I’m not a comic book guy, so my knowledge of anything Marvel or DC comes from the mass-marketing of select franchises that seem to be responsible for about 75% of all movie and and a good 45% of TV entertainment in 2021. Of all of the properties on offer, my favorite would have to be the Guardians of the Galaxy, which is kind of weird considering that in the run up to the release of the first movie, I had absolutely zero familiarity with the franchise (I had at least heard of all of the other MCU tent-pole characters) and couldn’t foresee how this out-of-left-field property which appeared to take place almost entirely in space and away from the Earthly concerns of the more familiar super-folk, could possibly succeed. Not only did it succeed, but as stated, has become my favorite part of the MCU to date (well, aside from Doctor Strange).

I picked up the latest action RPG from Edios-Montreal yesterday and have spent 2.2 hours on it today (according to Steam), so this is only a first impression of the PC version obtained through Steam.

Apparently, this setting has almost nothing to do with the MCU that exists in the public eye, as it was insinuated that Drax had something to do with the death of Thanos (who is named dropped repeatedly, but who has no bearing on this story thus far). We start out with a you Peter Quill, back on Earth and rocking out to a cassette of his favorite metal band — wait for it — “Star Lord”. We see Peter’s room from his eyes as he sits on the bed, and we can look around at a few items around him like a copy of Rolling Stone with the band on the cover. What got to me, though, was that we can examine the cassette liner, complete with art and lyrics. I haven’t seen that kind of shit in decades. DECADES.

Soon, Peter’s mom enters, complaining that she’s been calling for him for a while now. I feel I have to address this:

Peter’s mom is…Bonnie Tyler?!

That, my friends, is…the only partly over-exaggerated hair of a human woman, circa 198x. While I feel that the designers laid it on a bit thick (figuratively and in the implied Aquanet), I was actually very impressed by how the whole scene felt otherwise spot on for what you might experience in a home in the 1980s. I had a friend who did live in his parent’s basement, and his room was expansive enough to accommodate a bed, a large desk, and a couch, had a whole lot of surface space that held up books, action figures, and clothes, and had plenty of wall space for numerous posters. So well done, Eidos-Montreal.

But this segues into Drax waking a more modern Quill from a dream he was having on board the Milano. It seems that the team is on a mission to capture a rare creature inside of a Nova Corps “quarantine zone”, which means that they’ll be running the risk of arrest should they get caught. But as the promise of both a cash payout and a bump in notoriety is what makes the Guardian’s tick, of course they head right in.

Looks like Groot’s been hitting the Miracle Gro

Guardians of the Galaxy is an ARPG, heavy on the RPG and so far, pretty light on the A, which is fine by me. There’s a lot of walking around, which inevitably invites us to exercise our RPG muscle memory and recognize the nooks and crannies where special collectables are to be found: behind suspiciously placed crates, on top of climbable objects, and through crawlspaces. All the while the team is communicating in their usual “frienemy” style: Drax distrusts Gamora, who is fed up with Rocket, and Groot is, of course, Groot.

Combat, then, is not something that happens often in the opening chapters of the game (I am starting chapter 3 after my 2.2 hours). First, you are introduced to solo combat as Quill is separated from Rocket and Groot. We learn to lock on to targets, to shoot, and to use melee attacks. Then we learn how to ask team members for help both in and out of combat, like having Groot grow branch-bridges across gaps, or have Rocket crawl into small spaces. In combat, each character will have up to 4 different moves they can use, three of which remain locked until we earn enough ability points to spend to unlock them (the pool is universal, and not per-character, which is cool). This is where things get hairy because we not only have to keep Star Lord in the game during a battle, but also have to direct our team to set up their Very Effective Abilities; normally they’ll keep fighting on their own, but some of their abilities can help, like Groot’s group “rooting” ability (yes, that is what is is; no, it’s not ironic).

