Well, we now know why Luke Shaw didn’t start at left back for England yesterday – he was busy starring in the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer. I didn’t watch the Square Enix showcase live, my brain having already melted from other E3 coverage, and so my first introduction to the game was a screenshot of Peter Quill where he looks unmistakably like the Manchester United defender. After the unmitigated disaster of Marvel’s Avengers, I didn’t have much hope for Guardians – once I got around to watching the full trailer though, I was pleasantly surprised.
This Guardians of the Galaxy game is undoubtedly up against it. More than a few people are once bitten, twice shy when it comes to a Square Enix Marvel game, and the Guardians themselves are a strange bunch. Comic book C-listers for years, their stock skyrocketed after James Gunn got his hands on them in the MCU. However, the heroes haven’t had a new film since 2017, which is a long time in the MCU, even though they have admittedly appeared in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame since then. There’s also the fact Gunn was fired and rehired in strange circumstances, taking his unique style to DC in between to make The Suicide Squad, while leading man Chris Pratt has seen his popularity tank after his political leanings and religious views became public and proved controversial. Plus – it bears repeating – this is a Square Enix Marvel game. Marvel’s Avengers isn’t just a game that was a bit disappointing, it was a huge waste of one of pop culture’s most idiotproof IPs, and still hasn’t stopped taking Ls.
Despite all this, Guardians looks brilliant. Yes, it seems to borrow heavily from Mass Effect and I’m not entirely on board with the artstyle yet, but I’m into it. I like its vibe. He’s always going to look like Luke Shaw to me, but at least he isn’t Nolan North just talking in a Nolan North voice. That brings me back to Marvel’s Avengers for what I promise is the last time here, and this time it’s to speak in its defence. While the characterisation of some of the established Avengers was pedestrian and Cap being alive was the least shocking plot twist of 2020, Kamala Khan was a good lead. She was charming, curious, had an interesting powerset, and was easy to root for. I know it’s different people making Guardians, but it’s important to note that the single-player story was the one thing in Marvel’s Avengers that is even vaguely defensible, and since Guardians is not a live-service game and will have no microtransactions nor DLC, the story is the only thing the games will have in common – aside from both being Marvel games.
I’ve mentioned the MCU a few times here, because it’s clear that this game would not exist without the movies. Do you want an Alpha Flight game? An Inferior Squad game? How about one based on Fantastic Force, The Zoo Crew, or the Perfect Punchers? Only one of those is made up, by the way. However, the problem with Marvel’s Avengers (okay /this/ is the last time, I swear) is that it tried to copy the personality from the films while clearly leaning back for fear of being unfavourably compared, all while the non-MCU Kamala Khan had the freedom to be herself and duly stole every scene. Guardians of the Galaxy seems to have a better understanding of how to use the MCU best.
The team configuration is clearly just nicked from the movies, right down to having Mantis in there. Right now, the comic book team has literally none of these members, instead featuring Doctor Doom, Wiccan, Hulkling, and a few others, while being led by Nova. While there are some stylistic changes, with Rocket having a beard knot, Drax taking on a more cartoonish frame, and Mantis’ eyes being tweaked, the wardrobe is right out of the MCU too – especially Peter’s get-up. Even a few of the lines, like the guards getting the gang’s name wrong or Rocket and Quill arguing over a plan, are just MCU lines rewritten. But this is not just the movie up on the screen – the comics have clearly shaped the Guardians game too, and that’s the most exciting thing about it.
Of all the MCU titles, Thor: Ragnarok is probably the only film that comes close to swinging for the fences as hard as Guardians when it comes to incorporating kooky comic book nonsense, but the game goes above and beyond. We saw several weird and wonderful creatures in the trailer and subsequent gameplay footage, with the game set to include far more planetary treks and alien encounters than the movies, taking all of the weirdness that MCU titles just don’t get to explore when they’re so concerned with ensuring the films fit into a general continuity. Since Guardians existed on the periphery for its first two movies, it had more license than most, but the MCU still comes with a much shorter leash than the comics ever did, and it looks like the game is much closer to the ink and pencil in that regard.
Guardians looks like it takes enough inspiration from the movies to get fans on board, while doing its own thing enough to be able to tell the kind of stories it needs to tell to make a game like this worthwhile. If you’d told me last week ‘Luke Shaw In Space from the Avengers publisher’ would have been my favourite game of E3, I’d have asked you why you were making such weirdly specific positions, and how did you get this number anyway? Nevertheless, here we are.
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