Life is all about choices. Sometimes you make good choices; other times you make bad ones. No developer has hung their hat on this conceit more than the folks at Telltale Games. After successfully taking a whack at franchises under the Image and DC imprints, it only seemed like a matter of time before they completed the set and went after a Marvel property. Though far from my first choice of brands for them to explore, bringing Guardians of the Galaxy in-house made complete sense. But in a year that already has a new film on deck, can Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series manage to keep pace with its cinematic counterpart?
On paper, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot are the perfect cast for a standard Telltale game. They have tons of personality, are constantly in conflict, and most importantly, they have a hilarious dynamic as a group. If you take a look back through the studio’s history, for every earnestly dramatic game that they release, there’s almost always an equally lighthearted and hilarious game in the pipeline. Even as far back as 2006 when they released their first Sam & Max installment, it has been obvious that humor was in the studio’s DNA. For this reason alone, the Guardians brand seems like a fantastic fit.
Before going too deeply into the narrative, it’s important to establish that the gameplay itself seems very hesitant to stray from the developer’s standard formula for success. Everything from their traditional quick-time sequence anchored combat mechanics to time-boxed conversations trees are present and accounted for. The one major differentiating point is the production values. Without question, this is the best looking game that Telltale has ever produced.
Both in and out of combat, the quality of character models and environments are far more competent that I anticipated. Additionally, the primary set pieces are easily some of the studio’s most impressive work to date. However, take that commentary with a pinch of salt. This praise is being seen through the drastically fragmented prism of some of Telltale’s previously downright ugly visuals. When compared to the rest of the industry, Guardians would be considered middle of the pack. But given their notoriously mediocre presentation in the past, this is a dramatic step in the right direction.
Aside from the usual banter and battles, there are also a couple of puzzles nestled into the initial chapter. Hopefully these will become more difficult in future installments, because they were laughably easy the first time around. I can understand handling the player with kid gloves in the first episode, but the only way its spoon-feeding could have been more blatant was if I was strapped into a goddamn high chair. The one element that makes puzzles slightly more interesting is the introduction of Star-Lord’s time-traveling-hologram-thingy. I am pretty sure that is its technical name. All joking aside, this device’s ability to project holograms of what happened in a given room in the recent past is an intriguing wrinkle. Granted, this is a wrinkle that will inevitably be a canonical explanation nightmare in future chapters.
A Whole New World
Thematically, the first chapter in the Guardians’ story seems to match up pretty consistently with the films. At least at first, it’s hard to say if this actually takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, proper. This confusion is primarily because the narrative tends borrow heavily from the MCU’s interpretation of the narrative’s major characters. Then the first major plot twist hits, and it becomes blatantly obvious that this is a VERY different world from that of the flicks. The one consistent strand shared between the game and its big screen counterpart is their collective focus on the team as a singular unit.
After the aforementioned plot twist takes place, it also becomes apparent that all is not well in Peter Quill’s collective of interstellar vagabonds. Without going too deeply into the spoiler territory, it’s suffice to say that in-fighting among the team abounds. It’s up to Star-Lord to try and hold the team together long enough to move onto their next job. Unfortunately, this is also where the game begins to feel like a chore.
Despite having been through so much together, all of a sudden the entire team devolves into a bunch of bitchy, overly-needy teenagers. As you try to make amends and patch up conflicts, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this entire portion plays like a middle-management simulator. You are never going to be able to keep everyone happy, so you’re better off just trying to mitigate the damage. I found this whole encounter to be extremely off-putting, simply due to each team member’s lack of compromise. I get that they are supposed to be a family and that conflict happens, but if the primary conflict of the entire series will be from in-fighting, these are going to be a long five chapters. On the bright side, at least I can finally put that college minor in psychology to good use.
Where Are the Laughs?
The one thing that could have redeemed this entire segment, or at the very least prevented it from rendering certain characters as gigantic unlikable dicks, would be the trademark Guardians of the Galaxy humor. While there are still plenty of small chuckles sprinkled throughout, I felt like many of their attempts reeked of writers that were trying a bit too hard. Another key element that was missing from the dialog were the snappy dialog exchanges being fired around among the crew. There were plenty of attempts to re-create the film’s chemistry between characters, but many of these comments merely fell flat. While still standing by these criticisms wholeheartedly, I still think that it’s worth noting that the writing isn’t bad. Essentially, the banter from the first film and graphic novel series is so damn entertaining that the bar may have been set a bit higher than usual.
On the bright side, Tangled Up in Blue is a solid first salvo for Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series. Though some of the early storytelling does prove to be disappointing, it is nice to know that they have plenty of room for improvement in future chapters. Given the nature of the conflicts dealt with in this installment, I am still extremely curious to see where things go from here. The sky’s the limit for this series. Let’s hope that Telltale is shooting for the stars.
Review code for Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.