While everyone has their own view on what was the finest release of the year, there were plenty of choices. Few could dispute that It Takes Two, which pushed the boundaries of what a couch co-op experience can be, didn’t deserve to receive the top prize at The Game Awards. Other favorites at Windows Central include Halo Infinite and Resident Evil Village.
However, there are always games that get ignored, and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was one that played well, looked beautiful, and was interesting in a way that few games were this year. While it justifiably won Finest Narrative at The Game Awards, it could have easily been grouped with the best of 2021’s offerings.
Material for the Game of the Year
While it’s impossible to compare two games that are so dissimilar, Guardians of the Galaxy did a lot right. The plot is particularly great, offering a fresh and engaging twist on the well-worn “rescue the galaxy” formula. The stakes are high enough to keep you committed for the whole 20+ hour runtime, and the inclusion of emotive moments and fulfilling character arcs adds a lot to the overall experience.
The character development is among of the best I’ve seen in a long time, and the voice acting, especially from Jason Cavalier as Drax and Kimberly-Sue Murray as Gamora, is outstanding. The fighting is clever as well, with the player being able to choose abilities for team members in real time, similar to how Final Fantasy 7 Remake or other turn-based RPGs do it. Each Guardian has unique powers that may be used in a variety of situations, so you’ll start with a light tactical feel before progressing to more powerful and diversified maneuvers. Learning how to balance all of the characters’ actions with the various fighting circumstances adds to the game’s complexity.
The game is also renowned for how well it mixes fan service with lore, with lore available only through easter eggs and collectibles. It begins with some similar elements, such as the core team being familiar from the MCU and Peter’s love of music, but swiftly diverges. Both well-known and lesser-known Marvel characters are introduced gradually and given chance to breathe throughout the game. All of this enables it to appeal to both newbies and long-time fans through its storytelling, rather than relying solely on the source material or its most famous adaption to entice players. In this aspect, it seems quite similar to Marvel’s Spider-Man, yet extremely different from Marvel’s Avengers.
Why did it go unnoticed?
But, you could ask, if the game is so fantastic, why isn’t it up for Game of the Year in a lot of places? The comparison to Marvel’s Avengers is problematic because many people were unaware that Guardians of the Galaxy was nothing like that. The sterile, microtransaction-heavy, business-like Avengers game is nothing like the single-player, microtransaction-free Guardians of the Galaxy game, and Square Enix’s marketing didn’t help to express this, with the game’s virtues being badly communicated. Many people (including myself) dismissed the game before it was published due to a mixture of both causes. I bought it on sale and discovered what I had been missing, but many people would have passed it up.
Bloomberg’s report backs up how neglected it was. At its peak, the game had roughly 11,000 concurrent players on Steam, compared to 38,000 concurrent players for Square Enix’s previous single-player release, Shadow of the Tomb Raider. However, it has an 84 Metacritic score and an 8.3 user rating, and we found the experience to be a game well worth playing in our review, so it’s not like people are avoiding it because of its poor quality. So, what exactly is it?
Is this a vanishing breed?
Many people have hailed It Takes Two’s Game Awards victory as beneficial to the industry. An original, generally wholesome game (sans elephant scene) played solely with a partner signifies a big shift in a gaming landscape where homogeneity and existing IP are on the rise, and its win indicates that variation is still required and wanted.
Guardians of the Galaxy accomplishes something similar by effectively creating a style of game that is less prevalent in today’s AAA business, and while it is obviously not an original IP, its execution on a character-driven, linear, story-focused experience feels distinctive enough to set it apart. The few cinematic AAA games that do exist are usually in different genres like platformers or roguelikes. These kinds of experiences are increasingly tougher to come by outside of Sony’s first-party developers.
Guardians of the Galaxy deserves the same recognition as It Takes Two for its great and mature approach to that type of cinematic, setpiece-based game. Unfortunately, there is less hunger for a third-party linear campaign than there was previously, and while player satisfaction is good, this may have hampered overall engagement for the Marvel product.
Finally, some thoughts
While all of the nominees for Game of the Year deserved to be there, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy should have been included, and there is an argument to be made that it should have won this year’s award. Except for horror, I like most of the games that were nominated this year. I’m not a big fan of horror films, but I believe that, while they’re all good, Guardians of the Galaxy’s script in particular drew me in like nothing else this year.
Unlike many other games that rely on a well-known brand, it didn’t just recycle what was already there; it improved it and brought it to life in a way that hadn’t been seen before. Square Enix even moved away from Marvel’s Avengers’ microtransaction-heavy approach, and perhaps the game’s insistence on providing a refreshing, straightforward single player experience has me yearning for the old ways, a hope that the industry won’t be reduced to a live service, NFT-filled hellscape.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a showcase and celebration of what the industry can accomplish when the story is put first.