chore. Not only are we relegated to playing as the mechanically least interesting member of the team, we’ve got to micro-manage what all our teammates do with their cool powers.
Sure, Star-Lord has his own set of abilities, but playing through the game on normal difficulty I never really had to use them. He gets a few basic utilities alongside the ability to deal elemental damage with his guns, which is used every now and then for sparse environmental puzzles. Their combat usefulness varies wildly, and to be honest you’ll rarely see the genuine need to use anything besides the electric shots.
As the leader, you apparently have to tell everyone when to execute their abilities too. This is essential to getting ahead in combat, but it really takes you out of the action. Bring up a scroll wheel, select a guardian, choose an ability to use, repeat a few times to spam damage. It does allow for some potent combos, but really disrupts the flow of encounters.
On the flip side, there is a really neat touch later on in the game where the Guardians gel together as a team and start doing some of the environmental stuff you normally have to order manually by themselves. It doesn’t really make up for all the busy work throughout the rest of the game, though.
There’s so much repetitive dialogue the good moments get drowned out
Good god. I think throughout my playthrough I probably heard Gamora yell “KNIFE to meet you!” or “think they got the POINT?!” upwards of about fifty times, and that’s being conservative. Unfortunately that problem doesn’t just extend to one off quips – the Guardians have entire conversation strings of incidental dialogue that will be repeated multiple times as you progress through a chapter. It’s grating to say the least.
This really just drives home how repetitive the Guardians of the Galaxy experience can be. There are some really interesting character moments, particularly towards the end of the game – but all I’ll remember (if I remember anything at all) was the fact the characters weren’t capable of shutting up for a few seconds every now and then, even if they had nothing to say.
But really, Guardians‘ biggest crime is wasted potential.
This could have been Mass Effect without the melodrama, and there are certainly glimpses of that potential everywhere you look. You can discover collectibles which unlock new conversations when you return to the Milano between missions, and these offer deeper glimpses into who the Guardians are as people. It’s charming discovering Gamora’s doll collection, or unpicking more of Rocket’s tragic background and how it’s shaped him.
Occasionally, the game will tell you that a choice you’ve made will have an impact, and that’s kind of cool, but I think it could have gone even further. It would have been more interesting to have a hand in the team’s gelling together than a series of isolated conversations about interplanetary knick-knacks.
Combat works, sure. But it feels like there’s a lot of shortcuts. Occasionally you’ll be prompted to push a couple of buttons to trigger a special attack, and these are just weightless and bland, not at all tailored to the enemy you’re fighting. Sometimes you can order, for example, Groot to rip the limb off of a wounded robot. These have no texture or impact to them – it’s just another thing that happens.
Build enough momentum in combat, and you can call the team together for a Huddle. This feels like it’s supposed to be Guardians‘ signature move, and it is kinda cool at first. Star-Lord pulls the team out of combat for a motivational speech, and you’ll have to choose the right response to get the full buff. Something from the game’s admittedly impressive licensed soundtrack will play, and you’ll unleash hell on your enemies.
Unfortunately, my game decided it was going to exclusively play “Don’t Worry (Be Happy)” almost every time I pulled off a Huddle. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great song. Not exactly music to save the galaxy to though, not when Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart” is waiting around the corner. This summed up the Guardians experience as a whole for me. Great expectations, never quite met, and just an odd smile along the way.