With the Avengers now doing their thing, Square Enix is giving us another superhero group to muck around with, this time from Deus Ex studio Eidos Montreal. These heroes are pretty different from stoic, stealthy Adam Jensen, however, who you'd never see rocking out to '80s hits or hanging out with a murderous not-a-raccoon. Yes, it's the Guardians of the Galaxy.
A roguish band of space adventurers might sound like a good fit for yet another co-op live service affair, like Marvel's Avengers, but Eidos Montreal is thankfully sticking to what it knows: a singleplayer game with a strong narrative bent. It's a linear, mission-based misadventure that will see you jetting off across the galaxy and getting into plenty of trouble, all as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord.
Senior creative director Jean-François Dugas tells me that playing against expectations was a big "driving force" for the team. Games are increasingly trying to drag us back in with events and season passes and new things to grind, but Guardians of the Galaxy isn't looking to swallow up your life. "We weren't looking at trends, to be honest," adds senior gameplay director Patrick Fortier. "When we started sitting down, we were just looking at what do we like to do? What are our strengths with the franchise? How do we give our own unique spin to this?"
Beyond the fact that it's always nice to see a big game that's a traditional singleplayer romp, it also makes a lot more sense for the narrative-driven, focused game that Eidos Montreal is trying to create. It's all about the Guardians and their relationships, which would be slightly undermined if you had to spend hours every day working for Guardian Bucks and queueing for missions with xXIAMGROOTXx.
Senior narrative director Mary Demarle says the "narrative experience" is the heart of the game. "We were able to create, I hope, a very compelling story that has a lot of humour, a lot of excitement, a lot of real emotional moments all through the gameplay, the game experience and through the interactions that you're having with the Guardians. As Peter Quill, you get to guide them into this more concrete family that really needs to become who they have to be in order to save the galaxy."
Star-Lord being the sole playable character is a surprise, especially since there isn't a Guardian who wouldn't be fun to play with, but after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy in action, it feels like the right choice. The core Guardians—Drax, Gamora, Groot, Rocket—are all still here, and I caught a glimpse of Mantis, but like the comics and movies, we experience this weird galaxy full of aliens and potential threats through the eyes of the human, the everyman, who conveniently serves as the group's kinda-leader. And the team dynamic seems like it'll be more meaningful because you're a member of the team rather than an invisible mastermind in charge of them all.
By making you play only as Star-Lord, says Fortier, Eidos Montreal is able to capture some of the chaos and unpredictability that's key to the Guardians, "because you don't control everything." Your buds have some agency, then, and the ability to surprise you. In combat, this means that Drax could get a bit carried away because his blood is up, so you might need to go and save him. But since you're the boss, you still have some control, so you can tell your fellow Guardians to use one of their special abilities from a list that grows larger as you level up, but also through "moments of narrative growth".
Eidos Montreal didn't want to bog the action down with lots of commands and micromanagement—another reason for just having one playable character—but there's still some tactical considerations to make during the heat of battle. As well as having all of Star-Lord's handy gadgets, like his elemental guns and jet boots, each Guardian has their own combat style that can be taken advantage of to create synergies, like Drax's penchant for staggering opponents.
"What is also very key is that there's not one way to solve the problem; there's not only one way to battle those enemies," says Dugas. "You can be really experimental, but the systems are built in such a way that you're being rewarded to remain engaged. So the Guardians by themselves will be autonomous and can have some level of success, but if you're staying too far, eventually they can get in trouble, and you're the so-called leader—you need to stay engaged with them."
The highlight of the brawls I got to watch was undoubtedly Star-Lord's big team-based ultimate ability. You can tell your pals to huddle up, give an inspiring speech, and then bring out your walkman, blasting some tunes—including tracks from Blondie, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Wham!, Pat Benatar and more—while you blast some aliens. It looks flashy and fun, but just as importantly it lets you become an active participant in the creation of the soundtrack.
Fortier notes that music is a big pillar; it's integral to Star-Lord's backstory. "Peter was ripped from his home at an early age, so even symbolically music represents that last tie to Earth and his past and his childhood, so it's meaningful in that way. And then on the Milano [The Guardians' ship] you'll have moments where you can pick the music. And we wanted to find a way to integrate it in-game as well."
