This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.
Oh, you want opinions on Guardians of the Galaxy, do you? Oh boy, do I have opinions on Guardians of the Galaxy. On the one hand, it's a snot-squirtingly mediocre game that, like so many AAA games of its ilk, has the air of something that was stitched together from pre-existing templates by about nine different teams who haven't been talking to each other since a harrowing experience at the company picnic, but it also has a licensed soundtrack that includes "Kickstart My Heart", so on the other hand, it's my Game of the Year; no more questions, please. I can only assume someone at Square must've stolen my high school crush diary, 'cos how else would they know that "Kickstart My Heart" is my one weakness? See, there's absolutely no action a living being can take that doesn't become slightly cooler when it's done to "Kickstart My Heart"; even finger painting with Grandma takes on a sort of air of euphoric defiance.
Anyway, Guardians of the Galaxy is Square Enix making hay as the Disney contract shines, with a cinematic, strictly single-player, non-live service-y game based on a Marvel movie property to hopefully counteract what they did with Marvel's Avengers and convince us to stop sitting on their head. And they really are splashing that Disney money around for this one, licensing every classic 80's rock song that ever spent a regretful, drink-sodden afternoon in Guitar Hero's love shack; there's even a couple of direct references to Star Wars, that I'm sure someone bought a second yacht over.
Which makes it all the more weird to me that, as with Avengers, they refuse to just flat-out adapt the fucking movies; they'll use the same aesthetics and the same characters with the same traits, if some slight changes to the backstories, but recast them all with their fucking stunt doubles! Oh, I'm sure there's some cunty bureaucratic reason - I'm sure the fact that it's technically a new adaptation means some twat in a suit banked two paychecks this week - but try explaining that to the heartbroken kiddywinks wanting to know why Star-Lord is no longer lovable, huggable Chris Pratt, but instead, some thuggish frat boy cunt with a steam iron for a face and a haircut that makes him look like the result of the unplanned anal pregnancy of both Beavis and Butt-Head. But like an angel with poor finger dexterity, you know I hate to harp on.
Our story begins with Star-Chode and his motley crew - Drax "Pro Wrestler Named After a Bathroom Disinfectant" The Destroyer, Rocket "My Motion Capture Animation Makes Me Look Like a Tiny Person in a Mascot Costume" Raccoon, Gam "I Don't Really Have Anything to Do in this Plot" Ora, and Rocket Raccoon's pot plant - flying through space, doing their best Cowboy Bebop impression when their latest money-making scheme goes awry, and they get embroiled in a threat against the entire galaxy that they must overcome by finally learning to come together and work as a team, which they do about eight or nine times at a conservative estimate. Because AAA only makes two kinds of single-player games these days: open worlds, and this thing, a tortuously drawn-out sequence of clunkily separated gameplay modes strung together like a collage on the wall of a primary school classroom.
It's got a token combat element, relegated strictly to samey, enclosed combat arenas; action setpieces, possibly involving quick-time events; or their kissing cousin, the chase sequence, where you die instantly if you do anything other than press forwards. And all of that is spaced out with prolonged sequences of walking very slowly through spectacular skyboxes, occasionally squeezing through very narrow passages so the rendering engine can have a quick swig of energy drink before the next spectacular skybox.
Throughout these slow bits, the characters banter; by the anal fist-work of the Siddhartha Buddha, do they banter! You can't stop 'em; it's like that Spider-Man three-panel daily newspaper comic where Spider-Man has to recap that he's up against Doctor Octopus nineteen times in a single lunch meeting. They bang on about what they're doing, what they just did, what they're about to do. "Ooh, the boss we're about to fight is supposed to be, like, ninety feet tall, with wings like stage curtains and teeth like an overbooked Ku Klux Klan meeting!" Which usually turns out to be true, even though it sounded like they were setting up a gag where the boss turns out to be a goat in a hat or something. I feel sorry for the no-doubt small legion of poor bastards they had writing all this shit, because about 75% of the conversations got cut off by me entering a narrow passage or starting the next setpiece because of my infuriating desire to progress in the game at slightly above a slow walking pace.
See, none of this feels like it exists organically, or is essential for the telling of the story it's trying to tell; it feels like it's there to fill in a template. Why else would Stank-Lord routinely land his ship half a fucking mile from the house of the person we came to visit? Because the next two hours have been earmarked for walking slowly down a corridor until the action setpiece light comes on and the floor promptly collapses beneath us. Then a token sequence where we slide down a hill on our bum ensues, where I might as well strap the controller to my wrist and play by enthusiastically milking an unruly cow for all the difference it makes; then, we return to slow corridor-walking with absolutely nothing changed, except now “chafed bumcheeks” have been added to the list of things to banter about.
And of course, other parts of the pointless journey have been earmarked for some samey combat arenas so we can justify the token shitty upgrade menu and still call it a "video game" with a straight face, in which Stank-Load's standard laser gun attack feels about as effective as tossing glow sticks at the house of someone you hate, who doesn't even realize you hate them, and that makes you hate them even more. So it's more about waiting for cooldowns to end so you can strategically instruct your four chums to use their actually effective attacks, a combat system presumably designed to emphasize Pant-Load's status as leader, as is the super-special attack thing where you can call a time-out, and the enemies weirdly obligingly take a quick piss break while you select the obviously correct dialogue line from two options that gives your team a super-buff and picks a random licensed song to play for the rest of the fight, which, if you're lucky, will be "Kickstart My Heart", and if you're unlucky, will be fucking Rick Astley or something, which is like when your nice, hot, invigorating shower unexpectedly switches to dispensing cold sick into your face.
Frankly, the combat also feels like it's more here to tick boxes than offer any kind of smoothly integrated gameplay, but you know what? Guardians of the Galaxy is like the Marvel movies in general: it's an ocean of samey, predictable blandness and meaningless action setpieces that very often feels like it's been machine-produced in a factory where the workforce all speak different languages, but it's got this occasional flash of imagination and good humor that means we have to keep slogging through the rest of it to see if any more happen.
I remember thinking this at the bit in the game where we have to escape from a prison by directing a space llama to a control panel through the repulsive power of Gamora's terrible singing voice; I guess there's not really a core mechanic in that, but it was interesting. Take all the shit like that, cut off about 75% of the plodding through copy-pasted areas, gouge out everything that doesn't progress the plot, pull its legs off, stick them up its nose, wrap its lower intestine around its neck like a pretty scarf, and then you'll have... eugh. Something I'd rather didn't stand on the living room carpet.
- Gardener of the Malady: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Get this right - if you say Chris Pratt altogether it sounds like you're saying Crisp Rat ha ha ha oh boy let's see the dude show his face after that burn
- Shut up and eat more glowsticks