America - Front
America - Back
16th Jul 2022 | 2,573 views
Those are the words that come from the radio as Meredith Quill warns her son not to touch the dial. Tears for Fears' hit "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" is the backdrop to a quiet afternoon, the sunset painting the sky as they celebrate Peter's thirteenth birthday - he recalls it as his last on Earth, a time when things were simpler.
Just like our protagonist, we as players are also encouraged to indulge in our nostalgia, to hum along to the music that defined the 1980's, to look through every inch of a room filled with old movie posters and game consoles, to embrace the times of our childhoods and our most treasured memories. To forget about the worries of today, because everyday we feel like the world is crumbling beneath our feet.
So, Guardians of the Galaxy. The game starts us off on very familiar territory, with Peter being the same goofball we expect him to be, constantly making bad decisions as he tries to keep together a group of misfits who mostly want nothing to do with each other. Drax is suspicious of Gamora, Gamora and Peter constantly bicker with Rocket, Rocket hates everyone except Groot, and Groot loves them all.
It's a scenario we've very much seen before, but despite all those similarities, it is immediately apparent that there is something more to this depiction, due to the stellar writing and acting on display, and an attention to detail that only comes from developers who deeply cared about what they were making. However, this isn't just a love-letter to the things that came before, and as you get further into the story, it becomes clear just how much this opening was carefully crafted to appeal to our sense of familiarity for a very specific reason.
Over the course of the game, we navigate through several different locations, all of which look absolutely stunning, solving very straightforward puzzles and platforming challenges, fighting all kinds of weird enemies within a rather basic combat system, in a series of missions that rarely ever start with a noble goal, but as implied by the game's name, ultimately lead to a galaxy-saving effort.
The gameplay isn't particularly great, but it's serviceable in its own right, and can be made significantly better with the right tweaking of the extensive difficulty options (something first-time players can't really do as they don't know the game balance yet). However, every facet of the gameplay is built in a way that amplifies the impact of the characters: while you can't control them in combat, you can command them to use a multitude of special skills, all of which tend to be far stronger than anything you have in your moveset; the basic traversal and puzzle-solving of the levels is filled with obstacles that can only be cleared with the help of your team-mates; and by making all of the non-combat gameplay very basic, it allows the game to put all of the focus on the never-ending banter between the cast, who never run out of interesting things to talk about even after you've heard thousands of their conversations.
The characters and narrative are undoubtedly the standout here, and that the game knows how to keep those at the forefront is the sign of a developer who knows where their strengths lie. It's how they managed to craft a game that never stops feeling like a big-budget movie, even when the player is in full control of their character. That isn't to say there aren't a lot of cutscenes, because there are hours of them (and they're all fantastic), but the story wouldn't be nearly as impactful if it weren't for the dialogue that takes place throughout the moment-to-moment gameplay.
It's through these conversations that you get to really understand who these characters are at their core, and most importantly, it's where you see the subtle changes in mood they go through over the course of the game, how you see their relationships evolve, and how you see their personalities develop further and further. All of the Guardians of the Galaxy are deeply broken somewhere inside, and they all have a nostalgia for a time when things were simpler.
By putting the player in the position of leader as Star-Lord, we get to see first-hand just how badly a team of scarred individuals can fall apart, because despite the similar nature of their trauma, they are too deeply hurt not to hurt each other. It makes us feel helpless as players, because we can see that these characters care about one another somewhere deep inside, but each and every attempt we make at bringing the team together continues to fail as they drift further away from each other.
This is why the game floods us with familiar and nostalgic beats from the very beginning. It wants us to indulge in our memories, because it is trying to make the player feel exactly like how Peter Quill does - and it's because Peter is so stuck in his own past that he can't succeed as leader. The game puts us in a place where we feel comfortable, but what it's doing throughout is to ask us to accept the past for what it is and move on. It wants us to embrace what we currently have instead of taking it for granted. It's telling us that only once we overcome our fears and traumas will we be able to help others do the same.
What then becomes hard to let go of, is this game itself. I'm a sucker for a good ending in any media, and while this game certainly has a good ending, it's much more about living in the moment and really witnessing every step of the journey these characters go through. As you watch them slowly develop and grow closer together because of the development you undergo as Peter Quill, you can't help but feel like part of their family, too. And that's a hard thing to move on from... hence why I wrote this review.
(converted to 9.7 out of 10)