The team considered giving you full control over the walkman when you're on-mission, but that seemed too fiddly, especially when you're in the middle of a fight. The compromise, then, was to tie it into a specific ability. Essentially, you're trying to inspire your buds, so you make some choices about what to say based on the team's situation, and then you fire up the tunes. There's a chance that you'll misread the situation and your mates won't dig the vibe you're putting out, but that's always the risk when you start pontificating.
Star-Lord's obsession with music, specifically some tapes made by his mum, was a particularly big part of the MCU version of Guardians of the Galaxy, but the game version draws from all sources. It's Eidos Montreal's take on the group, but using characters and story beats fans of the comics and movies will be familiar with. In the case of Star-Lord, the studio really focused on the fact that he's a child of the '80s who never really grew up.
"Once we honed in on that," says Demarle, "we were able to design the character around that whole feeling of the '80s, from his overdo, you know, his hairstyle, to his jacket with all the studs, and even the pins that he's wearing on his jacket are all these old '80s games and those kind of pins that you'd find in the '80s. Once we honed in on that, it really gave us a way to make this Peter Quill recognisable and yet completely, uniquely our own."
The Guardians certainly look the part—and it's worth noting that you'll be able to unlock new costumes for them—and from this brief slice, it certainly seems like the team has managed to get the tone and relationships right as well. The game is set a year into their partnership, so they're not quite veterans, but they've already forged some bonds, even through all the bickering.
They wouldn't be the Guardians without some beefs. They disagree, fight and sometimes screw each other over. Expect lots and lots of reactive banter, which you'll hear even more if you spend a bit more time exploring the levels, but there are also some more meaningful conversations that you'll need to have, where you'll get different choices for how to proceed and, of course, have to manage their consequences.
In one sequence, the group needs to get across a chasm, and Drax suggests throwing Rocket across, as the smallest member of the crew. He's not too happy about that. "No actual animal was hurt during the shooting of that scene," Dugas promises. This allows the group to get across, but Rocket might be less inclined to help next time. "If you threw Rocket, Rocket will look at everybody and be like, 'There's no flarking way that anyone's throwing me this time around.' And suddenly, as the player, you have to find another solution to the problem."
Consequences range from immediate and funny to opening up completely new paths. "We're from Eidos Montreal, so I think it's in our DNA to care about choice and consequences," says Fortier. "And I think it's pretty unique in this particular space, a narrative action-adventure, it's not necessarily something that you'd expect." Though we did see some of this in Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy, this is a very different kind of game, and the addition of these choices and relationships does seem pretty novel.
In an earlier planning discussion, the Guardians debate how to approach an impending mission, opting for a very Star Wars strategy where they pretend they've captured an exotic creature. The choice, then, is who gets to play the fake prisoner—the Chewbacca of the crew. Groot seems like a good choice, but Rocket loves his big tree pal and doesn't want to put him in danger. Drax, meanwhile, is eager for Rocket to be in the role, dropping some insults in there for good measure. Even if you're unfamiliar with the characters, this argument tells you everything you need to know about the dynamic.
While some of the consequences seem substantial, the main story will still be broadly the same for everyone, at least in regards to how it starts and ends, but through these choices you'll get a different version of it. What the actual story is, however, remains a mystery. The Guardians want to make a buck out of the charmingly named Lady Hellbender, who wants a big ol' alien monster, but of course everything goes wrong and the Guardians end up unleashing something unpleasant. Beyond that, Eidos Montreal is staying schtum.
Thankfully, we won't have to wait very long to find out more. Guardians of the Galaxy is due on October 26, so it's just around the corner. Eidos Montreal has been working on it with Marvel for a few years, so it's managed to keep it secret for a while, even if rumours did appear recently. And when you get your hands on the game, you get it all.
"There isn't going to be any DLC for this game," says Demarle, "there isn't going to be any microtransactions, and that's because, for us, it's very important that on day one, when players get this game, they can have access to everything."
After the Avengers, this is definitely a relief.