Although I tend to adore their stories and find myself incredibly invested in their series, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Telltale Games are an anomaly that exists happily inside an often harsh and unrelenting industry. They have continued to make a living for the better part of a decade committing the very sins other series are crucified for. They’re resolute, unchanging and admirably true to what they do well.
Their system and engine have become almost laughably bad as performance continues to wane, series after series. But their real power lies in the pen, as they’ve long been champions of making us care about their characters within the span of an hour or two, hooking us in for the five episode arc that they’ll drip-feed us over the course of too many months.
To their core, I find them problematic. But damn it if I don’t excuse their poor developmental habits for the fact that they tell great stories.
I went into the first episode of Guardians of the Galaxy, titled ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, somewhat cocksure that there was no way Telltale could make me care about their Star-Lord. He didn’t look or sound like the charismatic jackhammer that is Chris Pratt, so how could I possibly care? Well, damn it, they did it. Telltale’s Guardians isn’t an origin story, nor does it lend anything from the James Gunn film. Some of the franchise’s emotional beats are still intact, as Peter’s mother plays a large part, as does Drax’s bloodlust to avenge his slain wife and daughter, though they’re handled in a different way.
The fact that ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ opens with the Guardians willingly chasing Thanos—also known as the biggest, baddest dude in the Marvel universe—into a ruin to keep him from wielding an all-powerful artefact tells me this isn’t a hero team in its infancy. Fair word of warning, if you’re a Marvel purist, you’re quite likely going to loathe Telltale’s handling of The Mad Titan, Thanos. Unless there’s a twist to come in this tale, he was sorely undersold. While they’re an outfit in their prime, they’re all fragile for one reason or another. It’s clear from the start that this series is going to be more about the healing process these Guardians will go through to feel like they’re part of a proper family again. It reminds me somewhat of Tales from the Borderlands and how that story of misfits was handled, I expect to adore this team the greater their bond becomes.
Another big tick I can give Guardians of the Galaxy is in its pacing. It’s got a real Hollywood blockbuster feel to it and it doesn’t let up throughout the first episode’s duration. It pays respect to the cast, giving them all adequate screen-time and fleshing out their motivations, allowing them to exist as real, tangible characters inside of what is essentially Peter’s story. Even the trademark cut-to-black cliffhanger is so tantalising that I can not wait for the next episode to release.
Guardians of the Galaxy plays much like the other Telltale franchises. As Peter, you’ll walk, talk and interact with objects within the game world to solve puzzles and progress through the story. It’s tried and true and it’s a system that’s not going anywhere soon. In a change of pace, some of the environments in Guardians are multi-tiered. This allows the player to use Star-Lord’s rocket boots to ascend to higher levels and explore. It’s a somewhat shallow inclusion, but it’s a change that puts one of Star-Lord’s abilities on show for a fleeting moment. In the larger set pieces, outside of regular Quill-centric play, the player gets to assume the role all of the titular Guardians, giving the fights a real weighty sense of scale.
It’s jarring at first for me to see a Peter Quill that doesn’t look like Chris Pratt, but by the time the credits rolled on this first episode, the thought was no longer in my mind. Scott Porter isn’t ever going to replace Pratt in my mind, but he does a serviceable enough job and plays the narcissist pretty boy role well. Nolan North—the man who must do voice work in his sleep—is magnificent as the jaded Rocket Raccoon, also.
One thing I adored about the film was its soundtrack, many of the songs were unknown to me and to have them unearthed through a stylish superhero flick was a special thing at the time. Fortunately, Telltale’s iteration of Guardians follows suit as the licensed music it spatters throughout the episode’s two-hour runtime is nothing short of joyous. From ‘It’s A Living Thing’ by Electric Light Orchestra to Hall & Oates’ ‘You Make My Dreams’, there’s a lot to love about the soundtrack which is essentially an ode to the megahits from what was a better time for music. Hell, even the episodes themselves are named after classic songs, with the finale being named after Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.
I’m sure one day I’m going to finally be able to sit down and say that the well has run dry for Telltale, that their stories can’t carry them through anymore. But today isn’t that day.
Through expert pacing, character development and some brilliant sound design, Guardians of the Galaxy’s first episode stands up as one of Telltale’s best debuts yet. I eagerly await what comes next for Peter and his band of underdogs, wherever it fits into Telltale’s already turbulent release schedule.
The Xbox One version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. You can read our review policy HERE.
Hall & Oates, man!
Same, old tiring engine
Telltale's handling of Thanos could enrage purists