It doesn’t matter what you put on a pizza; if the cheese, sauce, and crust aren’t good, the pizza won’t be good, no matter what you pile on top. The same is true for combative action games. If the combat is bad, the game is bad, no matter what other mechanics there might be. Which is the problem with Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC), a story-driven, sci-fi, third-person shooter whose problematic combat and other rather basic problems somewhat undermine an otherwise entertaining space adventure.
Inspired by the comics…
and, to a lesser extent, the movies, Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy has Peter Quill, the self-proclaimed Star-Lord, leading Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot trying to make money to pay a fine for trespassing. But in doing so, they stumble upon a problem that forces them to save the galaxy.
As for your role in this bit of heroism, you play as the aforementioned Quill, who comes armed with dual guns, mini jetpack boots, and a plucky attitude. Which is good, since Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy is a pretty straight-forward action shooter…and no, not just because most of the levels are linear. While there are elements of role-playing games (dialog choices, upgrades earned through experience, etc.) and squad-based shooters (which I’ll get to in a moment), the bulk of the game has you figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, and shooting anyone or any thing that gets in your way.
It is there, during the combative parts, that Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy runs into problems. Mostly because Quill’s guns, especially at first, are kind of crap. Though they’re energy based, and thus don’t require reloading or a steady supply of ammo, they’re also not terribly powerful. When taking on some aliens who are basically big pieces of Jell-O, for instance, it takes way more shots to pop them than it should.
This is complicated by the fact that, like the Covenant Plasma Rifle and Pistol from Halo they physically resemble, they overheat rather quickly. Granted, you can compensate for this, somewhat, by upgrading them to do a quick cooldown/power burst — which involves a Gears Of War 5-like active reload move — but it doesn’t help much. (And no, the gun’s other optional upgrades do not include improving their heat sync or power levels or anything else that would make them stronger or more efficient.)
What does help is when Quill learns his guns have environmental modifiers. Killing the aforementioned Jell-O aliens is easier (and thus less tiresome) when you can freeze them first. And the other augmentations are even more effective. Which is helpful, given how your enemies often come in large groups, and will often head straight for you, even if it means walking past Groot or one of your other coworkers.
Good thing your coworkers are helpful.
During combat, you can tell Drax, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket to perform special attacks. And I do mean special; you’re not just telling them to shoot or punch someone they would’ve shot or punched anyway. (Though watching Gamora and the others do these special attacks does inevitably make you wish you could play as them.)
That said, your ability to delegate does lead to one of Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy‘s most incongruous mechanic: the huddle. Yeah, like in football. During those moments, the gang get together — ignoring, and being ignored by, the aliens trying to kill them — so you can pick between two sets of encouraging words that will, well, encourage Drax et. al to do better. Why? No idea. Sure, it gives the gang a much-needed boost, but it’s also really weird and out of place and kills the momentum of the moment.
Combat in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy is also occasionally hampered by Quill’s visor. Because it’s activated by pressing the right thumbstick in, and this button is rather sensitive, it’s way too easy to accidentally turn on Quill’s visor, especially when combat gets frantic…and combat in this game is almost always frantic. And since you can’t shoot when using the visor…
It also doesn’t help that the combat in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy sometimes suffers from an uneven difficulty. When playing on “Normal,” for instance, most battles provide a normal level of challenge. But sometimes the same type of enemies can be markedly tougher, as if someone switched the difficulty to “Hard.” And no, I don’t mean way later in the game, I mean sometimes within the same encounter.
Combat in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy isn’t all bad, though. There are times when you can do some sweet finishing moves, including some where you and the other Guardians combine forces. And Quill’s melee moves do, well, pack a punch. Well, usually. The Jell-O guys kind of take it in stride.
the combat flaws aren’t Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy‘s only problems. When not fighting, you’re probably trying to get somewhere. And doing so often involves solving some kind of situational puzzle. But while these moments can be clever in ways that recall Resident Evil: Village, they also recall that game in how some solutions are counter-intuitive and don’t make any sense.
There’s also a brief bit of space dogfighting that’s ruined by the Milano’s seriously stifled steering.
Then there are the times when Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy suffers from delusions of grandeur and tries to be a role-playing game. Mostly in how you sometimes have to make dialog choices, ones that can change what happens next, but ultimately don’t seem to matter. A run in with an old friend in a bar comes to mind. Then there’s your time on Nowhere, which is the most open area in this otherwise linear game, but squanders this openness by only giving you pointless busy work, not anything that would constitute a side quest.
Even the movies cause problems for this game, as the dialog in Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy isn’t nearly as snappy or clever — Drax, for example, isn’t nearly as unintentionally weird — while the game’s voice cast pales in comparison to their cinematic counterparts. Well, except for Kimberly-Sue Murray; her performance as Gamora kind of grew on me.
Still, it’s the combat that really hinders Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. And with it being so much of the game…
…it’s actually kind of weird that this game manages to be somewhat fun.
For one thing,
the worlds you visit, and the aliens you encounter there, are unique and visually interesting. The game also does a good job of incorporating elements of the original comics, while putting a unique and interesting spin on things. Clearly the people in the art department have not only read the comics, and played such space games as Mass Effect and Destiny 2, but have also looked at the covers of classic sci-fi novels.
There are also some rather epic and cinematic moments, which not only help give this game a, well, epic and cinematic feel, but it also gives you good motivation to keep going while putting your actions into context.
Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy is also, as I mentioned, largely linear, a welcome change given how so many recent shooters have had open layouts.
But what really makes Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy engaging, despite all its flaws, is that when you do finally have all aspects of combat at your disposal — when you can freeze guys, then have Drax hit them with an explosive barrel or get Gamora to finish them with a flourish of her blade — the fighting can be really entertaining. Sure, it’s still annoying how it takes so long to get to this point, and how even then there are times when things go back to being frustrating, but when this works, it works really well.
In the end,
Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy isn’t as effortlessly fun as, say, Marvel’s Spider-Man or Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales; it’s more laborious, especially at the beginning, like Marvel’s Avengers. It is not a game you sit down to play for half-an-hour, only to end up playing for four; it’s a game you sit down to play for an hour but quit after half that…but pick up again an hour and a half later. And in those small bursts, something good can happen. Something that just might save the galaxy.