Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review contains some light spoilers
Guardians of the Galaxy may be the most ambitious Telltale series to date. Offering an original storyline based off the Marvel Comics series, Telltale completely overhauled every system to deliver a breath of fresh air to their combat, exploration, and choice mechanics. Fortunately, with Episode Two, Telltale also fixed the character development flaws that plagued the series premiere. But, alas, Under Pressure was not safe from multiple glitches and clunky performance issues, which hindered the pacing of a fairly decent plot. Yet somehow, I’m still intrigued by Telltale’s Guardians, and I found myself having a pretty good time with Episode Two.
Under Pressure picks up right where Tangled Up in Blue left off, with Star-Lord being resurrected by the Eternity Forge, an ancient alien relic sought after by Hala and her Kree army. This episode focuses heavily on the Forge and its purpose, as the Guardians follow its mysterious voice across the galaxy. Star-Lord’s visions of his mother continue, which leads him to seek advice from his childhood guardian, Yondu. Telltale’s interpretation of Yondu is heavily influenced by his onscreen portrayal, played by Michael Rooker in the films. He’s witty, yet stern, and he maintains a frightening air about him, even when Peter Quill is asking him for heartfelt advice. Something about Yondu makes him a perfect father figure for our protagonist, and every second spent with him was a real treat.
Once again, Quill’s aforementioned visions come in the form of flashbacks with his mother. Last episode, I found these flashbacks to be an interesting look into Star-Lord’s backstory. Unfortunately, this time around, the flashback sequence felt forced and unnecessary. We found ourselves back in the same memory Peter had before, atop a car with his mother, staring at the cosmos. In this flashback, however, his mother was a lot less nurturing than she was before. Modern day crept into the past, and Star-Lord became more self-aware, which I felt made this moment more compelling, having been required to relive it for a second time.
The flashback itself became forced once it turned into a bland constellation lesson. As Peter’s mother tells him about the stars, they disappear in the sky to reveal a constellation of the Eternity Forge, and Star-Lord is sucked back to reality. This whole event was so unnecessary, as this is obviously not how the night went all those years ago, and it only served to prove the flashbacks to Yondu. I would’ve liked to see a new flashback this time around, as I found the original to be a cool glimpse at Star-Lord’s childhood. However, repeating the past just to give our hero a flashback sequence was just downright stupid.
Speaking of lore, one flashback in particular was amazingly deep and satisfying — the incredible focus on Rocket Raccoon’s plot development, which acted as an intense, emotional secondary plotline in Episode Two. For the first time in non-comic media, we got to see how Rocket became the scientific miracle we all know and love. Pursued by an unnamed evil doctor, Rocket and his fellow experiment/love-interest Lylla escape the facility in which they were being tested on, only for Lylla to pass away in Rocket’s arms after being subject to lethal injection. Rocket’s impassioned journey to Halfworld to try to resurrect his otter love was heartbreaking and “otterly” adorable at the same time (sorry).
Through this, Telltale successfully delivered an emotional subplot within Guardians of the Galaxy. I was extremely disappointed with the lack of attachment I felt to these characters after Episode One, and now, finally having feelings when dealing with the Guardians, I was absolutely over the moon. Rocket’s story gripped me as hard as, say, Kenny’s did in The Walking Dead Telltale series. He’s a secondary character, and therefore his struggles shouldn’t have affected me as much as they did. Yet, I truly felt bad for Rocket throughout this whole episode, and as I watched him burst into tears thinking about Lylla, I almost began to weep with him.
See, I knew Telltale could supply players with the strong character development these heroes deserve. They have done so with an eclectic cast of characters in the past. Telltale knows story best, so it’s difficult to endure an episode, let alone a whole series, without a certain connection with any of the protagonists. Fortunately, Episode Two turned things around and guided this series toward the right path of character development and lasting emotion. Not only did Rocket’s story tug on my heartstrings and make me worry for his sanity, but the jokes also felt wittier this time around. Even better, every character is starting to develop their own storyline, which I think will make things interesting going forward.
