(PS/XO/PC/Sw) ***** Age: 16+
Chalk it down – when was the last time you experienced a game that was funnier than its inspiration? This spin-off from the seemingly endless Marvel universe achieves a superior chuckle rating with ease – no mean feat given that James Gunn’s Guardians movies are themselves sharply scripted and full of laughs.
Even more surprisingly, the game’s developers, Eidos Montreal, pull it off without the help of either the films’ cast or, apparently, the team of writers. Eidos courageously avoids aping the movies’ arcs too. While the maverick band of mercenaries are the same characters we’ve come to love, more or less, here we get an entirely new and strikingly complex story.
It features, as usual, wise-ass Star-Lord/Peter Quill, scary assassin Gomorra, quarrelsome raccoon Rocket, Hulk-like Drax and lovable tree Groot. All have lost something, it seems, and much of the deftly sketched backstory hints at their emotional pain, underpinning a galaxy-spanning romp about a scam gone wrong.
It wouldn’t be a GotG spin-off without a thumping 80s soundtrack, so expect cracking tunes from Blondie, A-Ha, Simple Minds and Frankie Goes To Hollywood among many others.
You may have noticed this review seems preoccupied by the narrative and characterisation – with good reason. The plot is yoked to gameplay that comes off second-best to the fantastic world-building. It features a fair bit of standard platforming, repetitive puzzles and rote gunplay, alongside a team orders mechanic by which Star-Lord controls the special abilities of his pals. It’s resolutely single-player in structure and the combat interludes often resemble button-mashing fests.
If that sounds offputting, however, fear not because the level design – filled with startling vistas and eye-popping colour – more than compensates. Besides that, every plodding battle is also only a Rocket’s whisker away from the next piece of crackling dialogue, piercing banter and throwaway one-liner. You will laugh, you might even cry. Even Groot’s famously limited vocabulary – a tonal variation of the words “I am Groot” – can trigger a giggle.
Kudos to Eidos for building a game so narratively engrossing in the Marvel universe that’s known more for the crunching CGI fights than subtle people observation. Admittedly, there’s plenty of mindless enemy-thumping here but it ends up unsatisfying in contrast to the rich relationships conveyed by a terrific script and persuasive voice acting.
Compare it with the expensive failure of stablemate Marvel’s Avengers. It overloaded itself with gameplay grind and convoluted systems that overshadowed the warm heart of the game in the story.
GotG approaches from the reverse angle and successfully creates a genuinely hilarious and affectionate portrait of the misfit guardians within the framework of a videogame.