Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: an excellent game

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy: an excellent game

Developer Eidos Montreal’s take on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy brings us one of the best scripted games of 2021 – and it’s great to see Square-Enix firmly returning to a single-player action game. There is no multiplayer, no line, not even co-op – and, refreshingly, there isn’t the slightest hint of the concept of ‘games as a service’ that has proven so wrong. comfortable with Marvel’s Avengers. Everything revolves around you, playing the role of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, venturing haphazardly through a well-scripted story, chapter by chapter. Based on the Dawn engine, as used in Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Guardians of the Galaxy is a real treat, but how is it on the new wave of consoles?

First of all, I want to point out that Guardians of the Galaxy is a real surprise, an exceptional game and a visual tour de force. It often looks gorgeous – and it starts with the locations. The Quarantine Zone, a planet of abandoned machines fused with a pink crystalline frost, is a perfect backdrop for the Guardians’ first mission. The materials stand out beautifully under the midday sun. Skylights seep behind the pillars of the heist’s dense tech, making the world look rich and opulent. Lighting also brings out the crisp, specular layer of pink rubble, much of which is destructible. All around, there is a strongly art-driven approach to every area and every set-piece. Later planets have very different biomes, of course. The second mission puts us for example under a rainy and scorched sky, while the physics of the wind affects the foliage. It’s a battle against the elements as we leap between moss-covered islands – where, again, the material work stands out.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Digital Foundry video breakdown.

In short, the game looks very good. Extremely good indeed, marred only by a slight lack of polish. For example, you can’t ignore some bugs that crept in at launch. These include obvious streaming stutters, most notably while flying into the first planet. There are lighting quirks during camera transitions, as the buffer fades in and out between characters. Animations awkwardly engage while crawling or climbing objects. All combined, these quirks divert the high production values ​​a bit from the rest of the packaging. Fixes were being rolled out even during the game’s review process, so maybe we’ll see some improvement – and hopefully that will extend to an uneven performance mode found in the Series X and PS5 versions of the game.

As it stands, the PS5 and Xbox Series X are virtually identical in visual settings: in foliage quality, effects, shadows – they are closely matched. Each also has an identical set of modes. Quality mode runs at 3840×2160 on PS5 and Series X, capped at 30 fps. Time-based anti-aliasing is used on everyone, and it’s the best way to enjoy game visuals. There is also a possibility of dynamic scaling of the resolution here. However, each pixel count returns native 4K in this mode. Next comes the performance mode. This targets a native 1920×1080 to maintain a smoother 60fps on PS5 and Series X. That’s a quarter of the total pixel count of 4K, in order to double the frame rate.

Needless to say, the difference in image quality between the two modes is glaring. Yes, you can play at a 60fps target – and for gameplay, it’s a great way to enjoy the combat of the game, but the cost of image quality is hard to ignore. This is of course resolved in the 4K 30fps quality mode, where everything comes into focus; a brute force issue to use more pixels. Quality mode also offers better quality textures, improved texture filtering, and, while subtle, more refined ambient occlusion. The geometry LODs are also improved a lot, which means the pop-in is less obvious. Elsewhere, shadow design and foliage density are also improved in quality mode. It is much more than a problem of resolution. If 4K and 30fps is the way gaming was meant to be viewed – to be enjoyed in a cinematic sense – then 1080p at 60fps is arguably the best way to play it.

The PS5 and the X series have similar issues with performance mode. Despite dropping to 1080p resolution, the frame rate can still drop significantly below the 60fps target.

The Xbox Series S doesn’t fare as well, unfortunately. The 60fps higher frame rate option is missing, leaving you with a 1080p30 mode that also sees degraded grass density and a more noticeable LOD pop-in. Judged on its own merits, the game is still convincing, but the cuts over the X Series and PlayStation 5 are plentiful, so it really pays to play on high-end hardware. The problem is, even though the most capable machines have a 60 fps mode, there are issues – even with the 1080p resolution downscaled. The PS5 and X-Series can’t lock into 60fps, with it dropping into the 50 low and even 40 high during combat and other alpha-heavy moments. The X Series appears to have fewer drops than the PS5, but it’s surprising to see these issues when the resolution has been reduced so dramatically. The 4K quality mode makes it better to stick to its 30fps goal, although there are occasional single-frame snags in cutscenes or when issuing orders to other Guardians.

I walked into this one not knowing what to expect, but after spending some time with the game I expect Guardians of the Galaxy to be on a lot of GOTY lists by the end of the year – that’s just as good, even with the technical drawbacks that I pointed out. It’s visually captivating, the character’s dialogue is well written, and there’s a lot of depth to explore in his fight. However, there is a lingering feeling that the project needed a bit more time to fix its bugs (ranging from a fishy sound to a boss attacking me with limbs I had previously hacked), issues and performance bottlenecks. Fingers crossed that Eidos Montreal will continue to patch and improve the game – and I really hope they will because at its core Guardians of the Galaxy is a surprise triumph which I hope will will get the attention it deserves – it’s among the best superhero games we’ve seen in recent years.

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