I’m a big fan of superheroes, and I love video games, but I often have a shared issue with both things. Because both of them have a violence issue. For superheroes, the solution to most problems is a whole lot of punching and laser beams. Which makes sense. They are action-focused books, after all. This is often similar to video games, which have many combat systems, first-person shooters, and violent characters. That’s not in itself an issue. I like many of these superheroes and many of these video games. But sometimes I think that there have to be more interesting ways to tell a story or resolve a conflict. So I was thrilled when I finished Guardians of the Galaxy and found that it did exactly that.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a new superhero game developed by Eidos Montreal. They previously made the wonderful Deus Ex games, Human Revolution, and the sloppier but interesting Mankind Divided. Those are both RPGs that give the player an enormous amount of options. You can go into any scenario guns blazing or go completely non-lethally if you want to. You can even avoid conflict altogether and talk your way out. Guardians is a lot more linear than Deus Ex, but the choice still manages to slip in. Because throughout the game, you get to control only Star-Lord. Peter Quill is the sole controllable character in the game, and when this was initially revealed, this was somewhat disappointing. But upon playing the game, I realised that it really couldn’t be any other way.
Because playing as Star-Lord, you really feel like you are a part of the Guardians, not the Guardians themselves. You get to explore various planets and cosmic locations with this band of misfits, not controlling them but being WITH them. This carries through to every aspect of the experience. You’re pretty much with them the entire duration of the game, and the amount of dialogue and voice work is truly staggering. Especially given the quality of it. But it’s this voice work that reveals how this game subverts violence in these kinds of stories. Because Guardians is a game about communication.
Every single moment of this game is designed to hammer that theme into the player. The combat system is fun and engaging, but you’ll hardly win if you’re just utilising Peter’s abilities. You need to make the most of every tool at your disposal and in this game, that means the other Guardians. You need to call on their various abilities to help you defeat enemies and traverse the environment. So you don’t win by beating enemies into submission. You win by communicating with your team. When Peter calls out to Groot to tie a massive robot down so Drax can tackle them, it’s a moment that feels powerful and earned. Not because you did it all by yourself, but because you, the player were the one to bring your team together. The game’s ultimate “super move” is the huddle, an ability that buffs the Guardians and plays a classic 80s pop song. But this move is only really effective because of how you communicate. The Guardians come together, and you have to pick a dialogue option to inspire them and hype them up. But to do this, you need to listen to what they’re saying about the battle, their fears, hopes and bloodlusting bits of banter. Guardians necessitates that you listen to your team and truly understand them.
All of the various dialogue options and choices you make throughout the game also hammer home this core idea of communication. The Guardians start the game constantly bickering and arguing but by the end are a true family who supports each other and build each other up. This is represented in each character’s final abilities, which are unlocked at a specific breakthrough in their arc. These breakthroughs come from the Guardians supporting one another and being open about their pasts, fears, and trauma. Without spoiling much, various characters and factions will aid you in the game’s final missions, but only if you played your cards right earlier. Good communication brings the Guardians together and brings their allies to them as well. The game’s big villain as it were is wonderfully subversive in this way because you don’t win through shooting them a bunch. You win by talking to them and empathising with them.
Guardians is a game where every single person involved seemed to have a lot of passion. There’s so much love, care, and singular focus here. It’s a fun, adventurous superhero action game, to be sure. But it’s also a story about the power of empathy, communication, and teamwork. Every single aspect of Guardians is unified in a single narrative and thematic focus. It’s a testament to how every factor of game design can come together to form a cohesive and unified whole. So if you want a superhero game that dares to do something different, to challenge the norm, and to tell a real heartfelt story, you can’t do much better than Guardians.