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Cover: official art for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was released on October 26 on all current platforms, but even before the release, it managed to earn the title of the most mysterious AAA-class game in 2021.

Although rumors that Eidos Montreal is working on the Guardians of the Galaxy project appeared four years ago, the game was officially presented only at the last E3. The announcement was received ambiguously: some managed to dub the game “new Mass Effect”, others did not expect anything good from the studio that helped in the development of Marvel’s Avengers. The players greeted the co-op action game based on The Avengers coolly and reproached the game for the abundance of microtransactions and the monotony of the gameplay.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Avengers / Crystal Dynamics game

Eidos Montreal immediately tried to set accents: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a completely single-player game for which you will not need to pay extra for a quick progression or an additional costume. Nevertheless, concerns from the press and players remained until the release. After all, the game could initially be created multiplayer, and then simply transferred to singleplayer flights. For example, this is what BioWare did with Dragon Age: Inquisition: from a role-playing MMO, the project turned into a single-player RPG with huge empty spaces that were clearly intended for online.

Fortunately, not a single conspiracy theory about the Guardians has been confirmed. Eidos turned out to be a good game from the category of those that rarely appear in nature. Rich in content, but without excess. Funny and beautifully written. Respecting the player’s strength and time: The Guardians can be completed in 20 hours, and the gameplay settings are extremely wide. The first word in the title seems to be the only thing that unites Marvel’s Avengers and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. But in order to dispel all doubts, let’s figure out exactly how the projects for the super popular franchise differ.

Confrontation. Combat system and character management

The differences between the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy begin at a semantic level. What kind of superheroes are they?

The Avengers are professionals who come together to save the world. However, they are completely self-sufficient and individually, therefore, they are able to cope with local conflicts alone. The discord in the ranks of the Avengers easily escalates into civil war, and during its heyday, the team even resembles a large corporation like Google or Apple.

Guardians of the Galaxy look very different. It is difficult to separate them, and frequent quarrels resemble family squabbles rather than a reason for an armed clash.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

Both games perfectly reflect these semantic differences. Marvel’s Avengers is a story about professional rescuers of the world who, from time to time, confront themselves and their comrades. The game itself flirts with cinematography, then turns into a monotonous loot-action. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a more solid project, in which the throwing of the main characters is reflected only in the story and in the dialogues, and the gameplay is similar to an exciting (but rather one-off) attraction.

Star-Lord is the only character in Guardians of the Galaxy that the player controls directly. However, Groot, Rocket, Gamora and Drax, who also participate in fights, do not get underfoot. Most of the gameplay relies on interaction with team members: the player must give orders to the Guardians both in battle and when exploring locations. A rocket can crawl into a passage inaccessible to others, Groot can immobilize opponents, and Drax is always happy to drag a heavy object from one wall to another.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

Star-Lord also has special abilities. True, they are all tied to the types of weapons: freezing, flammable, and so on. The gameplay in battles with opponents is, first of all, conducting by partners and only then dashing shooting from blasters.

A radial menu, which helps to quickly issue orders, is indispensable in battles. There are often too many enemies, they move rapidly – just have time to alternate the abilities of the characters and monitor the cooldowns. Such a system can be tiring, but if you get used to it and do not yawn, the battles turn into an incendiary dance, and in critical periods they almost reach the speed of rhythm games.

Speaking of music, battles can literally be paused to bring teammates together and discuss the odds of winning. This is a fairly simple mechanic: characters share their thoughts on the progress of the battle, and the player chooses one of two options for cheering. If the speech is chosen correctly, Star-Lord becomes invulnerable for a while, and the rest of the heroes are more successful in attacking opponents. And all this – under the hits of the eighties, randomly selected from the list of game soundtracks.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

Since Star-Lord only uses firearms (and can sometimes get kicked out), the game’s combat system is reminiscent of Uncharted rather than Marvel’s Avengers. In The Avengers, most of the battles are hand-to-hand and resemble a variation of the combat system from the Batman: Arkham series, as well as Insomniac’s Spider-Man, where a series of attacks alternate with spectacular movements from one enemy to another.

While playing in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the series about Nathan Drake will be remembered more than once. The levels in the game are linear, but sometimes along the way you come across small additional areas with collectibles and resources. The types of activities also alternate in the best traditions of Uncharted: battle – movement around the location – battle – a simple puzzle – a cut-scene.

True, in “Guardians of the Galaxy” not much attention is paid to acrobatics: Star-Lord almost does not stick to cornices, but prefers jumping and sliding on inclined surfaces. Not without QTE-scenes: “Guardians of the Galaxy” toss them to the player in especially tense moments. Fortunately, the QTEs in the game are quite simple and consist of a couple of three combinations.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

The game also has battles with giant bosses, which take place in several stages. To win, you still need to coordinate the special moves of the Guardians. There is nothing innovative in boss fights, but in the process you can once again admire the work of the artists of Eidos Montreal.

Each level is built in such a way that the player cannot do without the abilities of partners, therefore the indirect control of the characters is left to the mercy of the Star-Lord. All abilities to progress through the level are triggered only in certain places. In this case, the cooperative mode would only be annoying: all the characters are specific, and only five of them are effective. The “Avengers” are more flexible in this sense: superheroes can be assembled in different configurations, and only the course and pace of battles depend on these combinations.

