During its E3 2021 presentation, Square Enix announced Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, developed by Eidos-Montréal, the studio best known for its work on the Deus Ex franchise. A year earlier Guardians was unveiled, Square Enix released another game based on a Marvel license. While it had its advocates, Marvel’s Avengers was a disappointment critically and commercially. Video game fans wondered if Guardians would fall prey to a similar fate. I’m happy to report that the game is anything but disappointing. The title expertly blends a heartwarming story with solid gameplay, making Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy entertaining, gripping, and the best use of a Marvel license in a video game to date.

Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Review copy provided by Square Enix.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a single-player action-adventures set shortly after Star-Lord, Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Gamora come together, before they’re completely comfortable with one another. They start the game as a crew of motley space pirates trying to earn a quick buck before unwittingly becoming key players in a war that threatens the entire galaxy. They face the threat head on and become a real team in the process.

This is a brand-new iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but the characters bear enough similarity to their MCU counterparts that they’ll feel familiar to players who’ve seen the films. The game makes some clever changes from the movies and the comics. In the game, Star-Lord named himself after his favorite (fictional) rock band of the same name. You can actually listen to their album, which was composed by BAFTA-nominated composer Richard Jacques. The original story also places Peter Quill in a role he’s never before in either the films or the comics, but it’s one that makes perfect sense for the character.

As Star-Lord, your job is to lead the Guardians of the Galaxy both on and off the battlefield. At many points during the story, such as in the middle of arguments amongst the Guardians or when a teammate needs a pep talk, the game presents you with multiple dialogue options to choose from. It’s up to you to decide how Peter will respond to the situations. The choices you make help define what kind of leader Star-Lord is (or isn’t) at any given moment.

In the Deus Ex series, the player makes decisions that completely change the course of the narrative and lead to entirely different endings. The decisions you make in Guardians are much more restrained, but your choices still feel like they matter. The dialogue option you select doesn’t have much consequence on the rest of the gameplay experience, but each decision feels consequential thanks to strong writing and even stronger characterization. You care how Quill treats his fellow Guardians because you care about the characters themselves. Every time the decision is in your hands, you feel more connected to the team you see on the screen.

The way Star-Lord directs his teammates in battle aligns with his function in the story as a new leader trying to bring the team together. In combat, you control Star-Lord and direct the other Guardians, telling them when and where to strike. It’s similar to Final Fantasy VII Remake’s gameplay, but more dynamic since it doesn’t rely on skill points or item inventories.

While shooting, punching, and dodging as Star-Lord, you also need to keep an eye out for when to discharge each Guardian’s ability. Every battle demands your full attention. At first it’s a struggle to grasp the mechanics and get the Guardians to feel like an actual team. But once you learn how to strike a balance and unleash each hero’s attacks at just the right moments, you feel like a rock star.

The story is compelling and the combat engaging, but what makes Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy truly special is the way they intersect. Whether you’re resolving arguments, traversing the galaxy, or battling waves of Nova Corps, your mission is the same: turn the Guardians into a stronger and stronger team. Like a good song, all the game’s different elements come together in perfect harmony.