The newest game from Deus Ex studio Eidos Montreal is an all-new take on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – and it already looks way better than Avengers.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – uh-oh, Square Enix is doing another Marvel game after Avengers turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. Why isn’t Eidos Montreal making another Deus Ex? And, well, I know. I get it. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was unfinished but still had a special something that deserved to live on – but the good news is, whatever spark its development studio had has clearly been carried to their Marvel universe effort.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, you play as Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill. It’s a single-player experience, and despite being about a team of characters, you only play as Quill – the supposed leader of the group of dysfunctional space opera superheroes.
There’s none of the Destiny-style co-op focus of Avengers, and the team is quick to make clear that there is no DLC, and no microtransactions, stating that “it’s very important that on day one, when players get this game, they can have access to everything there is about this game and experience it.” This game was clearly in development before Avengers released, but much about it feels like a direct reaction to the criticisms levelled at that game.
It’s fair to say that the shadow of James Gunn’s excellent Guardians of the Galaxy movies looms large over this project, though perhaps not quite as large as with Avengers. Maybe Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord isn’t as purely iconic as Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, but seeing this game’s off-brand Peter Quill, he looks… fine. They all do, in fact. While the Guardians of the comics have had different line-ups and members over the years, this game opts for the line-up made iconic by the movies.
The developers admit being heavily inspired by the other versions, saying they rewatched the movies repeatedly, as well as studied animated features and of course the original comics. The result is a mish-mash of influences. Gamora and Drax feel to trend closer to their comic book variants, whereas Quill and Rocket feel more directly movie-inspired. What’s important is that the group meshes together visually, and they do.
I always felt like the character designs in Avengers were a lighting rod issue that attracted a lot of attention, but it ultimately didn’t really matter. People zeroed in on the designs because little else about the game struck them. If a game really grabs you, you’ll eventually warm to its character designs. Avengers had other systemic problems. Guardians already, to me at least, looks like a vast improvement.
The point, really, is best summed up by Dan Abnett, the co-creator of the now-famous Guardians team.
“Take the medium you’re working in and make the best version of Guardians out of that,” he says of the game. If that’s the goal, it seems Eidos Montreal is on the right track.
So what about the game? Well, it’s a third-person action game where, as we said, you play as Star-Lord. You’re able to make use of his iconic abilities like rocket boots, dual pistols, and a range of melee attacks. Star-Lord is a scrappy hero and so he fights in a sloppy way – but the manner in which he moves seems to lend naturally to frenetic and enjoyable combat.
Enemies have health bars, and there’s light RPG elements like character experience and such – but where the game really leans into the concept of the Guardians is in Quill’s teammates.
To stretch for an explanation, the other Guardians function a little like teammates in Mass Effect. They’re AI-controlled and will fight alongside you – but you can also bring up a context menu in battle to trigger certain moves and skills unique to your comrades. Groot, for instance, is obviously a powerful brawler. Gamora looks as though she’ll have more slick, acrobatic moves. Rocket loves explosions.
The moves you trigger have cooldowns, and might be individual attacks or power-up combos with Quill himself. Some team-up stuff also appears to be vaguely contextual. At one point in the footage I saw, Quill quite literally performs a Street Fighter shoryuken on an enemy, launching them into the air for Drax to dropkick them.
This is why you only play as Quill; it puts you in the center of this team – and that’s even true outside of combat. There’s dialogue choices throughout the story, with Eidos Montreal promising repercussions that will range from “light-hearted to haunting”.
For example, in the E3 demo, the Guardians come to a large gap they can’t cross, with a bridge that can be opened – but only from the other side. Drax picks up Rocket and suggests tossing him across the gap. Rocket doesn’t want that, obviously, and protests. As the team leader, you can choose if you do that or not. When it’s done, you’ll see the results in the style of a Telltale Games style narrative game — “Rocket is furious you let Drax throw him.”
Some of these decisions will just come down to team banter, a bit of fun and an opportunity to let amusing dialogue happen between the group. At other times, the developers say there’ll be consequences that will actually change the path the story takes as a whole. Sometimes consequences will be immediate, while other times they’ll unravel much later on.
The choices you make will impact the journey, but not the ending. Regardless of the path you take, everyone will experience the same climax. How you get there might differ in significant ways, however.
This version of the Guardians team has been together for around a year in the game’s lore, and rather than being forged by some galaxy-saving event as in the films, they were bought together simply by Star-Lord trying to put together a heroes-for-hire team to make a quick buck. One mission they’re on appears to go wrong, and sets in motion a chain of events, like dominoes falling, that threatens the fate of the entire galaxy. The team must face up to their mistake and save the galaxy, facing off with villains both famous and less well known along the way.
The other staple of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies is of course its soundtrack, such a vital component of the film that song choices were actively written into the script. You’ll be pleased to know that there’s a range of licensed music in the game to fit that – eighties classics like Kiss, Iron Maiden, Wham, Blondie, Pat Benatar, and so on.
This version of Quill is a child of the eighties, represented in everything from his jacket and haircut to of course his taste in music. The music isn’t just non-diegetic background noise – it’s often actually playing in the universe, through his walkman and headphones. At one point, Quill triggering some sort of super move sees him rocket boost to hover in mid-air and flip his headphones over his ears – blasting the enemies below while an eighties banger plays for the duration of the special.
That sort of touch is the sort of thing that makes one want to punch the air – and that was my general reaction to this first look at Eidos Montreal’s Guardians of the Galaxy. There was plenty in the half hour of footage and developer info I saw that made me want to pump my fist – and it gave me the exact opposite feeling to the weird apathy I felt every time I saw Avengers pre-release.
Put simply, I’m excited – and we don’t have long to wait. Guardians of the Galaxy is out on October 26th, and is coming to PS4 & PS5, Xbox One & Series S/X, and PC.