Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Some of the more obscure Marvel heroes until director James Gunn came along and made a couple of movies about them, the Guardians of the Galaxy now carry a certain expectation. So much so that it's almost impossible to divorce the Guardians from their MCU counterparts, although developer Eidos-Montréal is seemingly trying with its own take. That said, there's no mistaking Peter Quill's red jacket, Rocket's ragged look and wise-cracking attitude, and, well, Groot looking like a tree and saying nothing but 'I am Groot'. The game's mixtape of '80s music and comical tone also is indebted to the film incarnations of the Guardians, and it could be all the better for it.
Picking up roughly four hours into the game, our hands-on with Star-Lord and the gang starts after an encounter with Lady Hellbender, as the Guardians see their way to paying off a fine with Nova Corps. Upon arriving at a Nova Outpost, home to intergalactic law enforcement, things appear to be normal enough – your ship, the Milano, is docked and clamped, and you go ahead and make your merry way in, only to find that, actually, nothing is normal. Discovering a discarded Nova helmet, Quill is able to pop it on his head, and you can choose whether to speak or stay silent. Decisions like these can have a knock-on effect, which in this instance means running into resistance much sooner than you otherwise would have.
Before disembarking the Milano to explore the outpost, you're free to interact with Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot. Poking around the ship, you discover that a blue space llama has been chewing on an important cable array. “It's flarked,” Rocket observes in his trademark agitated manner. We think he means “it's fucked”. Naturally, Rocket doesn't take too kindly to Nova impounding the Milano, presenting our first dialogue choice: how to best reassure the gun-toting 'trash panda' that his ship is going to be fine. Regardless, Rocket is always a tricky character to deal with; his hacking skills and ability to squeeze into tight spaces are invaluable assets that you'll sometimes have to ask him to begrudgingly utilise more than once. If at first he tells you “no”, you might need to ask nicely again.
Rocket will also use any components you've found to craft perks for you at a workbench. These include enabling Peter to hover, using his rocket boots, while firing his guns, speeding up weapon cooldown, granting a charged shot, and other useful buffs. Quill has elemental shots, too, the ice blast freezing targets so you can smash them to bits or locking mechanisms in place to solve puzzles. Or, rather, what Eidos-Montreal calls 'combzles' – a combination of combat and puzzles (see what they did there?).
While the puzzles we encounter fall into the category of aligning circuits, in a similar vein to Watch Dogs, the 'combzles' in question refer to how you choose to approach each battle. In this scenario, in which you're faced with possessed Nova Corps, do you isolate and focus upon the shield-wielding grenadiers, or eliminate the grunts first? Larger enemies have 'stagger' gauges, too, like Sekiro's posture meter, which, once filled, leaves an enemy vulnerable – or, if you're hitting them with ice projectiles, you'll break their shield or temporarily freeze them where they stand. As Star-Lord, you're able to issue commands to each Guardian on-the-fly, so if you see an explosive barrel, you can have Drax pick it up and fling it, or if there's something heavy suspended from a cable, Gamora will cut it down so it drops on an enemy's head. There's a nice layer of strategy to proceedings.
It's also worth keeping in mind the strengths of your posse, Gamora serving as the damage dealer, Drax adept at filling the stagger gauge, Groot able to immobilise enemies, and Rocket all about range and area-of-effect attacks. Keep up a sustained onslaught against enemies, and you'll rack up 'Momentum', with adjectives like 'Incredible!', 'Marvelous!', and so on, letting you know how well you're doing. Accumulating Momentum feeds into another bar, which, when filled, earns you an Ability Point to spend on any member of the team, unlocking new skills in the process. Figuring out the best combos to mix and match will build up Momentum boosts faster, so you can power up yourself and the rest of the gang with Ability Points, or let rip with a 'Call-to-Arms', initiating a spectacular co-operative event involving all five Guardians.
Tempting as it might be to get carried away during a throwdown – especially with such a formidable team at your side – Star-Lord's weapons overheating can leave you in an awkward position if you miss the 'active reload' window, while your fellow Guardians can fall in battle, requiring your aid to heal them, or they can be put under duress, demanding you help them out of a tight spot. Better still, there's yet another gauge that gradually fills, giving you the opportunity to take the initiative as Star-Lord, gathering the Guardians for a Huddle, in which they come to you with differing bits of dialogue that you need to respond to.
During a Huddle, the gang might be scared or apprehensive, or perhaps overconfident and cocky. Whatever the case, Quill will need to provide a motivational speech to get the Guardians back on track, and successfully saying the right thing will accelerate the team's ability cooldowns, boost your health back up, and – best of all – cause a bit of licensed music to kick in. That our first Huddle prompted 'Never Gonna Give You Up' by Rick Astley to start playing felt like the perfect storm of '80s pop and fast-paced action. The person playing next to me had 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' by Wham! leaking through their headphones, and later I had a bit of 'Hangin' Tough' by New Kids on the Block and 'Tainted Love' by Soft Cell. What's not to like?
And therein lies the appeal of Eidos-Montréal's resolutely single-player take on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy – the licensed soundtrack and intense action marries up in a gleefully gratifying way; there's some proper choice-and-consequence stuff going on, and the spirit of each character seems to have been perfectly distilled. If the rest of the game can match up to the section we've played thus far, then Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy could be a space-hopping jaunt to look forward to.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy launches for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC on 26th October 2021.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021 @ 08:08 AM
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