Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Format: PS4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC, iOS, Android
Released: April 18, 2017
Copy provided by publisher
Unless you’ve been living in a cave on Mars with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears for the last month or so, you’ve probably noticed that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy are kind of everywhere right now. The much-anticipated sequel to director James Gunn’s 2014 breakout film is in theaters now and enjoying significant box office success and critical praise; the film’s soundtrack is charting at or near the top on pretty much every music download and streaming service; and there’s even a new video game out courtesy of Telltale Games. Although they’re being released close together, Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series is not a tie-in game for Marvel’s film, as it tells a wholly different story. Given the team dynamic of the Guardians brand, it would seem like a perfect fit for Telltale’s familiar brand of choice-laden adventure games, but does it deliver an experience worthy of the galaxy’s biggest bunch of A-holes?
Like other Telltale games, Guardians is being released episodically, so I’ve only been able to play through the first episode, “Tangled Up in Blue,” so far. Right from the get-go, the game attempts to mimic the retro-themed aesthetic of Gunn’s films, right down to the music selection, which includes such cuts as Electric Light Orchestra’s “Livin’ Thing” and “Why Can’t I Touch It” by The Buzzcocks. Unfortunately, the game’s impressive presentation pretty much begins and ends with the music, as you’ll be struck almost immediately by how … off, everything feels.
What do I mean by this? Well for starters, while this is probably the best-looking game Telltale has yet produced, that really isn’t saying much. This engine was starting to look tired before Telltale even made the jump to current-gen systems and at this point, it’s just downright dated. While I didn’t notice much in the way of the usual performance stutters that typify the Telltale experience, Guardians of the Galaxy still has a sluggish feel to it. It’s hard to shake the sense that the engine as a whole limited what the designers could achieve in this first episode and that’s an unfortunate feeling to have whilst playing through what should be an uproariously enjoyable game.
Speaking of which, if you’re expecting to find a game that mimics the comedic tone of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, you’re not going to find it here. While there are a few humorous bits strewn throughout, “Tangled Up in Blue” is noticeably devoid of the irreverent quips that permeate Gunn’s film scripts. Then again, it could be that the voice work as a whole leaves much to be desired. Now, perhaps it’s too much to expect the likes of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and the rest of the film’s cast all reprise their roles here, but the problem is that, with the exception of Nolan North’s Rocket, none of the characters sound remotely like their on-screen counterparts, which is distracting to say the least. I know Guardians of the Galaxy is based on a comic book series, but most players (myself included) are most familiar with the cinematic versions of these characters, making it hard to warm up to game’s portrayal of them.
In terms of gameplay, Guardians doesn’t stray far from the dialogue selection and environment puzzle design everyone’s come to expect from a Telltale games, but “Tangled Up in Blue” at least recognizes that a comic book adaptation is going to be pretty heavy on the action. Most of the action is conveyed through simple quick-time events, which at least provide the illusion of interactivity during the episode’s more action-heavy moments. Since this episode puts players in control of Star-Lord almost exclusively, his rocket boots are incorporated into the gameplay, which adds more verticality to the level design. It looks like each episode is going to feature a different member of team, so it will be interesting to see how each character’s unique abilities are incorporated into the experience.
Of course, the most important part of any Telltale game is the story and after playing through Episode 1, I’m not sure how I feel about the direction Guardians of the Galaxy is taking. Without going into spoilers, the plot takes a bold, dramatic turn very early on that is both impressive and more than a little perplexing. Not knowing what’s in store over the course of the remaining episodes, it’s hard to be too critical of the plot this early on, but I fear that Telltale may have front-loaded the game with its most interesting moments and it’s hard to say whether future episodes will be able to top this particular story beat.
Even though it sounds like I’m being pretty hard on this first episode, I still think it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of previous Telltale games or have any affinity for the Guardians of the Galaxy. The great thing about episodic games like this is that you’ll only be out $5 and a couple hours of your life if you end up hating it and I think there’s definitely enough here to justify at least purchasing the first episode. That being said, it’s hard to recommend buying the season pass for all five episodes at this point because if every future episode is on part with “Tangled Up in Blue,” Guardians of the Galaxy would qualify as one of Telltale’s lesser outfits. Still, I’m interested to see where they take the story from here and hope that Episode 2, “Under Pressure,” can course-correct a bit.