At some point the game tutorializes you into the oft-mentioned “team huddle”. At this point, pressing “R” will call the team in (even while in the middle of a battle) and we the player have to read the room. The team will give their feelings on the situation and we will also see text piling up behind them like a word-cloud that drives these points home. Then, we have to choose the right speech for Peter to give; choose poorly and only Peter gets the benefit, but choose correctly and the entire team gets massive bonuses. Not only that, but we are treated to a licensed 80’s track that plays out for the duration of the fight. I will not mince words: this is a fucking awesome feature.

Not unlike the Guardians of the Galaxy game put out by Telltale some years ago, conversation during the RPG periods can have an effect on later events. Without spoiling things too much, I spent a lot of time defending the actions of another NPC, which gained me some good-will with the person I was defending. I suspect that had I chosen different reactions, the situation might play out differently.

I need to give a special shout-out to the options that Eidos-Montreal has provided. Normally we’d see the standard graphics sliders, some audio sliders, some key- and controller-mapping options, but this game has all kinds of wonderful things to screw around with. Because the music is so integral to the Guardians franchise as a rule, there are all kinds of spatial audio options, including a fucking equalizer. I don’t know that I’ve ever played a game that offers an EQ to mess with. We can change accessibility settings, alter the difficulty, and move a generous amount of levers in order to make the game as comfortable for us as we want it to be.

Of course, nothing is perfect out of the gate. For one, I’ve had some rough spots with the controls. My Xbox Elite controller (wired) wasn’t recognizing the shoulder buttons (which could be my fault somehow, as I didn’t give it a completely thorough test). When I switched over to M&K, things felt a bit sluggish. A few times I felt that I had to hit a key a few times to get it to take. Considering that there are quick time events (not a lot), and that there are some cases where key-pressing in a pattern is mandatory (One of Quill’s charge up attack requires two quick taps, the rocket-boots require a space bar “double-jump”, and so on) the sense of unresponsiveness is disconcerting. Add to that sometimes the running feels too slow, and the walking feels…well…slower, and the characters slide to a stop a little too slowly, and there have been times when I fell out of the immersion because the input was just feeling a little underwater. Finally, and this is a weirdism, the background music is just really, really loud. During the first scene where the Milano was flying, I had to pause the cut-scene and fiddle with the audio balance because I couldn’t hear the dialog over the music. And it wasn’t even the cool 80’s music; just the incidental background stuff.

As I am mainly familiar with the movie version of the Guardians (I did read some of the comics in the run-up to the original movie), it’s a little weird to see and hear versions of these characters that are not the instantly recognizable versions, a situation that Square-Enix’s other MCU game, The Avengers, went through itself. But there’s a lot to be said for having a new experience; we have two Guardians movies already and a third is on the way. If we want those characters, we will always have them. This group feels like a different take on top of a familiar base, so it’s not just “more of the same”, it’s just “more”.

I wanted to start this sentence with “the best part of the game so far has been…” but then realized that the whole damn thing has been the best part. It’s got the fantastic 80’s music unabashedly used to amp up the action. It’s got the phenomenal Guardians humor that somehow walks the line between being slapstick and goofy, yet always tethered to a driving story line undercut with drama, all taking place against amazing backdrops of interstellar places that manage to break out of the usual sci-fi locations we’re used to seeing. I would like to say that the combat is the “weak point” for me, but in all honesty it’s so over-the-top and undeniably fun with this cast of characters that I don’t mind it at all. I hope that I’m able to find a happy medium with the controls, or if I’m not the problem, that Eidos-Montreal can send out a patch to tighten them up.

I can say without a doubt that this has thus far been a slam-dunk of a purchase. In fact, I’m already enjoying it so much I’m sad I didn’t throw more money at it to get the deluxe edition, which is something I usually only do if I have complete, personal faith in the product. Of course, I got an email today from GMG offering 20% both Standard and Deluxe editions of the game, so if you’re interested in A) ARPGs, B) story-driven games, C) Guardians of the Galaxy, D) fun, or E) any of the above, check them out for a sweet discount on a game that won’t disappoint.

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