Far from home. Plot, dialogues, non-linearity

In the prologue of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the action takes place on Earth. Star-Lord is still known as Peter Quill – which is not surprising, because he just turned 13. Little Peter wanders around his room, and then around the house of his parents. The location is full of small details, and minor stories and lore of the universe are revealed through interior objects.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

Similar pieces of storytelling through the environment are found in other locations in the game, but it is the farmhouse that can be considered the gold standard. Here, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is very reminiscent of the Life is Strange series with its two-story houses full of important details and difficult family stories.

The “Earth” segment is split into parts: the player will return to the Quill house at later stages of the story in flashbacks – this will help to slow down the pace after the action levels. In Marvel’s Avengers, most of this “pure” narrative is only used in the early hours of the game. In the later stages, he is almost forgotten for the sake of a very monotonous action.

The main events of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy are already taking place in the vastness of space. The entire team of “Guardians” is assembled, but the relationship between them is still far from ideal. Drax, for example, always finds an opportunity to remind Gamora of the sins of the past.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

In the first chapter, the Guardians travel to the Quarantine Zone to fulfill an order to capture a giant monster. Of course, plans go to waste. As a result, Quill and company must urgently find a huge amount to buy off the intergalactic police. The plot of the game is devoted to adventures on the way to finding a calm life – both for the crew of the Melano and for the entire galaxy. However, Eidos Montreal adds a touch of earthy experience to the classic adventure in space. Difficult childhood, acceptance of their own and other people’s oddities, attempts to learn trust are just a fraction of the problems of the Guardians that many people face.

The heroes in their adventures not only save the worlds, but also find a common language with each other, and in the end they become a real family. To reflect this process, the developers paid great attention not only to actions, but also to words: the characters chatter incessantly both in cut scenes and as they progress through the next level. A player in the role of Star-Lord can intervene in skirmishes on the go. These lines do not fundamentally change the plot, but create the illusion of volatility in the relationship in the team.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

But the choices in the cut scenes to some extent affect the nonlinearity. True, rather in small details than in whole destinies – the chain of chapters from these decisions will not change and under any coincidence the players will come to the same ending. Strange, but this almost does not upset: the events are connected as tightly as possible, and significant variability could easily destroy a skillfully constructed narrative.

Power Stones. Design, staging, love of the source

Perhaps the main advantage of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is the mind-blowing work of artists and location designers. Eidos Montreal is known for its increased attention to this aspect, for example, the developers collaborated with fashion designers to create futuristic “golden” cyberpunk clothing for the development of the Deus Ex reboot.

Guardians of the Galaxy has expanded the scope for imagination with a cosmic setting. Therefore, abstract and frightening locations in the spirit of Control are replaced by the cosmic Middle Ages, and the Quarantine Zone in an airless space does not look like anything at all. This is another advantageous difference between Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers, in which artists often hide their talent behind gray boxes of urban landscapes.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

An important part of the Guardians of the Galaxy game is the Milano ship, which serves as a hub for rest between levels. Here you can discuss collectibles that Star-Lord finds in locations with your partners, and even spy on the private life of the crew a little – the ship is not that big. Also on the Milano, using a workbench, you can improve equipment (however, workbenches are also found in other locations) and pick up music to your liking – the ship has an audio system with hits from the 1980s from Kiss to Rick Astley.

The Ship of the Sentinels conjures up thoughts of Mass Effect and Normandy. Milano is not as functional, but the degree of interaction of the characters with each other is much higher here. Hopefully, BioWare will take into account the experience of fellow countrymen when developing a new Mass Effect. There is also a peaceful hub in Marvel’s Avengers – however, it feels more like a military base, and not like a cozy home.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

The developers of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy well understood the main tricks of the license with which they had a chance to work, so there is a lot of really good humor in the game. Dialogues are full of jokes, and the Dawn Engine allows even facial expressions to be comical. But humor in the game is conveyed not only through jokes – it is even woven into the gameplay.

In the first level, Rocket makes a bet with Star-Lord, and a pixel-style counter of enemies destroyed suddenly appears at the top of the screen. At another point in the plot, Star-Lord will have to work as a draft horse – the setting of this scene makes you smile more than once.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

Some dance, others don’t. Post-release postscript

Critics received Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy well (with an average Metacritic score of   81), and player reviews even better: the overall review rating on Steam is ” Very Positive .” At the same time, the sales figures are unlikely to greatly please the developer and the publisher: the peak online on the Valve platform stopped at around 9968 players. Marvel’s Avengers, which is inferior to the Guardians in almost all respects, has a record of 31,165 players. And in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the sales results of which did not meet expectations and sent the streak into a cryo-sleep, at the peak of the online game 52,484 players were playing.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

“Guardians of the Galaxy” came out on all current platforms, and of course, it is impossible to judge the further fate of the franchise and the development studio based on PC statistics alone. Nevertheless, the numbers are thought provoking. The hasty conclusions and reasons can be reduced to formulations in the spirit of “single games are unpopular”, “the developer ruined his reputation with a past project”, “the publisher could not correctly position the game.” All these harsh sentences are only partially true.

While completely different aspects of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy sparkle with love and talent, we have seen most of the mechanics in other games. Competently combining them is also an act of mastery, but today’s industry is satiated not so much with open worlds and online elements as with a pathological fear of daring experiments. Secondary and gradual evolution are sometimes forgiven for long-running series, but original projects are devoid of immunity.

Screenshot: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy / Eidos Montreal

A truly philosophical parable comes out: you can make a wonderful, expensive, rare game, but if it does not move the game dev ideas forward, chances are high that the haze will hide it from the eyes until the next big sale. And how to jump over the multibillion-dollar gaming industry is a question that thousands of developers around the world think about every day.