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SYFY WIRE Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel goes ‘Uncharted’ with a Guardians of the Galaxy game that plays like a (great) movie

It’s a Marvel story through and through…but it’s a pretty marvelous game, too.

By Benjamin Bullard
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy game

It probably makes sense that the video game version of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy reminds us of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series. After all, Uncharted paved the way for games like Guardians to evolve its awesome mix of storytelling and action. Once you’re aboard this gang’s Milano, you’ll be off on a journey that’s all about taking in a rompin’ good story while intermittently fighting for your life... with a good friend or two at your side, of course.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy arrives today for both consoles and PC, and like Nathan Drake’s adventures before it, it’s a cinematic, set piece-intensive story showcase that somehow manages to make you (mostly) forget about these guy’s famous MCU counterparts and completely buy in to their reimagined new tale. Published by Square Enix and developed by Eidos-Montréal, it grabs your attention early with an unexpected intro that firmly frames Peter Quill as a rockin’ space-child of the 1980s, and the story almost never lets off the gas — or the volume knob — from the moment you embark on your first mission.

What does a game about a kidnapped Terran space-bonding with his newly-assembled merc squad have in common with Nathan Drake? Play both franchises back to back and see. Just as with Uncharted’s focus on the stories that define Nathan’s treasure-hunting adventures, Guardians puts its plot front and center, and builds its moment-by-moment gameplay around it. It’s not quite as on-rails an adventure as the original Uncharted — there’s a little more to explore and a little more to do beyond the next objective — but once you're done playing through an area, there's no going back later to scavenge or pick up new quests. An open world game this is not. Instead, Guardians is basically a Marvel movie you can play — and a pretty terrific one at that.

The gameplay is plenty challenging and varied, and does an especially clever job of incorporating all the Guardians’ unique abilities into the Quill-orchestrated fighting fracas. Play it on regular difficulty and you’ll be tested more than once, and you’ll have fun along the way. But like Uncharted, the gameplay in Guardians is really just an excuse to see what happens next, and to revel in these characters’ bonkers personalities…which, just like in the movies, always stay precariously on the right side of almost-incompatible.

Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel and Square Enix

Longtime Eidos fans know the studio is especially crafty at surrounding players with vividly imagined places that feel truly unique, and then giving them the agency to interact with their environment in a way that makes them feel like a key part of the game’s world. It’s a skill that made Adam Jensen’s cyber-future dystopia in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and its sequel, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, come to life in a big way — and in Marvel’s galaxy-wide playground, the studio’s once again playing to one of its biggest strengths.

But Lady Hellbender’s imposing fortress and Knowhere’s seedy alleyways; Blade Runner-esque neon-scapes that open on the universe’s infinite edge, are just one part of the equation. The writing and story backing these video game Guardians feels Marvel to the core, with the five key team players ceaselessly yapping at each other in pitch-perfect ways that build on the MCU’s comedic blend of good-natured antagonism and each character’s funny personal quirks. Getting facial animations right is always a bone of contention with dedicated gamers, but it’s especially worth shouting out Eidos for nailing it in a game like Guardians: When narrative-driven games like this rely so much on how you’ll connect with the characters, it’s a big deal that these faces express what the talented voice actors are telling — and here in Marvel’s ‘80s-themed space opera, they do.

Think of these Guardians as variations on a familiar MCU template: They’re not the same ones you’ve seen in the movies, but they more than uphold that high standard, while even bringing some fresh new twists to the table. Yes, Drax is too literal; yes, Rocket is too impulsive and bomb-happy; and yes, Gamora is too focused on the mission to put up with much foolishness from the rest of these guys. Groot’s famous one-line vocabulary gets put to use in ways that’re at least as funny as anything Vin Diesel’s done in the MCU, and Peter — well, Peter has big shoes to fill, since he’s the main playable character and the story is told almost entirely through his eyes.

Lady Hellbender Guardians of the Galaxy

For the most part, and perhaps in defiance of all format-hopping logic, it almost always works — and where it doesn’t, the shadow of prior MCU expectations, coupled with the inevitable limits of telling Quill’s tale in lengthy video game form — are to blame. Though the finer points of comics-based lore have been shuffled a bit to make the game a distinct experience from the movies, the basics are all there: Peter loves and admires his mother, he’s taken from her too soon, there’s an incredible backstory to the other half of his parentage, and his adult self is an endearing grab bag of childhood vulnerability, never-grow-old love of his ‘80s pop culture roots, and an unspoken will to be a leader — even if it means having to give up a lot to show that his space looter’s integrity isn’t just skin-deep.

If that all sounds way serious, take heart: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is a delightfully goofy game, a squad-goals road trip that never misses a chance to put exactly the right idiotic words in its team of misfit characters’ mouths. Credit not only the MCU-worthy dialogue and the terrific writing, but the voice acting as well: every character in this game is incredibly well acted, even down to occasional NPCs like Lady Hellbender, Cosmo the Space Dog, Peter’s super-stern ex-flame Ko-rell, and especially Meredith Quill, his mother  — voiced to perfection by Mylene Dinh-Robic.

Lady Hellbender Guardians of the Galaxy

Just like in the movies, there’s a very soft heart at the center of Quill’s brash, extroverted vanity — and that’s all we’ll spoil about the game’s biggest emotional punches. But it’s safe to say that Square Enix, Eidos, and Marvel got on the same page early on in deciding how this game — branded around one of the biggest movie franchises out there — should balance the expectations of non-gaming MCU fans against those of die-hard gamers who may not necessarily know all that much about GOTG lore.

Amazingly, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy ends up hitting the sweet spot for both groups. People who love video games won’t be let down by Guardians’ gameplay, and they’re likely to be sucked through Eidos’ storytelling wormhole along the way. As for the legion of MCU fans who can’t wait until May of 2023 for James Gunn’s third installment in the Guardians movie series — trust us on this one: This extended space jaunt is every bit as fun as a two-hour theater trip with Peter Quill and friends…even if you’ve never picked up a video game controller in your life.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy launches today for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.