Before "Guardians Of The Galaxy" hits theaters on August 1, Disney Interactive has a special treat for you: "Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon," a companion game to the film that also has ties to Marvel's comic book and video game universes.
Fans familiar with other Marvel games like "Avengers Alliance" and "Avengers Initiative" will know the drill: "Universal Weapon" uses elements of the movie-verse (costumes and plot points in particular), while tying into the overall story of the gaming universe.
"[We created] an original story that has some parallels both to the film, in terms of leading characters, and parallel to what stories have already been told in the comics that creates something new," Aaron Norstad, the producer of the game, told MTV News over the phone. "This isn’t necessarily a spoiler persay, if you play the game first before seeing the film or if you see the film first before playing the game, the two complement each other."
In order to strike that delicate balance between movie, comics and gaming, Disney went to an expert: Dan Abnett, who wrote the "Guardians of The Galaxy" comic books the movie is based on, also wrote the game.
Another little item of note that probably helped, Marvel Studios snuck their Disney Interactive cohorts a copy of the "Guardians" movie script, so they could properly prep. However, in this case, knowledge wasn't necessarily power. Once they found out what was happening in the movie, the developers needed to promptly push those plot points to the side.
"How do you build something that really does reference, but doesn’t give anything away or do anything that potentially has repercussions on what Marvel does with the cinematic universe?" Norstad asked rhetorically. "There were some directions we were looking to take the story, and we were steered another path because of some things Marvel was planning down the road."
So in the game, you get to see the Guardians — Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot — escape from Prison 42, the same one from the movie. They fight Nebula, Korath and Ronan, just like they do in the movie. And various side characters, from the Nova Corps to even the Avengers' Hulk appear in the game. But beyond some parallels, the game has nothing to tease about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"It’s pretty much its own thing," Norstad said when asked is there are any teases for the MCU. "We’ve been careful about how we craft our message, because we're out two weeks before the film, so people are going to play the game and instantly think you’re going to see them in the film."
The game itself plays very differently from other Marvel games. You slowly build up a team of Guardians, and other unlockable characters to battle your way to assembling the titular Universal Weapon, an artifact of great power split into five pieces.
Each level brings a few waves of enemies, which you can attack using unlockable powers, and combos with other members of your team. There's also the requisite leveling up, and with it the increasing difficulty of boss battles and overwhelming waves of bad guys. No shame, but it took us a while to get past the Prison levels, which amp up the difficulty considerably by the end.
Even with features that will entice the hardcore gamer (there are numerous ways of outfitting your heroes, and upgrading them with iso-8, the gaming universe's core way of changing your character's stats), "Universal Weapon" also makes strides to capture the mobile gamer, mainly with a large sense of humor and cartoony looking characters.
"Knowing that we would have a broader appeal let us match the art direction and overall tone of the game with the story," Norstad noted. "As we started to learn what was happening in the film, we learned that matched really well with some things we were doing with the game."
Also of note to casual gamers (and hardcore alike), where "Alliance" works on a freemium model, allowing anyone to play but charging for in-app purchases and requiring an internet connection, "Universal Weapon" may initially cost $4.99, but after that requires neither additional money nor any internet.
For those of us with subway rides in our future, this is a huge bonus.
Meanwhile, if you get stuck on a level, or just want to change up your gameplay, "Universal Weapon" also has an Arena Mode. In it, you can pick a different team — most of the bad guy characters only work in Arena, for example — and have them battle wave after wave of enemies. It's a good way of testing your skills, all while racking up new items and a little extra in-game cash to, well, unlock new items.
And it doesn't end there. All levels will be playable from day one, but players will note there's plenty more Marvel Universe to explore. Don't worry, it's all part of the plan.
"We want to get [the game] out there and see how people play," Norstad said, "and [then] make tweaks and adjustments to give players a new way to play and keep them engaged. We hope to continue to roll stuff out."
"Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon" is on sale now at the Apple App Store, Google Play Store and Windows Phone Store. The PC version of the game sells for $7.99 from the Windows Store. In addition, "Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon" will be coming soon to the Amazon App Store.