It's probably a little bit late in the day but Don't Stop Believin', the final episode of Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy, is easily the best episode of the series to date. That might not sound like glowing praise given the often painful mediocrity of the previous episodes, but it at least makes for a nice surprise and leaves us with a slightly more pleasant after-taste than the series perhaps deserves. Now that we've seen how the whole thing pans out, we still wouldn't necessarily recommend buying it at full price, but if you do, you can at least rest assured that business does pick up after the slow beginning, and while the journey to get there might not have been much to write home about, the series just about manages to stick the landing.
If you've been following the story so far, the titular Guardians of the Galaxy have been embroiled in a battle with galactic super-villain Hala the Accuser over a magical space artifact with the power to raise the dead. Precious little of any narrative consequence happened in the first four episodes, with the penultimate episode actually taking a break from the overarching plot of the series almost entirely, and so when the inevitable final showdown takes place in Don't Stop Believin' it's not exactly a battle you're likely to have been foaming at the mouth to see. Hala is a villain that we know practically nothing about, her presence merely a device to give the Guardians something to argue about in occasionally amusing or touching fashion, and so it's hard to care about the story here. If you're expecting any late-game revelations, plot twists, or anything else of that ilk, you're not going to find it here.
Where the episode excels -- much like the rest of the series so far -- is in the smaller character moments. The banal puzzles of the previous episodes that seemed to exist only to pad out the running time, have been almost entirely excised here and it's a revelation. The brisk pace here works wonders, and leaves us questioning whether or not some streamlining in the previous episodes might have made the entire series a little more palatable. Most of the other issues from earlier episodes persist here -- it's still not very funny, and it still feels like a knock off of the hit movies -- but the quicker pace helps to paper over the cracks a little, and without any frustrating puzzles to contend with there's no down time to give it much thought. All we're really left with is the Guardians, and their conversations, their thoughts, their hopes, and their fears, giving the episode the heart it needs. The characters are -- if not a patch on their big screen counterparts -- at least a largely likeable bunch, and so seeing them work through their issues without distractions is to the episode's benefit.
Depending on how you played episode four, the Guardians begin Don't Stop Believin' in one state of disrepair or another. There's likely been deaths and some friends leaving the group thanks to a falling out with team leader, Star-Lord, and so the early going here is dedicated to getting the band back together. While we theorised in our review for episode four that the braver narrative choices at the end of that penultimate episode would likely be retconned in the finale, we didn't expect it to happen quite as quickly as it does here. It perhaps feels a little cheap and deliberately exploitative to renege on some of the most touching moments of the series so far so quickly here, but then, again, the brisk pace afforded as a result is probably worth it.
If there's one thing that perhaps doesn't work so well here it's the final major choice you're given. We obviously won't go into too many details to avoid spoilers, but given the gravity of the decision that you're forced to make, to have it glossed over with an -- admittedly, quite amusing -- conversation and a few pats on the back is jarring and bizarre. The standard Telltale jank is still here, too, with scenes stuttering frequently, and some absurd loading times. While the musical interludes in the previous episodes weren't always well executed, they were still among some of the highlights of the series so far when they worked, which unfortunately they don't in this episode. On the plus side, the godawful Journey song that the episode is named after doesn't feature. A small victory.
Guardians of the Galaxy has been a bumpy ride, with the occasionally poignant character moments and amusing dialogue exchanges drowned out by perfunctory action sequences, tepid puzzling, and the unshakeable feeling that the whole endeavour is just a pale imitation of the Guardians movies. The finale's heightened pace plays to the series' strengths, removing much of what made previous episodes so frequently frustrating, and so perhaps if there is a second season of Telltale's Guardians -- and, like any Marvel movie, you should probably stick around until after the credits for hints as to what might happen next -- we can only hope that it follows the blueprint of Don't Stop Believin'. It's not perfect, but if you're a fan of Telltale's formula or the eponymous Marvel characters, the improved latter half of the series makes Guardians of the Galaxy just about worth playing.