One of the lessons I’ve learned in my lifetime is that family is defined just as much by the people we choose to surround ourselves with as it is by those we are tied to by blood. Sometimes those we meet along the way on our journeys can become the most important people in our lives because the connections we build with them are intentional and based on real effort and understanding.
Guardians of the Galaxy by Eidos Montreal takes the concept of chosen family and explores just what it is that makes these kinds of relationships special. The game places you in the role of the leader of the Guardians, Starlord, and tasks you with cultivating, maintaining and strengthening the bonds of the team. You must do this all while you confront an interstellar menace that threatens not only to tear your family apart, but the entire galaxy as well.
While Guardians is a single-player narrative driven adventure, Eidos Montreal does a fantastic job of utilizing game mechanics that encourage you to interact and support your squad members in a way that evokes a sense that you’re not actually playing this game on your own, but rather with a group of friends. Rather than allowing you as the player to switch between playable characters, the game places you in the role of the glue that holds the team together. By putting you in the jet boots of Starlord himself, the game forces you to observe the team dynamics from a specific perspective and to approach your interactions with them in a much more meaningful way than if the game simply allowed you to toggle between characters at any given time. This choice presents you much more agency as a player and really allows you to appreciate the differences of each team member and the relationships between them.
In addition to relationship dynamics, each member of the team has specific techniques and strengths that you can take advantage of both in combat as well as in traversing the games maps. See a chasm that you can’t jump across? Ask Groot to create a bridge from his extended arm branches that you can cross. Is there a locked door that needs to be hacked in order to open? Rocket is just the guy for the job. Everyone on the team has a role to play and you’ll find yourself appreciating everything they bring to the table, especially in certain instances where they may not be with you, or perhaps are refusing to help because of in-fighting with the Guardians. Family dysfunction is certainly an element of the adventure and you’ll have to mitigate it in order to complete your objectives.
Your team has specific combat assists that you can take advantage of as well. In the heat of the battle, you can pull up commands for each team member with the press of a button. Doing so slows the action down much the same as last year’s Final Fantasy VII Remake. With the action on screen slowed to a crawl you can issue instructions to your fellow guardians to deploy special attacks that work on a cooldown system. Each of these special attacks are unlockable through individual skill trees that you can access for your team from the pause menu.
My favorite team synthesis moment from Guardians of the Galaxy however has to be the huddle. As battles intensify you will be granted a deployable huddle to try and rally your team together to overcome the odds. The battle pauses as the guardians gather around you and as the leader it is up to you to listen to how your teammates are feeling about the skirmish and offer words of encouragement or wisdom based on the conversation in the huddle. Sometimes they will be discouraged and need you to rally them, other times their over-confidence will need to be put in check. It’s up to you to decide how to cheer on your squad and if you make the right choice you are gifted with an overdrive period where you can deploy your best attacks and dominate the battlefield.
As great as the moment-to-moment action of Guardians of the Galaxy is, the storytelling, voice acting and writing is equally as polished. Whereas many games of this style will inundate you with recycled canned quips that grow annoying in their repetition, Guardians consistently impresses with some of the best and most varied banter dialogue I’ve heard since the Uncharted series. Your entire team has a constant running commentary on everything happening on screen and each character shines with wonderfully crafted personalities and perfect delivery.
The story of Guardians of the Galaxy is a finely balanced blend of comedic action, irreverent absurdity and powerful character moments that focus on the idea of family, loss and personal growth. I was very impressed with the care in which this tale was told and how the writers managed to capture such a wide range of tones. One moment you’ll be laughing at the razor-sharp comedy the game employs and the next scene you’ll be shedding a tear at a powerful character moment. There’s also an absolutely bounty of Marvel Easter Eggs hidden within this adventure for you to discover. Everything from nods to characters I grew up reading in the pages of comics from my youth, to MCU skins for each of your Guardians to unlock. Eidos Montreal cast a wide net and managed to tell a memorable story in a vast universe with endearing characters that ended up being one of my favorites of 2021.
By the time the credits rolled and I put the controller down I was enamored by Guardians of the Galaxy. I had seen many wondrous otherworldly sights, had contentious fights with my crew and tender moments that brought us closer together in the end. I so enjoyed my time with my band of misfits and helped them become stronger and more confident in themselves and each other. Just like any family, we made each other better and when we came together there was nothing in the galaxy we couldn’t overcome.