Reviewed on PlayStation 4
A couple years ago, Telltale unveiled a secret project in the works, based on Marvel Comics. Most of us believed this would be an Avengers game, considering the major box office success for the superhero franchise. Yet in a strange turn of events, this project was revealed at The 2016 Game Awards as a Guardians of the Galaxy episodic series. The Guardians have claimed an interesting niche in pop culture these days. Being more obscure superheroes than, say, Spider-Man or Batman, the two feature films have somehow thrived against the bigger names in cinema, and have even become popular with children and families overall. So there’s really no surprise that a game would be spawned from this successful entity. Fortunately, Telltale seems to handle the Guardians of the Galaxy INCREDIBLY well, and I feel it holds its own against the multitude of other major properties with their own episodic series, just as the films have survived similar pressure.
As Episode One: Tangled Up in Blue begins, we’re introduced to Star-Lord, the “leader” of the team, as he’s doing what he does best: dancing around the room, brandishing his Walkman. Almost immediately, the Nova Corps asks for assistance, and we get a quick look at the new choice system interface, as well as the many different directions this conversation could go. I decided to make my Star-Lord snarky, yet loyal; the way Chris Pratt’s onscreen portrayal makes him out to be. I don’t know why one would prefer a 100% rude or 100% giving version of Peter Quill. It just doesn’t seem like him, but I admire Telltale’s dedication to the many different routes one could point our hero in the direction of. I could tell almost instantly that the Guardians were perfectly suited for the Telltale treatment.
Now I’m certainly not an avid reader of Guardians comics, but I’m fairly sure this is a completely original storyline, much like every other Telltale game based off a pre-existing IP. The story follows the Guardians of the Galaxy as they corner the mad titan Thanos and subsequently “kill” him. While they revel in their long-awaited victory, a new evil arises in the form of Hala the Accuser and her Kree army. After some research, I found out that Hala is a real Guardians villain, albeit fairly new, but the story of this game is 100% original. Which is cool, because I really liked the story, and the direction it’s going in. The flashbacks, a la Walking Dead, explain a lot about Peter Quill’s backstory, and flesh out his relationship with his sickly mom.
These flashbacks arrive thanks to the Eternity Forge, which is an ancient artifact sought after by both Thanos and Hala, and is the cornerstone of this whole season. It calls out to Star-Lord, and something about it connects him to his mother. I like being able to see more of Peter and his mom’s relationship. We know from the movies that he learned a lot from her, including his taste in music, and exploring that bond in depth will definitely be a highlight of this season. I’m excited to uncover more of my favorite Guardian’s secrets.
While the story of Tangled Up In Blue is thoughtful and captivating, I found the individuals’ performances to be less than spectacular. Obviously I’m not expecting the same voice cast as the movies we all know and love, nor am I looking for the cast of the animated television show (which honestly took some getting used to, hearing Will Friedle and not Chris Pratt). But still, this cast was pretty lackluster for a Telltale game. Even Scott Porter’s Star-Lord wasn’t very believable, and I didn’t feel very connected to him from the start. I gotta give props to Nolan North, though, for an instantly recognizable performance as Rocket Raccoon, which seriously rivaled Bradley Cooper’s iconic role.
The other characters, however, weren’t so great. It disappointed me, because I felt as though if this was your first exposure to the Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s not the best interpretation; not one you’ll easily fall in love with. The humor was there, but the chemistry was a bit iffy. Tensions are high, which is to be expected, considering the difficult decisions being made. But it just seemed unnecessarily rocky at times, bordering on awkward. For example, Star-Lord and Gamora’s sexually tense scenarios didn’t feel as emotional as they should be. Hopefully over the course of the season, the team will come together and be more in sync. But for now, I didn’t care much for these heroes, save for what I previously knew. However, I will say it’s nice to have big Groot back. Unpopular opinion: I’ve grown tired of Baby Groot. So it’s cool to see him all grown up and doing his thing as a big old tree man once again. Really ties the team together, even though they’re a bit of a jumbled mess at the moment. Here’s hoping they’ll get their groove back, now that they have their Groot back.
One of my favorite parts of Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy was its focus on exploration. With new superpowers and abilities comes new gameplay mechanics to shake things up quite a bit. Probably the coolest part is the addition of Star-Lord’s jet boots, which allow him to expand his range of exploration to new heights, literally. With a press of the d-pad up or down, he can float vertically across multiple floors. This brings a lot of new possibilities to Telltale’s already near-perfect exploration system. The sense of openness made it even more fun to wander around and interact with every alien object and soldier corpse scattered around the playing field.
Another interesting tool Star-Lord implements is his helmet’s headset, which allows him to call any of his teammates at random intervals, no matter where he may be. While exploring the world, he can choose to ring up Drax, Rocket, Gamora, or even Groot (though one may wonder how helpful the last guy might be). They may or may not provide some useful assistance, or perhaps some backstory to help fill out your codex. One thing’s for sure, though; you call up Rocket, you’re always in for some snarky banter. This is just another thing that makes the Guardians so enjoyable, and I can’t wait to see it play out through the lens of a Telltale Games series.
But Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t all about decision-making and exploring space. There’s quite a bit of combat in this series. In fact, I haven’t had this much fun shooting things in a Telltale game since Tales from the Borderlands. The episode practically begins with a huge battle against Thanos, which was surprising, considering Thanos has always been THE main baddie. Typically he’s practically untouchable, yet here we are attacking him with everything the Guardians have to offer. Being able to face him in a full-scale quick-time skirmish just started this series with a bang, and got me prepared for all the action to come.
New battle mechanics were introduced to Guardians of the Galaxy as well; I haven’t seen changes this huge since Telltale’s Michonne miniseries. Star-Lord’s powers include dual-wielded guns he can shoot with rapid flicks of the controller triggers, while Gamora and Drax excel in hand-to-hand combat, swinging their blades and dealing blows with each well-timed button press. The quick time events have almost completely abandoned those pointless “tap as fast as you can” sequences, in favor of more swift single button presses. There’s even some skill required to these QTE’s now, as some sections call for two buttons to be pressed simultaneously, or maybe even the joystick to be pointed in a single direction, while pressing a button at the same time. This system, introduced in the Batman series, has been greatly refined – as in, it’s not as clunky as Batman was – and it just made for the perfect combat segment every time. I loved every second of combat in Guardians of the Galaxy, and I can’t wait for more in Episode 2 and beyond.
Tangled Up in Blue was one of the best Telltale series premieres I’ve ever played. It nailed almost every aspect right from the get-go. Combat was fluid and hectic, exploration was deep and provided a fun new take on point-and-click adventure, and the story – while a bit disjointed thanks to some bland character development – was rich with information, and delivered an enthralling plotline that I can’t wait to learn more about this season. Guardians of the Galaxy is already on course to be a great Telltale series. It’s just a shame that the only area it’s lacking in is focusing on its titular band of heroes, who are so beloved for their chemistry and fun-loving nature, even during hard times. Let’s just hope there aren’t any hard times ahead, because this team may not survive in its current condition.
Thankfully, the story carries enough weight to make Guardians of the Galaxy a thoroughly enjoyable experience so far. As long as the characters are given the opportunity to come into their own, I feel like we may have a great few episodes coming up. I sure would hate to see the story get drowned out by soulless characters brought down by poor character development. Telltale knows better than to leave their protagonists in the dust. Fortunately, The Walking Dead Season 3 turned itself around eventually, and I grew to love Javi. Fingers crossed, we can say the same for Guardians in a couple months.