Marvel games sure have had a pretty hit or miss track record as of recent. Of course, we've received the excellent duo of Spider-Man games from Insomniac, but titles like Marvel's Avengers and Ultimate Alliance 3 have also fallen short of fans' expectations. The scale of quality might be a fluctuating one, but it appears that Guardians of the Galaxy might be in line with some of the franchise's more accomplished outings - that's if my one-hour preview from the game's fifth chapter is anything to go by.
Within the game's fifth chapter, the gang is already in hot water, as they have racked up a hefty fine and must go to a nearby Nova Corps base to clear their outstanding debt. When they arrive they notice that the usually heavily armed base is completely empty and they engage in a spot of trespassing to try and figure out what might have happened. It's not long before they encounter some strange purple glowing Nova Corp soldiers that have gone rogue and have gunned down several of their own men. Of course, it's then up to you to eliminate this threat and try and figure out just what has influenced their strange behaviour.
This short snippet of the story really pulled me in, as it presented so many questions. What did the Guardians do to rack up a fine? What has possessed the Nova Corps soldiers? And why are the Guardians acting hostile towards each other? Offering us a preview this late into the game did feel like a strange choice at first, but it was likely purposeful to build this kind of intrigue.
It certainly made for a tantalising first impression and I was pleased to see that narrative also features elements of player choice. During my playthrough, I encountered a Nova Corps helmet and I could either choose to ignore it or use it to try and contact some of the soldiers (this was before encountering them). By foolishly reaching out, I found myself ambushed, but I could have chosen to ignore it and this would have allowed me to get the drop on them. The game is said to be filled with little crossroads moments like this to spice things up, but ultimately, the story still culminates in the same ending for everyone.
It was also pleasing to see that Eidos Montréal has taken creative liberty with the franchise's lore and have contributed to the backstories of many of its characters. The team created an entire album's worth of material for a fictional group known as Star-Lord - the outfit that inspired the name of Quill's superhero persona and many of his core ideologies. Additionally, there is a ton of optional dialogue here that fleshes out each Guardian's origins and this can be accessed by interacting with objects in their rooms on the Milano.
When it came to combat, you play purely as Star-Lord, but I was able to trigger special attacks from the other Guardians. These different special abilities can be synchronised to mount up some serious damage, but they are on a cooldown so they must be used wisely. Rocket, for example, has an explosive AoE attack, Groot can immobilise foes by constricting them with vines, and Drax can bring the pain by lunging at foes with his dual knives. There are also special environmental attacks that can only be triggered by specific Guardians. Drax can throw explosive barrels and Mantis can slash down hanging pallets filled with objects.
Each Guardian here has their own skill tree and they can learn new abilities with four being equippable at the same time. You can also upgrade Star-Lord's moves and unlock new talents by collecting scrap and visiting workbenches where Rocket will get his hands dirty. One ability I unlocked, for example, allowed me to scan enemies to pinpoint their weaknesses and another enabled me to hover in the air for a longer duration. The developers explained that these upgrades are purely optional and there's no sense of punishment for those who want to power through the story as quickly as possible.
The Huddle System is another interesting wrinkle to combat that sees you try and motivate your allies using the lyrics from cheesy 80s songs. To be able to inspire your team you need to read their reactions and either give them a line to lift their spirits or bring down their false sense of confidence. Pulling this off successfully will enable you to revive any fallen teammates and restore cooldowns on all of their abilities. A partial win though will only work on yourself and will not nearly be as beneficial. Personally, I loved this mechanic, as it couples together two staples from the series: its wacky humour and great use of music.
As you blast and uppercut your way through foes, you'll also build up Momentum and this enables you to trigger some pretty flashy-looking QTE sequences. Your performance in combat is continually being critiqued and Momentum is gained by varying your moves and pulling off combos without receiving damage. During one of these sequences, Rocket jumped on the back of a heavy enemy and disabled its shield which left it more vulnerable to attacks. I'll admit, QTE sequences in 2021 do feel a little dated, but it was interesting to see that their impact varies depending on the situation that you're in.
With regards to the level design, things are pretty linear with you moving through scripted locations rather than being able to explore freely in an open setting. The Nova Corps base featured a handful of puzzles and roadblocks that required me to select the right Guardian to progress. These sections I found myself liking the least, as they felt more like padding and an artificial and unexciting way to provide variety. One puzzle I played, for example, was pretty much a copycat of a hacking mini-game in Watch Dogs, as I simply had to align the components within a broken circuit to slide open a door that was sealed shut.
Obviously, we will have to wait until launch to see whether the fifth chapter is representative of the product as a whole, but I can at least say that my initial thoughts are pretty positive. The team at Eidos Montréal appears to have nailed the series' tone and humour and they have even taken the initiative to contribute to the lore themselves in meaningful ways. The combat also feels great too, as an element of strategy can be applied in synchronising special abilities and the Huddle System feels both unique and hilarious. Be sure to check back for our full thoughts when Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy releases on October 26 on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series.