Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy game releases on 26 October, and Gfinity's been lucky enough to go hands on with this unique band of misfits to see how it's shaping up.
Our preview begins roughly 4 hours into the game (chapter 5) on board the Milano, Star Lord's signature spacecraft, which acts as home to the five Guardians (Star Lord, Drax, Gamora, Groot and Rocket Racoon). Before setting off on our mission - visiting a Nova Corp space station to pay a fine - we had some leisure time to explore the ship and it's impressive how Eidos-Montréal has managed to make this social space feel like a character in its own right.
Each member of the team has their own room you can explore with its own unique flavour, from Star Lord's infantile posters on the wall to Rocket's messy corner filled with sci-fi tech and scrap. Even Drax's dull empty quarters has some character with his favourite knives hanging nonchalantly on the wall and a book titled 'Sarcasm for Dummies' on his bed.
The closer you look, the more you'll find, including a little passive-aggressive post-it note on the fridge from someone apoplectic that another crewmate ate their yoghurt. There's a lived-in quality to the ship that I'm glad the team didn't overlook, especially as it feels like the ship will be a pretty integral part of the game in between the main story.
“It is pleasing once again to have...friends.”
It's here on the Milano where we get to know the Guardians a bit better, with some surprisingly in-depth character and world-building weaved into conversations between Star Lord and every member of the team. It's not just surface-level either. Some of the dialogue went on for a good chunk of time, delving into each character's history and opinions on various matters. That's important because this is a wholly original story, not connected with the MCU or any past incarnation of the Guardians.
That's just a small slice of the game, but it gave me the impression that they've spent considerable time fleshing out these characters and this original story.
The only real drawback was that these extended conversations didn't look fantastic. Not graphically mind - that was fine. It's more the facial models and expressions during these in-depth chats, Star Lord especially. His mannerisms and tone - from clueless, to comedic to serious and back again - shifts a lot within any given conversation. It's something Chris Pratt does exceptionally well in the films, but here he just looks a bit blank all the time, with no real change regardless how the topic of conversation shifts.
The actual cut-scenes get this correct, though, as I noted Peter Quill smirking after making a sex-joke later on in the demo, but for these moment to moment character building segments? Not so much. Given how much work has clearly gone into giving the Guardians fantastic backstories, which you genuinely want to learn about, it's a shame more hasn't been done to make them more believable or animated, rather than gormless and expressionless.
"What If Someone Does Something Irksome, And I Decide To Remove His Spine?"
I'm not going to lie - Guardians combat is pretty good fun. How could it not be? In this preview chapter, we were fighting against the Nova Corps, or at least, some higher power controlling the Nova Corps. They had us outnumbered and outgunned, and it's a thrill to experience your rag-tag team attempting to fight their way out against these overwhelming odds. For the most part, that works as well as expected.
If you've played any sort of third-person action-adventure in the past five years you likely know what to expect as you have standard attacks and extra abilities which you can level up and improve the deeper into the game you go.
From start to finish you'll control Star Lord, but you'll still command Groot, Drax, Gamora and Rocket Raccoon by telling them who to attack with their unique abilities that can influence encounters. Although Peter Quill is your main form of offense, you'll need to harness all characters on the team and certain abilities to gain the upper hand. For instance, using Groot's Titan Bind ability became super useful for holding heavy enemies in place so the rest of the team can lay into them. The abilities also have a cooldown though, so you can't spam them. Knowing when to use them in combat, based on what we played, ends up being pretty important.
As for Star Lord himself, he's ok, if a little underwhelming. We imagine this is partly because we were still quite early in the game and only had quite modest abilities at hand, but his combat was a little flat. He punches, he kicks, you can use his jet boosters to do some neat tricks, and there's always the potential of a nice combo, but the majority of his contributions was more or less limited to running and gunning locked on enemies with his two 'pew pew' Quad Blasters. Admittedly there are also four different ammo types available on top (lightning, ice, wind, and fire) for further complexity. We only had ice during the demo, but it still amounts to more or less the same shooting experience.
Whilst you can get in close for the odd melee attack, a lot of the time you're a ranged character shooting from a mid-distance who's a bit on the periphery. Your surveying the scene and telling other Guardians what to do next amid the chaos whilst also popping off a few shots yourself.
In many ways, I'm glad that Eidos-Montréal didn't go down the same route as Marvel's Avengers in having a co-operative multiplayer experience with other players. But at the same time, I sort of wish they pushed the envelope a bit more to make Guardians single-player experience feel less passive and reliant on having Star Lord as your default character all the time.
With Final Fantasy 7 Remake, you're Cloud for the majority of the game, but you can also switch to directly control Barrett, Tifa, or Aerith as much or as little as you like. With Guardians, it would have been nice to have direct control over some of these other characters instead of just barking orders at them.
Based on what I'd experience so far, combat can be really fun, but it can also leave you like a bit of a passenger. Whilst it's still great telling Groot to entangle someone in vines, or Gamora to slice and dice another bad guy, it would have been arguably more enjoyable to be part of that power fantasy, controlling each member of the Guardians when you feel so inclined.
Maybe this won't be such an issue further into the game with more abilities at our disposal and when we have better chemistry using all four together at the same time.
"Well, Now I'm Standing. Happy? We're All Standing Now. Bunch Of Jackasses Standing In A Circle."
This slightly disjointed combat also ties quite nicely in with the 'Huddle' mechanic, which is more or less a power-up that can occasionally be used in combat to buff the team. When used, it will quite literally 'huddle up' the guardians who will then be staring right back at you [Star Lord] and shouting random phrases depending on how well or bad the fight is going.
As Star Lord, you're then given options on how to respond, normally to gee them up or cool their jets in some capacity. Depending on how well they respond you may buff the whole team or just Star Lord. So it's a useful tool to sway the tide of battle. Yet, for all the good it can do in combat, it just feels odd.
It's a nice idea and a different, refreshing approach, but it arguably succeeds more in pulling you out of the combat. Forcing four dead-eyed guardians to stare blankly at you whilst shouting bizarre quips. Had it not obvious benefits to the team, I might as well have just avoided using it altogether given how awkward it feels.
“There Are Two Types Of Beings In The Universe. Those Who Dance, And Those Who Do Not.”
Despite my complaints, I'd actually quite like to play a lot more of Guardians of the Galaxy and would happily buy it at launch. It became clear based on my brief time I was only scratching the surface of the game's full potential, and I'm quite keen to see how far it goes beyond that 4/5 hour mark.
Eidos-Montreal has clearly done a lot of work on fleshing out these characters, and I'd love to see how in-depth they go, even if the facial models looked a bit wishy-washy. I think that with more time, I could learn to enjoy the combat a lot more than what I did in my brief playthrough. More abilities and time to gel with the team would be an obvious benefit.
For a purely single-player experience, I'm not sure Guardians of the Galaxy will ever reach the heights set by Insomniac's Spider-Man outings, nor do I think it will blow fans away with its gameplay. However, I do think there's a very solid game here with intriguing characters, an original story, and decent enough combat to provide a welcome escape from the barrage of first-person shooters also coming this holiday.