At this point in the creeping global takeover of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, most people have a clear idea of who the Guardians of the Galaxy are, at least according to James Gunn. There’s the bald dude who’s a tree, Zoe Saldana in green body paint, the other bald dude who isn’t a tree, Bradley Cooper as a raunchy raccoon, and the guy who used to be on Parks and Recreation.
This isn’t the case in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and that’s a good thing. The game introduces fresh versions of the Guardians and ensures players will get to know them, placing an active emphasis on relationship-building and teamwork, rather than running and gunning. Eidos-Montréal’s interpretation of the Milano crew is familiar but refreshing, and the characters in the game are just as charming as they are in the MCU — if not moreso.
The preview for Guardians of the Galaxy lasted about an hour and dropped me in the middle of chapter five: Star-Lord and his pals are on the Milano, debating whether they should pay a fine at Nova Corps headquarters. They banter and decide to do it, intermittently dealing with a purple-and-orange llama that’s stowed away on their ship from a previous mission. The llama’s name is Kammy. Drax, the vengeful yet simple warrior, calls it “the child.” It’s all very cute.
Star-Lord is the only playable character in Guardians of the Galaxy, but he’s able to interact with and even direct his teammates, taking advantage of their unique skills as needed. For instance, Rocket, the foul-mouthed raccoon, is good at hacking doorways, crawling through vents and fixing things, though he’ll give you an earful while he does it.
By chapter five, Star-Lord has a handful of skills and tools, including the ability to scan his environments for areas of interest or weakness. Using this overlay turns the landscape into an infrared world of neon silhouettes and bright yellow clues. If Star-Lord himself can’t use a particular item, chances are someone on his team can, and he’s able to work with them once he’s found the way forward.
In combat, Star-Lord can instruct his crewmates to use their special moves at any particular time, and they also react automatically to nearby enemy behavior. For example, Star-Lord can freeze an enemy with his ice gun and Groot, the powerful tree creature, will start wailing on the frozen foe, no player input required. There’s also a huddle function that can turn the tide of a big battle — Peter Quill calls the team together and listens to their thoughts on how the fight is going, and then he determines whether to encourage them or check their egos using a range of 1980s pop-rock lyrics. If he picks the right tone, the entire team gets a big boost so they can start spamming attacks; if he picks the wrong words, only Star-Lord gets the damage augmentation.
Fights in chapter five are fast-paced and packed with enemies, meaning the Guardians are often spread across the environment, waging their own tiny wars. Star-Lord’s ability to call in his crewmates’ special powers adds a layer of rapid-fire strategy to the gunbattles, and this system should only become more robust as the game progresses.
Interacting with the Guardian NPCs is a critical component of the game’s non-combat moments, when players have to communicate and solve puzzles to progress. Guardians of the Galaxy uses a Telltale-style narrative system that alerts players with text in the upper-right corner when something significant has gone down — think “Gamora will remember that” — and in conversation, there are often multiple responses for players to choose from, sometimes with a timer attached. Seemingly innocuous decisions, such as whether to respond to an audio cue, can significantly change how the game plays out, for instance jump-starting a battle or creating an opportunity for the Guardians to sneak in.
Relationships are everything in Guardians of the Galaxy. The core theme of the game is grief, according to developers, and even as the Guardians joke their way across the stars, they each deal with a unique sense of loss. This is, ironically, what brings them together. The game's music plays into the emotional mood, with plenty of licensed ’80s hits and an original album from Star-Lord that taps into feelings of being an outcast and finding your chosen family.
It’s hard to say if Eidos-Montréal has captured the right balance of emotion and action throughout Guardians of the Galaxy, but the preview is encouraging. The developers aren’t afraid to let dialogue and puzzle-solving breathe for long stretches of the action, while battles themselves are full and frenzied. At any rate, it already feels way better than Marvel’s Avengers.
Guardians of the Galaxy is due to hit PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, PlayStation 4, and PS5 on October 26th.