Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a great game, both as a standalone narrative experience and as a showcase for the best fascets of gaming accessibility. Not only does it feature a wide variety of assists to help parse through its dizzying combat, but it also has multiple difficulty levels, damage sliders, and helpful in-game tools that aid navigation and mesh with the larger lore of the series. That being said, when a game gets so much right for accessibility, the few times it falters tend to stick out.
In fact, I’d argue that the trope I’m here to discuss doesn’t just interfere with accessibility but is a long-standing trend in game development that many players don’t actually enjoy. As much fun as Guardians of the Galaxy is to play, it reminds me how much I hate obligatory vehicle missions in games where they don’t necessarily belong.
The palette cleanser problem
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy emerges as a finished product in which its creators understand the repetitive nature of the central gameplay loop. Throughout most of its 20-hour campaign, you’ll cycle between fighting foes in team-based combat, walking to the next cinematic milestone, or solving some light puzzles designed to accentuate Star-Lord’s elemental abilities.
So I can understand why, about three quarters through the campaign, players are abruptly asked to take full control of the Milano to “defeat Captain Glory and the Lethal Legion.” In theory, the mission functions as a means of breaking away from the prescribed monotony that often sets in with similar games. In practice, however, the end result is a sequence that is quite simply not fun.
Without wading too deep into spoiler territory, the central objective of the mission involves controlling your ship with analog sticks and using the triggers to dogfight against a cluster of enemies trying to claim a bounty on your head. The premise sounds exciting enough, but its inherent flaws make it too frustrating for anyone to actually enjoy. For one, because vehicle controls are only used a few times during the entire game, the scheme that exists doesn't feel good. Both evasive maneuvers to dodge and flip are tied to the same stick, which means you’ll constantly find yourself evading in unintentional directions and losing track of your target.
This problem worsens during the second stage of the fight when you’re prompted to hit specific spots on Captain Glory’s mothership to finish the assault. So, not only are players suddenly presented with an awkward and unfamiliar control scheme but they’re then asked to use it with a certain level of precision that feels uncomfortable.
Why it matters
In terms of fostering accessibility, it’s no secret as to why these sudden breaks from gameplay loops can quickly manifest as blockers. As someone who plays games with multiple disabilities, I’m all too familiar with the increased amount of time it takes to adapt to any control scheme, so suddenly tossing in an entirely new one that I might use only for a few minutes doesn’t feel fair. Especially with motor issues in tow, these slight diversions crafted by developers can sometimes be the reason you lose a disabled player forever.
This fact is made all the more frustrating when vehicles are involved. Controlling any sort of moving craft requires a level of nuance that often necessitates its own accessibility settings. However, if vehicles only feature in about 10 minutes of a campaign, developers naturally aren’t going to take as much care to ensure that singular mission is adapted as thoroughly as the rest of the product. For example, most of the features I mentioned in the first paragraph are fantastic, but, aside from the damage sliders, they’re entirely irrelevant to this particular mission.
The situation creates a lopsided accessibility gap in a very specific area. That reality is what alerted my attention to covering this topic in the first place. The rest of Guardians caters to a wide variety of ability levels, but it misses the mark in this very obvious spot.
That being said, I’d posit that the differently-abled population isn’t the only one feeling a bit tired of these unwanted loop diversions. As described above, in these minigame-like scenarios, the mechanics themselves often aren’t refined enough to feel good for everyone. Do a simple Google search for “Call of Duty tank mission,” “Uncharted jet ski mission,” or “mako controls Mass Effect,” and you’ll likely see what I mean.
Gamers at large are ticked off by tacked-on vehicle mechanics because they don’t feel good. And these three examples are important because they exist as sore spots in some of the most prestigious franchises across the entire industry. That’s not to say all vehicle controls in non-driving games are terrible, but it’s all too common that they’re not given as much care as they could receive by any metric.
The bottom line
This rant isn’t without an accompanying lesson.
First and foremost, if you’re going to separate your audience from a familiar and successful gameplay loop, the diversion you make should be just as good if not better than those source mechanics. If hitting that threshold is not 100 percent possible, then why take us out of the loop at all?
For the sake of all gamers, just keep us drenched in the good stuff. And, if you’re creating games from an accessibility-first perspective, it also doesn’t hurt to consider what introducing a new, shoddy control scheme might mean for that audience as well. Good accessibility should touch every inch of a game, not just its most used mechanics. We’ve all played bad vehicle missions, and I think it’s high time that developers acknowledge when those obvious quality pitfalls exist.
I really love Guardians of the Galaxy. Just don’t make me pilot the Milano again.