When it comes to Telltale, a common complaint is their smoke and mirrors approach to player-driven narratives—a perceived inability to deliver a unique experience to every player. However, in Guardians of the Galaxy, I have never felt so in control of my own decisions, thanks to what feels like a broader array of choice options, as well as a large amount of “X or Y” decision-making.
I’m talking, of course, about those decisions where you are forced to choose between teammates. Whether it be asking who comes on this trip, who guards the prisoner, or who do we deliver this giant alien warlord to, someone will always be pleased while the other is devastated. This makes for unique relationships depending on how every player portrays their Star-Lord. For example, in Episode One, I chose to bring Gamora onto Hala’s warship with me, leaving Drax behind. In Episode Two, Drax is emotionally drained, feeling depressed and useless. I chose to lift his spirits by choosing him for the next decision I made, but this came at the cost of Gamora’s disappointment. I did feel, however, that she had no right to be upset, as she won the last argument. But then I remembered she lost the debate she had with Rocket in Episode One, which ultimately came down to my choice of outcome as well.
It’s tough work being the captain of a spaceship and having to keep track of four insanely different alien individuals, but I’m having an absolute blast making these decisions in Guardians. As in real life, I feel like I have to take sides—every choice has repercussions and affects the storyline accordingly. The game is literally tailored to the decisions I make. Episode Two continued to utilize the helmet communications system used by Star-Lord while exploring, and the decisions you make along the way even impact the conversations you have through it. You can check back on your teammates who stayed back on the ship, and they’ll respond differently, depending on what your relationship currently is. It feels like The Sims, in a way. I have to try to keep everyone pleased, as the captain, but things rarely go my way, and someone’s always pissed.
Returning to the concept of exploration, Under Pressure continued the trend of captivating examination whenever it was utilized. Sadly, there wasn’t much exploration in this episode. Aside from a small puzzle using a time shift button on Star-Lord’s person, I felt like I spent most of my time making decisions and progressing through the story. There was some combat, though, which was just as thrilling as the last episode. Full of multiple different button prompts, the battles were fast-paced and fairly complicated, causing me to meet my demise for the first time in the series. Every time a fight breaks out, I immediately get sucked into the fun of it all, never once feeling bored with the combat.
Sadly, I can say some bad things about Episode Two’s performance overall. I haven’t seen a Telltale episode this clunky since Batman’s first season, where glitches and frame-rate drops were out of control for most players, including myself. Loading times in Under Pressure were quite sluggish, especially when transitioning into well-choreographed musical quick time events. This really threw off the groove of the whole sequence, and caused me to fail a couple times. Audio issues were similarly distracting, from the volume being overbearingly loud in certain parts, to, most notably, the first space battle (set to King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight”) having background music far louder than characters’ dialogue, which made the gameplay sound like a booming, jumbled mess. On top of that, mouth animations were incredibly out-of-sequence, which made for a terrible opening scene. I also came across some stuttery visuals at times, such as whenever Star-Lord climbed the ladder down to the engine room of the Milano. Additionally, walking around was just a bit hard to maneuver, which soured my experience at times. Not that the entire episode was a mess, but I could tell the game got a bit too ambitious in Under Pressure, and it just couldn’t handle a handful of happenings.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Episode Two: Under Pressure is a bit of a toss-up for me when it comes to providing an overall score. I feel like Telltale is really starting to flesh out the story with some deep subplots and gripping emotional moments. It’s just a real shame to see it play out in such a stuttery, broken manner far too often. Also, while the exploration and combat is on point once again, I’d like to see more of the former, simply because it is such a joy to experience whenever possible. Exploration is Telltale’s bread and butter, and tossing it to the wayside would be a crime.
I must also mention once more, the choreographed musical quick time events in this episode were incredible, and so reminiscent of the film Guardians I know and love. I think Telltale really nailed it by providing such greats as Hall & Oates and The Buzzcocks on the soundtrack, making this series feel more true-to-life than anything before it. Music influences the combat, making it even better than before, and for that alone, I think this episode deserves some praise. But as a whole, it just feels like Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy is up in the air in regards to quality. It’s good in the parts where it matters, but glitches and a lack of feeling can bring down the fun. It’s certainly a work in progress, and I hope that within one more episode, it will begin to figure itself out for good.