Marvel Comics‘ eclectic team of scavenging mercenaries returns to video game realms with a third-person adventure sure to please older gamers and sequential art fans in Guardians of the Galaxy (Square Enix and Eidos Montreal, rated: Teen, $59.99, reviewed on PlayStation 4).
The story, set 12 years after the Galactic War with the monstrous Chitauri, finds the mighty Star-Lord aka space-pirate Peter Quill (a walking ego in love with 1980s music and looking a bit like a “Top Gun” Val Kilmer) leading a ragtag team of misfits.
They consist of Gamora (the deadliest female assassin in the galaxy and daughter of Thanos), Drax the Destroyer (a convicted serial murderer, war hero and supposed killer of Thanos), Groot (a tree-like being that can expand and branch out on demand) and Rocket Raccoon (a genetically engineered furry mammal with an expertise in explosives and technology).
The quintet find themselves in trouble often, ducking the intergalactic peacekeepers called Nova Corps as they roam the galaxy aboard a flying frat house called the Milano looking for the next big score that might also lead them into accidentally finding a Soul Stone and helping to save or destroy the universe.
The player controls Star-Lord armed with a visor to highlight objects of interest, rocket boots and a pair of elemental blasters that eventually spew fire, wind, electricity and ice.
During battles with the likes of Jackogel (gelatinous cubes packed with edged crystal core), Voxiplodes (bioweapon thorny balls), hypnotized Nova Corps soldiers and even Wendigos, or while conquering environmental obstacle courses, the player can push controller buttons to call upon the other Guardians to deliver a crushing power or assistance.
For example, Groot can build a bridge using his wooden tentacles; Drax uses a pair of Katathian daggers as he charges forward to deliver enemy strikes; Gamora can use her long sword to climb up structures; and Rocket can toss a variety of enhanced grenades.
The game often features button-mashing combat with hordes of enemies as well as daunting bosses such as the Blood Brothers or a Dweller-in-Darkness, collecting scraps to help craft perks for Star-Lord at any available workbench (such as extra health and charged blaster shots) and unleashing new abilities for the team members by amassing points from victories.
However, and most importantly, teamwork is the driving force behind the action and story.
So much so that Peter is often making decisions on how to focus his team to work together with selectable verbal cues or when near defeat, he can call a huddle to rally the troops and send them fully powered back to the fight, if he offers the best inspirational words.
The complex aural and realistic visual presentation delivers a potent package as team members chat and argue incessantly (brilliant, laugh-out-loud funny at points) while roaming colorful and environmentally diverse locations.
They include a massive graveyard of war debris in the Quarantine Zone with metal junk held together by pink bubble-gum-looking foam or the bustling marketplace in Knowhere. There, team members can even play a shell game with a local huckster, complete with a look at the edge of the universe and having them get transported to a new location using a giant interdimensional hand.
Lovers of the sequential art source material as well, as the Marvel Comics‘ canon, will love the team running into legends such as the telepathic Soviet space dog Cosmo and his pups; empath Mantis; Nova Corps high-ranking officer Ko-Rel; the vicious Lady Hellbender; and a deified Adam Warlock as well as unlocking costumes from the Guardians pop art and movies.
Finally, developers relish not only a return to the 1980s with a side plot featuring the intense origin of Star-Lord but celebrate the music of the decade.
It was hard not to be inspired during a rousing escape from the Quarantine Zone while the player pilots the Monitor through a collapsing mining field as the Flock of Seagulls “I Ran” plays in the background.
Overall “Guardians of the Galaxy” not only delivers a cinematic dive into a wondrous and rich comic book world but a welcomed change of pace to video games these days.
Specifically, a player need not invest multiple years of his life in a virtual universe nor get stuck in an endless grind of multiplayer matches but can simply truly embrace roughly 20 hours of an entertaining story packed with interaction and action.