Our look back at the great games and moments of 2021 continues. This piece contains spoilers.
Guardians of the Galaxy is my game of the year. Settle into the Milano and enjoy this perilous quest to uncover the truth.
The rag-tag team of cosmic misfits Starlord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket (not a) Racoon and Groot have stolen the crown of the greatest superhero game ever. Guardians is a narrative, character development, world-building, graphical masterpiece, with a killer soundtrack. Square Enix should be proud of their development team for creating such a celebration of the underrated cosmic side of Marvel.
The theme of teamwork and relationships permeates every element of the game from combat to world interaction to narrative choices. Every character has an environmental purpose and this team synergy allows the developers to show strengthening team bonds not only through choices but through gameplay systems. At the end of the game, the guardians became a true family. You don’t always have to like them – especially when they all use your toothbrush – but, in the end, you love them. I did.
Favourite parts? The design and implementation of the Guardians’ ship Milano is incredible. I’d call it the secret member of the team. It is the foundation for character and team-relationship development. Games like Mass Effect restrict characters to certain sections of the ship, whereas Guardians allows everybody to roam around and organically initiate conversations with other members. It truly felt like a home. Everybody had sentimental items in their rooms that allowed you to slowly excavate information about their past. For example, take Gamora’s dolls: through conversations you slowly peel the onion and discover that they were in memory of her sister Nebula, who Gamora had to kill due to the evil machinations of their adopted father Thanos. Families are difficult!
For me, the most emotive beat inside the Milano is when you interact with a universal translator and discover that it can’t translate Groot’s language. I’m surprised that Groot doesn’t communicate with sign language really. These small touches emotionally immerse you in the universe. Since R2-D2, I have always been drawn towards characters that can’t traditionally communicate with words and the Guardians team did an incredible job constructing a major role for Groot. Groot is the glue holding the heroes together. His ultimate ability to revive Starlord was team growth at its finest.
There’s other stuff I love. The Guardians explore the farthest reaches of space whilst encountering alien species from the Chitauri, to the mighty Fin Fang Foom. Despite the grand cosmic setting, though, the real focus is on Peter’s relationship with his mother Meredith Quill. It’s such a touching aspect.
Throughout the game you have opportunities to explore Peter’s childhood home and slowly learn more about Peter’s alien heritage and his relationship with his mother. You even experience the gut-wrenching moment Meredith is killed by the Chitauri. Usually this would be the end of the sequence and Meredith would become the ‘woman in the refrigerator’ trope, however our expectations are cleverly subverted.
Perhaps the most emotional example of this subversion is when Peter has to deny the false reality known as “The Promise” that has captured the whole team. In this illusion, Peter is reunited with his Mother. Guardians makes you think there’s a happy ending where Peter can finally save his mum. However, to move forward you must instead reject this false narrative, killing Peter’s dream. It’s a powerful scene.
Amazingly, Peter uses his newfound emotional growth to save Nikki from The Promise and help her to accept the death of her own mother, Ko-Rel. The innovative player choice system gives you a challenge: in Nikki’s illusion you must get creative and find a way to snap her out of it. It took me about three times to figure it out but destroying Nikki’s dream was gut-wrenching.
Throughout all this, I gained such an insight into my own mental health. That in the past when life got tough, I always escaped back to the beautiful dream. It’s definitely not the best coping mechanism, so having a misfit team of friends in reality gives me the power to guard my own galaxy.
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