As the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes, the Guardians of the Galaxy films are among the best the long-running franchise offers, giving us playful yet touchingly heartfelt space adventures with a fair share of comedy gently sprinkled in.
However, none of these movies prepared me for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Initially released in 2021 courtesy of Eidos-Montreal, I tried Guardians of the Galaxy on a whim through Xbox Game Pass. I expected a serviceable third-person sci-fi shooter with a smattering of humor and good-natured irreverence. What I got was so much more than that.
Completely divorced from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eidos-Montreal blazed its own trail with Guardians of the Galaxy, taking the characters and making them its own. Perhaps the most welcome change came through the game’s take on protagonist Peter Quill, otherwise known as Star-Lord.
In contrast to Chris Pratt’s frustrating man-child, the Peter Quill of Eidos-Montreal’s Guardians is far more well-rounded and thoughtfully constructed. While still immature in some respects, this Peter wears his age more gracefully. He’s a veteran, having fought in a galactic war. He’s a decent leader, too, taking into account the thoughts and feelings of his team far more effectively than his Marvel Cinematic Universe counterpart.
Thanks, in part, to this move, Eidos-Montreal’s Guardians of the Galaxy comes off as a much more grounded tale while never using its sense of irreverence. This Peter’s bad jokes are counterbalanced by his good heart.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a paint-by-numbers adventure game, either. While Star-Lord is the only playable character throughout the adventure, you spend a lot of time giving directions to teammates in the middle of battle.
Your teammates’ abilities are vital to setting up combos and are absolutely indispensable when things get intense. As you advance through the story, you’ll gain access to more team-based abilities – a pleasant confluence between narrative and mechanical elements.
Your teammates also unlock new abilities at critical points throughout the story, often representing them coming to terms with a trauma from their past or growing as a person. It’s not exactly the most complex system, but it reinforces Eidos-Montreal's concerted effort to reflect the strong emotional bonds that keep the Guardians of the Galaxy together.
On top of this, Peter and the rest of the Guardians can build up a combat meter that allows you to form a team huddle once filled. What follows is an immersive and delightful mini-cutscene where the team group up and share their thoughts and feelings, as if they were an NFL team on a time-out. You will then have to choose between two pieces of dialogue to motivate them. You can usually work out the “correct” option through context. Choose correctly, and, not only will your team receive a massive buff, but Peter will also start blaring an 80s classic over the speakers.
Freezing an alien beast to death to the harmonious tune of “Wake Me Up” by “Wham!” never gets old.
However, the biggest feather in Guardians of the Galaxy’s cap comes in the strength of its immersive storytelling. We aren’t just told that Peter is a veteran; we’re shown – and pretty early on, too. In fact, without spoiling anything, a great deal of Peter’s character growth throughout the game comes as a courtesy of his coming to terms with his actions during the war – both on and off the battlefield.
Peter doesn’t exist in a vacuum, though. All of the Guardians are given ample time not only to shine, but also to grow as people. In the best tradition of The Mass Effect saga, these moments come not only in dramatic story-based cutscenes but in smaller, more delicate instances that take place on the Guardians’ ship between missions.
Throughout the story, each Guardian is given a meaningful character arc that intertwines seamlessly with the main narrative. Rocket, the murderous cyborg raccoon, confronts his darkest fears, while space assassin Gamorra comes to terms with her own past as a killer.
In a twist that surprised me, the game often presents you with dialogue options, allowing you to influence not only elements of Peter’s character, but the twists and turns of the wider story. Though far from the likes of Fallout: New Vegas, your decisions have tangible impacts on how the story plays out, affecting dialogue and occasionally offering branching story paths within the wider narrative.
What’s most magical about Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, however, is how the narrative and mechanical elements synergize to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Themes of companionship and growth are writ large across the game’s every aspect. The game’s well-written and often moving dialogue ensure that, when you give instructions to one of the Guardians in combat, it doesn’t feel like you’re just using a party member’s abilities, rather, it makes you feel like you’re calling on a friend.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is an action-packed, thrilling, and often poignant adventure game that delivers on its promise in a way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s trilogy of Guardians of the Galaxy films often doesn’t. Don't sleep on this sci-fi treat if you have a Game Pass subscription or room amongst your library of best Steam gamesbest Steam games, don’t sleep on this sci-fi treat.