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Guardians of the Galaxy gameplay: Star-Lord’s scrappy combat gives us hope

Peter Quill gets by with a little help from his friends.

Star-Lord gets scrappy in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy game.
Published: Wednesday, 22nd September 2021 at 3:47 pm

On a sunny September day, RadioTimes.com travelled up to the London offices of Square Enix for a hands-on preview session with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy game – we got to play through the fifth level of the single-player game’s main campaign, and we were particularly pleased with how the combat system put us in Star-Lord’s shoes.

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This was one of the first real-world events we’ve been to in over a year, and the overall experience was one of pleasant surprise. If you were slightly put off by the uncanny nature of the character models in the game’s first trailer – much like the Avengers game, it was hard to look beyond the differences between this set of heroes and the Guardians of the Galaxy cast we know from the MCU movies – now is the time to put those worries aside.

The demo began on the Milano, Star-Lord/Peter Quill’s spaceship that will act as your hub between story chapters, much like the Normandy in Mass Effect or the Ebon Hawk in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. And just as you could in those classic spacefaring RPGs, here you can wander about the ship and enjoy some deep conversations with your crewmates.

As we wandered through the crew quarters and had a poke around, various organic interactions occurred: Rocket Racoon popped by to berate us for looking at his private possessions, Gamora was mortified when we walked in on her seemingly shopping for dolls online and we also found some memories from Drax’s homeworld in his room, and a poster of the superhero pop-star Dazzler in Quill’s own quarters.

The result of this sojourn around the ship is that all of these characters feel like fleshed-out people, rather than just copy-and-paste knockoffs of the movie characters. Details in their backstories and quirks in their personalities may not be what you’re expecting, even though there are some film-riffing outfits to unlock and Easter eggs to uncover – for example, Gamora has a skin that pays tribute to Zoe Saldana’s threads from the first Guardians film, but her characterisation feels quite different.

The Guardians of the Galaxy game has heaps of costumes.

The Guardians of the Galaxy game has heaps of costumes.

After Rocket fixed a problem with the ship (a llama-like creature had chewed through some important wiring), we were able to travel through space to the site of the next campaign mission – a space station base belonging to the Nova Corps, the spacefaring police who should be easy to spot in their blue and gold costumes.

The Guardians have come here to begrudgingly pay a fine, but something seems to be wrong – there doesn’t seem to be anyone home, leaving the Guardians to explore the spookily silent space station on foot. We came across one unlucky prisoner who’d been left here on their own to rot, a mini storyline that paid off with a strong gag later on.

The graphical representation of this space station felt fairly standard for a sci-fi action game (although we did see glimpses of some much more colourful environments in the trailers), and the exploratory gameplay is nothing new either.

The most challenging moment at this stage of the level came when Rocket had to crawl through a hatch and tamper with a computer to activate the unlock protocol for a big door. Once this protocol was activated, Star-Lord had to connect up some power junctions on the floor to get the door open. It’s not a million miles away from the Mass Effect franchise’s door-unlocking mini-games.

There’s also something warmly familiar about this eerie environment being undercut by constant quips and comments. The Guardians franchise has always had a jovial tone to it, and that’s very much the case here – the jokes come thick and fast. There are some hits and some misses, with a remark about 'gross negligee' being one of the most memorable misunderstandings (the character had meant to say 'gross negligence').

The Nova Corps won't go down without a fight in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Nova Corps won't go down without a fight in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.

After working our way through the abandoned area, eventually we came to a choice – having found a discarded Nova Corps helmet, should Quill speak into its radio system or not? We decided to try to start a conversation using the helmet, which backfired pretty quickly – a platoon of Nova Corps soldiers showed up shortly afterwards, but they’d been hypnotised and turned violent by a mysterious purple glow. And this is where the fun began.

When the combat inevitably started, the Guardians of the Galaxy game started to shine, and the decision to only let you play as Star-Lord really began to make sense. You can really tell that a lot of thought has gone into Peter Quill’s skill set, and how exactly he can hold his own in the Marvel universe despite being short on superpowers.

Unlike the mighty heroes in Square Enix’s Avengers game, Quill is not very well suited to hand-to-hand combat. If you go charging fists-first into an encounter, you’ll likely end up dying and going back to your last checkpoint. But if you use your leadership skills to inspire the Guardians team to victory, you’ll find yourself getting a lot further.

That’s not to say that Star-Lord doesn’t have some handy abilities – his jet boots allow him to hover around the battlefield, and he can also acquire elemental add-ons for his gun that produce ice and fire attacks. Plus, there are plenty of upgrades and abilities that we didn’t see in this preview session. And he can take part in combo team-ups too.

Star-Lord having a right old knees up in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy game.

Star-Lord having a right old knees-up in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy game.

That being said, it really is teamwork that will get the best results here. You can call in attacks from your powerful teammates with a couple of quick button presses, and you can also encourage them to interact with the environment to deal more damage – for example, Gamora can jump from ledges to cut down crates that are hanging from the ceiling, damaging your foes below.

After dying a handful of times as we tried to take down this Nova Corps crew, we gradually got into our stride – dealing damage from the sidelines while calling the shots, and occasionally zipping into the fray to revive our fallen squadmates is quite a satisfying way to battle. Star-Lord feels scrappy, savvy and reliant on his squad for the heavy lifting - that feels like a spot-on interpretation of the character.

If you get into a tight spot during combat, you can summon your teammates for a motivational huddle (as long as the relevant bar has been charged up by your attacks) – this huddle mechanic is basically a mini cut-scene that revives any fallen friends and gives you a chance to rile them up with a conversational choice. This does take you out of the action (literally), but it’s also a powerful tool that you’ll want to save for the right moment. And a great song normally plays when you finish a huddle - there are loads of classic tracks on the soundtrack, from Joan Jett to New Kids on the Block.

If you make smart choices – deploying the right teammates for the right enemies, flying around and dodging liberally, choosing your moments for huddles and attacks wisely – the combat goes from feeling surprisingly difficult to satisfyingly slick. And you really will feel like you’re playing the role of Star-Lord, as opposed to a generic superhero character.

This hands-on demo really increased our hype levels for the game. The characters feel different enough from the movie versions, and the combat felt really fun once we’d got to grips with it. Trying out some different skills is definitely something that we’re looking forward to, and it should be fun to uncover more Easter egg-laden outfits as well.

On a story level, we’re intrigued. Why exactly were those Nova Corps people possessed, and who was the mastermind behind it? There were some clues in the session, but we won’t spoil them for you. This feels like a game that will have surprises up its spacefaring sleeves, and we look forward to discovering them at launch. It should be a fun galaxy to guard.

Read more on the Guardians of the Galaxy game:

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