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A couple of weeks ago, I spent almost an hour playing a demo version of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the upcoming title from developer Eidos Montreal (Deus Ex, Shadow of the Tomb Raider). The story is engaging. The aesthetics are futuristic and cool. The RPG elements are appealing. But in my opinion, the combat gameplay needs work. It’s fixable, but during fights, the interactions between my playable avatar (Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord) and my AI teammates (Rocket, Gamora, Drax, and Groot) felt unnatural. And in a game that’s based (both practically and narratively) around the synergy of disparate parts, that’s a problem.
The publisher for Guardians of the Galaxy, Square Enix, is the same publisher behind Marvel’s Avengers (2020). That game took a lot of public criticism; on one hand, it was a single-player narrative starring Kamala Khan, and on the other hand, it was a multiplayer lootfest starring everyone else on the Avengers roster. The general consensus was that it tried to be too many things, and the attempt to please everyone resulted in pleasing no one.
One thing that Marvel’s Avengers did extremely well, right from the jump, was creating a friendly AI. If you were playing by yourself, the game gave you AI teammates that were helpful and non-intrusive. They would be there to revive you, immediately, if you fell in battle. They did not die in stupid, obvious ways, forcing you to risk your life to save them. Your AI teammates damaged your enemies, but it was mostly on you to lead the attack and finish them off. The enemies’ toughness was well-scaled and proportional to your characters’ abilities. And although your AI teammates could make your job easier, you were always the star; you were not dependent on them for the mission’s success.
Guardians of the Galaxy inverts this dynamic. If you try to take down a room of bad guys or lead from the front, you get destroyed. Your character, Peter Quill, is offensively and defensively weak—too weak—in contrast to the enemies you face.