Square Enix spent an awful lot of time and money to make Marvel’s Avengers, and nine months later, its AAA game-as-a-service still doesn’t seem to be paying off. Avengers was just the beginning, though: This is a “multi-year, multi-game” deal, and the next SE-Marvel title, Guardians of the Galaxy, has just been announced for an October 26th release. This time Eidos-Montréal is taking the reins and leading the partnership in a very different direction. Prior to the game’s E3 unveiling today, Eidos gave journalists an extended hands-off look at Guardians, and elaborated on its aims for the game.
Off the bat, this is a single-player, narrative-driven, action-adventure game. Given Eidos-Montréal’s pedigree — it’s the studio responsible for the ‘modern’ Deus Ex games, including Human Revolution and Mankind Divided — this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.
It wasn’t a given, though: Crystal Dynamics was known for the rebooted Tomb Raider games before hopping into microtransaction land with Avengers. Speaking of, Mary Demarle, senior narrative director at Eidos-Montréal, said it was important that players had the entire game on day one, and made clear that “there isn’t going to be any DLC for this game, and there isn’t going to be any microtransactions.”
In Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ll play as Star-Lord, and Star-Lord only. “It became very obvious very quickly that you need to play Star-Lord because [he’s] the heart of that team, he’s the human part of that team, which we can identify with,” Demarle said.
Action plays out in the third person, with an over-the-shoulder perspective. In combat, the other Guardians will fight for themselves, but as their leader, you’ll be able to command them on how best to approach a fight and trigger their unique abilities. This happens on the fly, with time slowing to a crawl as you navigate through these combat menus using the face buttons on your controller. While I’ve only seen a couple of fights, enemies do appear to be of the bullet-sponge variety — so Guardians shares at least one trait with Avengers.
Outside of the action, the “adventure” part of the game also leans on the unique team dynamic of the Guardians. In one segment, Star-Lord had to figure out the best way to make it across a ravine. He opted to have Drax throw Rocket across to activate a bridge on the other side. After this happened, the game threw up a TellTale-like “Rocket is furious that you let Drax throw him” notification in the top-left of the display.
These decisions, coupled with a lot of Mass Effect-style (or, Deus Ex-style, if we’re being fairer) choices during conversations and cut scenes, showcases a deeper relationship system where you’ll need to balance the needs of your team throughout the game. “You are going to be at the heart of every social interaction that they have … you have to cheer them up through some of the mechanics that we have when things aren’t going so well,” Demarle said. In addition to straight-up fighting, Demarle added you’ll be able to “boost” your team’s morale “in order to win things in a better way, by dealing with the characters themselves.”
Not much is known about the story yet. It takes place “several years after a massive galactic war, where the universe is still dealing with the repercussions of that.” The Guardians, as a group, have been together for less than a year as “heroes for hire,” before they mess something up and set off a “chain of cataclysmic events” that you as Star-Lord have to prevent from destroying the universe.
At this point, it’s probably time to address the “that’s not Chris Pratt” elephant in the room. As in Square Enix’s Avengers, the character designs and voices are not the Hollywood incarnations. Instead, Rocket, Gamora and co. pull elements of their likenesses from both the comics and the MCU.
Despite knowing all of the characters before they ever appeared on screen, the MCU is so pervasive in our culture that the heroes in Avengers, who were very close to their Hollywood counterparts in all but face, made me feel like I was cosplaying as the Avengers, rather than embodying them.
In Guardians, this isn’t as big of an issue, as the majority of characters are more identifiable by their species than their facial features. Drax has a less vascular design, and his character and personality appears to be a little closer to his roots than the straight comic relief he provides in the movies. Gamora’s costume is significantly less Hot Topic than in the MCU, although she retains her black-red ombre hair. Also, Rocket has a viking goat beard now? There’s still an element of cosplay here — Star-Lord’s appearance is very similar to the movies, and all of the Guardians’ voices will take some getting used to — but the effect is overall less jarring than it was in Avengers.
One area the game is leaning heavily on the MCU for is music. It’s played a huge part in both of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies so far, despite not really being a thing in the comics. (That’s changed more recently, as the comics themselves have been heavily influenced by the popularity of the films.)
The presentation featured two ‘80s classics in “Holding Out for a Hero” and “Bad Reputation.” The latter song was triggered in the middle of gameplay when Star-Lord initiated a “huddle” that led to the whole crew unleashing a flurry of attacks on an enemy to the backing vocals of Joan Jett. “The licensed music isn’t just a passive thing in our game,” Demarle said. “It actually has an integral role in some of the action.” Demarle didn’t expand on those comments, but did specifically mention Kiss, Iron Maiden, Wham!, Blondie and Pat Benatar when talking about the soundtrack.
In case it wasn’t already obvious, we were extremely impressed with the presentation Square Enix put on. It’s obviously early days, but the tone and voice acting captures the spirit of the Guardians well. The combat looks much like any modern third-person action game, but at least Eidos is trying to spice things up a little with the team commands, choices and puzzle-solving. At times it felt like they were directly addressing the reaction to Marvel’s Avengers. It’s similar to EA’s very obvious messaging surrounding Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order following the negative response to Star Wars Battlefront II’s… .
Hopefully we’ll see a lot more of the game before its release. I’m intrigued to see how dynamic the story is given the many, many choices involved, and what impact this “killer” ‘80s soundtrack actually has on gameplay. Guardians of the Galaxy is coming to Xbox One, Xbox Series, PS4 and PS5 consoles, as well as PC, on October 26th 2021.