Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Episode 1: Tangled Up In Blue
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
At this point, anything released by Telltale is likely to fall into one of two camps for players. There are those who have come to terms with the fact that their episodic adventures have descended into often mundane narratives strung together with quick time events, and there are others that can’t abide this same mechanic being rehashed over and over in different IPs. Guardians of the Galaxy may not be the most obvious choice for the Telltale treatment, but it at least offers something a little different: humour.
Marvel’s oddball cinematic hit was packed with colourful characters, and never really took itself too seriously. It was therefore essential that this irreverence as well as the crew’s quirks were kept intact, and thankfully they have. While Peter Quill - also known as Star-Lord - is the main playable character, you’ll also take control of the rest of the crew in action encounters, firmly asserting that this is an ensemble piece rather than an individual affair.
Newcomers to the universe may struggle to piece together who the Guardians are, and what they’re doing. Telltale have attempted to weave in Quill’s backstory amongst the rather pedestrian main plot, with varying degrees of success. His childhood flashbacks with his sickly mother are touching, but it’s offset by the usual cop-out of dumping a load of codex entries on a computer for you to catch up on the rest of the crew. Batman was also guilty of this, but Gotham’s cast is far, far larger than the one here, so it’s a shame Telltale wasn’t able to get non-Marvel fans up to speed more organically.
What sets GotG apart from more dour affairs like The Walking Dead is its lighthearted touch. In the first hour at least, there were numerous laugh-out-loud moments originating from both the dialogue and some wonderful sight gags. Drax’s propensity for literal speaking and Groot’s ability to invoke almost any emotion through three words are highlights. However, Nolan North steals the show as Rocket Raccoon, in what may be his finest work since the Uncharted series. Every character feels like their film counterpart, with the exception of Star-Lord. It’s unfortunate, but the snarky persona of Quill comes across as a little more earnest here, despite Scott Porter’s best efforts.
As for the actual gameplay, Telltale appears to have taken on board some criticism of recent releases. There are the usual action sequences blatantly signposted with unsubtle button prompts, and they’re competent enough with the aforementioned switches between characters ramping up the stakes as you take on Thanos. Like previous offerings, it remains hit-and-miss whether failing the quick time events has any impact on the story. At one point we were dodging floating space rocks, but even if we let each and every one of them hit us there was no penalty for doing so, making us wonder why that sequence was even included. However, there is also an introductory puzzle which sees you exploring the environment to find a way to let your friends into a vast building. It isn’t too taxing, but it breaks up the more scripted sequences and feels a little more like an actual game. The ability to radio your crew to get advice - or abuse - while you’re searching is also a neat touch.
That said, Telltale is still in the habit of experimenting and discarding ideas. The time scanner, which replays the last few moments of a scene, looked like a great new mechanic to introduce...except it never reappeared after that opening puzzle. A little more commitment would serve them, and the player, far better.
While dialogue generally crackles with humour - especially compared to other titles in Telltale’s stable - the usual pull of important decisions falls flat in GotG. Part of that can be attributed to the removal of urgency and a lack of high stakes involved. Unlike The Walking Dead none of the cast are in any real danger, and with an absence of any other characters to truly empathise with, the plot itself feels extraordinarily lightweight. Yes, there’s a major event which occurs early on, but this sets in motion a chain of events which leaves the Guardians questioning their entire purpose. Sadly, this angst doesn’t exactly make for a riveting game. A MacGuffin is introduced, but its nature isn’t revealed until the very end, and even then the episode ends on a weak note.
It’s a shame, since GotG has otherwise gone out of its way to look distinct from its counterparts. The trademark cel-shading has been replaced by fully rendered models, which bear far more substance and fit in nicely with the licence. Jared Emerson-Johnson has a bum deal this time around, since his composition is up against the likes of ELO, and in that battle there’s only ever going to be one winner. The soundtrack was one of the film’s highlights, and it’s no different here.
Overall though, it’s Telltale’s usual fare packaged into an introductory episode that feels far less substantial than it should do. The graphical departure and lovely humour paper over the cracks of a weak plot, but barely. Telltale fans will love it and Marvel fans will appreciate the reasonably faithful translation to the small screen, but for everyone else it would be advisable to wait and see how the next four episodes pan out before committing to another potentially lacklustre series.