's Games of the Year: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy seemingly understands its source material better than the majority of adaptations. That goes for any adaptation, Marvel or otherwise, regardless of the medium. These aren't perfect recreations of any existing version of these characters; it's a new one-shot motion comic with interactive bits and an incredibly large creative team. When talking about the best video games of 2021, it would be remiss to not include it among the top contenders.

The video game from Eidos-Montreal and Square Enix lifts all of the Guardians of the Galaxy's greatest hits for its own game-based smoothie, but the general layout remains the same: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot unintentionally kick off a terrible galaxy-wide catastrophe only to then realize they are also the only ones capable of stopping it. With a little help, of course, and sometimes far, far bigger help. It's a third-person shooter with light role-playing game elements like individual skills and levels that puts players specifically in the shoes of Star-Lord, calling the shots for the rest of the team and making tough decisions.

(Photo: Square Enix)

What might first seem like an unforced error in having Star-Lord being the only controllable character among the cast turns out to be one of the strongest points in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy's favor. The entire game, and all of its relationships, are seen through the eyes of Peter Quill, the de facto leader of the Guardians. More than it would if the game allowed players to inhabit the bodies of Gamora or Rocket or the rest, playing as Star-Lord alone isolates its perspective and forces players to directly deal with the consequences of their avatar's actions in increasingly volatile situations. It makes for a heady combination of responsibility, obligation, friendship, and occasionally mutual respect.

This is by far the aspect of the video game that gets the most attention, and rightfully so. If comedy is all about timing, it is especially difficult to make a comedic video game that doesn't descend into mawkish awkwardness given the role that players must take. The fact that Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy manages to be funny, genuine, earnest, goofy, and devastatingly heartbreaking from one moment to the next is a testament to the ability of the developers even if the source material is admittedly good already. They did the work, and it shows.

It also helps that this all plays out across beautiful locations across the galaxy. While technically relatively limited, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy manages to largely hide its linear path in gorgeous environments that provide the illusion of a much bigger, brilliantly colored series of worlds. And the moment that players start to potentially even think about getting tired of the latest corridor, a new one awaits that doesn't look so much like a corridor as yet another inviting place to get just a little bit lost within.

(Photo: Square Enix)

While it's the narrative arcs and dialogue that get the most praise, the title is also a perfectly competent third-person shooter. Arguably, encounters can get a little derivative, but they are never boring or outstay their welcome. If yet another squad of Nova goons is the cost to get to the next scathing rebuke from Rocket or seeming non sequitur from Drax set in front of a beautiful vista, it seems a small price to pay.

It'd be easy to say that Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy only stands out when compared to other attempts at Marvel games, especially from Square Enix, but the fact is that while that is in and of itself true, the title also simply stands out in general from the rest of the video games released in 2021. And, to its credit, the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies as well. Is it the best video game released this past year? The competition is certainly stiff, so it's hard to say, but it is far easier to say that it absolutely deserves to be part of that conversation.